Breaking In vs Joining Up: What a horseman can teach us about collaboration and motivation

So I recently become aware of a man named Monty Roberts. You may have heard of him. I must have been living under a rock because I never had. My hairdresser has an affinity with horses, she trains them, grooms them, participates in dressage competitions with them and generally loves everything about them. During our chats during the placing-little-individual-pieces-of-foil-in-my-hair process we often talk about her involvement with the horses and I talk about what I'm passionate about - coaching, developing others, understanding others etc. Throughout our discussions I have spoken with her about the art of really listening to others and connecting with them through the process of "meeting them where they are at." In response, she asked me if I had heard of the methods of Monty Roberts.

I must be out of the loop because I'd never heard of him, although I had heard about "horse whispering." She went on to tell me a bit about what he does. Monty Roberts grew up in Nevada and spent time observing wild mustangs. Over time he concentrated on watching them behave naturally and subsequently identified patterns in their behaviour. He observed a nonverbal communication that appeared to exist between the horses, a silent language he would later call “Equus.” Monty then went on to develop his understanding of Equus to incorporate this "language" into his nonviolent training approach, which he called Join-Up®.

Firstly, what I love about this is that he took the time to study the horses in their natural habitat and spent considerable time identifying their behavioural patterns. That must have taken a lot of concentration! Secondly, I appreciate that he took the information that he gleaned from watching these creatures in their own natural environment, to attempt to understand their language and use that same language to connect with them.

"Monty first developed Join-Up® to stop the cycle of violence typically accepted in traditional horse breaking. Convinced there must be a more effective and gentle method, Monty created these consistent set of principles using the horse’s inherent methods of communication and herd behavior. The result is a willing partnership in which the horse’s performance can flourish to its full potential, rather than exist within the boundaries of obedience. These principles are valuable tools to understanding what motivates horse behavior and increasing effectiveness in any application."

Monty developed methods that rely on horse and trainer establishing a bond of communication and trust.

“You must somehow understand that we as horsemen can do very little to teach the horse. What we can do is to create an environment in which he can learn.”

As you might already be thinking, Monty's discoveries and philosophies have wider applications in the human realm and I believe he also uses his methods to help develop people's communication and leadership skills. Many managers misguidedly lead with the stick instead of the carrot and try to exert force to elicit better performance. In doing so, they may achieve results but the effect on the relationship with the employee is compromised. Monty's approach offers a gentler, more considered and collaborative approach to engaging people and helping them to flourish. Coaches, trainers and educators have been applying his methods to connect with and lead others for years and I guess I've just been a bit slow to catch up.

It turns out I could indeed have a lot to learn from the methods of Mr Monty Roberts. My initial reaction was one of great enthusiasm and impatience to learn everything I can about this guy, what he does, how he does it and how it can be applied to the realm of human interaction and potentially help me in my work.

As a coach you learn about the importance of establishing rapport with a client and we are often told of the importance of "meeting the client where they are at." Rapport is far and away the foundation of a successful coaching session. At a recent coaching program presented by Behavioural Modelling expert Marvin Oka he described what he called an "entrainment field", an invisible energy field that surrounds living beings and which can be co-created with another. I love this idea and am keen to understand more about it. I've probably described it all wrong (sorry Marvin) but hopefully you get the picture. I've experienced the sensation of being within such an entrainment field when in deep rapport with someone and it's difficult to explain. I'm thinking the work of this Monty Roberts guy might be able to shed some light on this for me.

I'm so grateful to have found out about Monty Roberts and how there are many parallels between his work with horses and the potential application of his methods with humans. I have since read Monty's book '"Horse Sense for People" and HIGHLY recommend it. The book isn't just a great resource for leaders, training, educators and horse-lovers, I feel that it would be a valuable read for pretty much anyone with a pulse. Monty's spin on humanity, compassion, kindness and communication is heart-warming and inspiring. Do yourself a favour and check it out!