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Mon, Feb 06, 2012
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Self-improvement therapy pt 2 - "A horse taught me confidence"
by Jeanne Tai

Problem: An office doormat wants to be more assertive
Solution: Leadership coaching session with a horse

I don't have a bossy bone in my body. And I hate confrontation and back down in disputes to keep the peace. A friend called me "conflict-avoidant", which got me thinking: Was I a doormat? Perhaps.

So I signed up for a lesser-known horse-assisted leadership coaching workshop, which can last anything from two hours to two days. You're paired with a horse, and an instructor will make you do tasks like command the animal through an obstacle course.

These exercises, apparently popular with executives in Europe and North America, develop assertiveness. Why horses? They can "judge" whether you're a toughie or a pushover. They'll follow your commands but only if you show them who's boss.

I took on the most basic of the workshop's exercises in a paddock with a 17-year-old retired show-jumper, Galloping Glory ("GG" for short), and an instructor, Nancy. My task: To get GG to follow me without touching him.

Coaxing and clapping my hands didn't work. Nor did putting on my "aggressive" face and snapping: "Move!" GG just snorted.

After 20 minutes of trying, Nancy told me: "You keep changing your position as if you're uncertain. I'm not sure GG knows what you want him to do."

"Maybe he's tired..." I said defensively.

"But you're not asking much of him," Nancy countered. "Do you often make excuses for people when they don't do things you want them to?" She'd hit the nail on the head. Yes, I'd often rationalised away other people's failings so I wouldn't have to confront them. But my meekness was stopping me from finishing my work quicker - and it was tiring to please everyone.

While my style of doing things wasn't wrong - "you seem a likeable and understanding person" - Nancy said it wasn't always effective in getting my way. She questioned if I had "switched" tactics with GG too quickly, instead of standing my ground with him.

So my body language had been inconsistent. I'd started off confidently but had grown disheartened by GG's lack of response - it was showing in my speech (quavering) and posture (a resigned slouch). Time to toughen up.

With all my courage, I clapped, gestured wildly and egged on GG like a cheerleader. After 10 minutes, he slowly trundled after me! But he was following too close and nipping me. I'd earned his submission but not his respect.

I had to make a stand. So I flung my arms out, creating a protective circle, and barked: "No, GG!" He backed off. Suddenly docile, he trotted behind as I triumphantly led him to Nancy. I'd bested a horse!

My confidence continued into a meeting at work the next day. I sat straighter, spoke louder and gestured to emphasise my points. When my suggestions were critiqued, I defended them. Who says you have to be bitchy to assert yourself? And I have a horse to thank for learning that.

Equina horse-assisted leadership coaching by Vincere Coaching, tel: 6408-0535 or visit Call to enquire for rates.


Get a copy of the January 2012 issue of Her World, Singapore’s No. 1 women’s magazine. Her World is published by SPH Magazines and is available at all newsstands now. Check out more stories at Her World online,


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