Leadership and Team Buildingeffective and fun
Equine Assisted Learning for Corporate Leadership, Team Building and Planning
Equine Assisted Learning is at the cutting edge of leadership training, team building and corporate development in Australia. The Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) Model of Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) provides a safe structured model for facilitating learning and change. It is a team approach in which a Certified Equine Specialist and Mental Health Professional facilitate horses and people working together to achieve learning, leadership and team building goals.
Activities with the horses challenge participants to work together to find solutions through positive communication and co-operation. EAL improves relationships, confidence, self-esteem, communication, assertiveness, problem-solving, creativity, teamwork, and leadership capacity. The EAL experience can be used as a metaphor for real life situations and new solutions can be integrated into positive changes in the team and/or work environment.
Participants will be immersed in a whole body action learning experience with horses where they will practically apply and reflect on their teamwork abilities and awareness. In essence working with horses provides an opportunity to bring out the best in ourselves, each other, and the team as a whole.
Introducing Equine Assisted Learning
In Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) the horses are co-facilitators in the learning process for human emotional growth, learning and change. The focus of EAL is not on horsemanship or riding. Instead, it involves intentionally designed activities with the horses that require individuals and groups to apply and develop important relationship and life skills.
Working with horses requires participants to make a connection – to form relationships based on trust, clear communication and understanding – much like working in an effective team. Horses are very much like humans in that they are social animals living and “working” within a community – a herd. The main goal of the herd is to maintain balance and harmony. Just like members of any community or team, each horse has distinct roles and responsibilities and like humans, have different personalities, attitudes, and moods. Participants find that an approach that may work with one horse, does not necessarily work with another.
Changes in behaviour through the activities are real experiences. Clients are actively involved physically, psychologically and emotionally (doing, thinking and feeling). In this way, horses provide vast opportunities for metaphorical learning as participants experience how their actions and responses can impact on their life, and understand where and how changes can be made. The learning is immediate and can be readily transferred to life experiences in different contexts. It is a powerful and effective approach that has a lasting impact on individuals and groups.
Like ropes and other outdoor activities, EAL is experiential in nature. However, unlike other experiential activities which pit participants against themselves or ‘nature’, EAL is about establishing and maintaining relationships with others. This means individuals learn about themselves and others by participating in the activities and then discussing feelings, behaviours, and patterns that arise. Guided reflection on this provides empowering insights, identifies strengths to build on, and opportunities for change in behaviours that are limiting and non-productive.
What about the emotional safety of the team?
It is important that everyone feels safe and supported within the group and the environment. In order to do this we recommend discussing and agreeing on some group boundaries that everyone is comfortable with. As we know, boundaries allow us to maintain and protect our sense of self and to connect with others in healthy and meaningful ways.
We understand that some team members may not feel comfortable or “emotionally safe” in the group and are therefore reluctant or unprepared to share their personal beliefs and opinions. EAL differs from Equine Assisted Psychotherapy in that the objectives do not focus on mental health issues or treatment goals. Rather, EAL focuses on the specific learning objectives identified by the group and reflected upon during the activities with the horses. The role of Mental Health Professional, Jen, is to guide and facilitate the processing of the experience amongst the group, whilst maintaining the emotional safety of group members.
In addition, it is possible that participants may experience strong and possibly unexpected emotions, memories or issues coming up during or after the sessions. It is important that they are encouraged and enabled to speak with an appropriate person or service such as the Employee Assistance Program.
What would an EAL group session look like?
Horses provide vast opportunities for metaphorical learning. Horses require work, whether in caring for them or working with them. They don’t provide immediate gratification or an “easy way out.” Horses will not respond to manipulation, threatening, or begging. Only open, honest, and clear communication in addition to mutual trust will allow participants to accomplish tasks involving the horse. Most importantly, horses have the ability to mirror exactly what human body language is telling them. Many participants will complain, “The horse is stubborn. The horse doesn’t like me. The horse is angry. The horse is stupid.” But they realise quickly that when they change themselves, the horses respond differently. Horses are honest and will not be deceived.