No Horsing Around

Posted on Nov 1, 2009 :: Networking
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

MBPW explore interpersonal behavior with field trip to riding stable

Three women link arms in a vast indoor horse arena in Black Creek, trying to operate as one person and complete the task of putting a halter on a pretty tri-colored pinto mare named Ginger. It doesn’t work out as well as they’d hoped. The rules of the exercise are that the person in the center must act as the brain and the two on the outside must act as the right arm and left arm, but only with specific direction from the brain, who can not use body language in any way. Violation of these rules results in jumping jacks. The team manages only to follow Ginger around the arena and occasionally come close to getting the halter on. They also get lots of exercise.

“I think we’ll ride without a halter,” quips the brain, aka Amy Oberg, managing partner with Future-In-Sight LLC of Appleton, a strategic advisory firm that helps clients understand emerging trends and prepare for the future.

It’s one example of the type of exercise offered by Pegasus Leadership Consultants, which uses horses to mimic and solve issues that might be encountered in a professional setting, says owner Janet Hagen, who holds a PhD in rehabilitation psychology and is a professor at UW-Oshkosh. The aim of Pegasus is to enhance professional growth and leadership skills. During the sessions, the horses take the reins.

“When we do equine-assisted learning, it’s really about the horses teaching,” Hagen says. “It’s about metaphors; it’s about self-reflection and self-observation.”

Hagen operates the business with the help of other trained consultants and her two daughters, Kate, 16, and Sara, 14, who help handle the horses. Pegasus teamed with Mid-Day Business and Professional Women for the October event, which brought in about two dozen members and guests for hot cider, snacks and time interacting with the horses.

Hagen, who is chair of BPW’s networking committee, says she hopes the women had the opportunity to get to know their colleagues at a different level.

“It’s not just a passing-out-a-business-card kind of thing,” she says.

Kati Cunningham, vice president of learning and development for Thrivent Financial Bank, says she was hoping to find some real, practical ways to approach professional issues and new ways to think about professional growth.

“I’m intrigued,” says Cunningham. “I came because I wanted to be with the horses and just see what it was all about. Stressful day, nothing like coming and hanging with horses.”

She and her colleague, Mel McCarthy, program development manager for Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, are members of a new women’s network developed internally at Thrivent this year. McCarthy wanted to see if the event was appropriate to offer to the group.

Cunningham and some others at the event had never ridden horses before or spent much time around them. There is no riding involved, but the large animals can be intimidating to folks who aren’t used to them. Before the event, the two participating horses run around the arena and Hagen explains that this is normal horse behavior – when the animals are taken out of their herd, they go through a process of establishing dominance. When Hagen’s daughters hop on and begin riding, the participants see how the animals instantly calmed.

The event started by simply getting to know the horses by touching and brushing them.

After the three-person exercise, Hagen asks for ideas from the women about why it didn’t produce the desired results. Ideas surface concerning body language, personality types and emotional signals. Hagen asks them to think about how what they’d just observed might resonate in their own lives or work situations, what the horse was trying to tell them.

“What is it she’s wanting you to get? It’s the personal meaning to you. That’s what it’s all about.”