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Rod Webb

Glasstap Limited

Director and Co-Founder

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Changing Fixed Habits On Horseback


As some of you will know from previous blogs, outside of work, one of my great joys is spending time with my horses, who are currently in livery on Dartmoor. I have two; one who is 25 and (officially) retired, and another that I trained from scratch, who will be 10 this year. 

My ten year old has an issue with one of his joints at the moment, which means he needs three months off from riding. Luckily, the lovely Dee Dee, who owns the livery, offered to lend me one of her trekking ponies, and with such glorious weather at the weekend, I took her up on the offer. 

The horse I borrowed, Shianne, was a beautiful, solid cob. She was extremely well-behaved, but, being a trekking pony, she was used to regularly following similar routes and she often seemed confused by the random direction I was taking. Frequently she’d suggest I was going the wrong way, turning to the right to follow the ‘correct route’, and I’d have to gently pull her back to the direction I wanted to go. 

I chatted to her as we rode – telling her we were off on an adventure. (I always chat to my horses when we’re alone on the moor, and probably sound like a lunatic – luckily, only the sheep, cows and wild ponies hear me, so I think I get away with it.)

Encouraging people to change direction can be a bit like getting Shianne to follow me, who she didn't know, on a new route. We all have processes, habits and patterns of behaviour that we rely on, and they can be so deep-rooted that we use them almost unconsciously. And even when we’re shown a new ‘route’, we’ll very often slip back into our old way of doing things, almost without being aware of it, just as Shianne wanted to return to the way she knew.

Riding Shianne reminded me how important it was for me, as the leader, to focus my energy in the direction I wanted to go. That calm intent, which literally meant focusing my eyes on a point we were headed to, helped to give Shianne the confidence she needed to trust and follow me.

When she did try to veer back to the course she knew, I gently guided her back, always loosening the rein and relaxing the instant she responded to my cue. (Rewarding the right behaviours.)

There were cows on the route between us and our destination, and whilst I assumed that wouldn’t be a problem for an experienced girl like her, I couldn’t be 100% sure, having never ridden her before. Too often, riders approach something scary (a tractor, for example) focusing on that point of danger, gripping the reins, breathing rapidly, and tightening every muscle in their bodies. All of which makes a disaster more likely; imagine how you’d feel, and react, if someone was telling you to do something they were clearly terrified of doing themselves! When riding, the best approach to a perceived danger on the route is, in my experience, to approach ‘the danger’ with a calm awareness, but focused on a point beyond it. And, of course, Shianne walked straight through the cows nonchalantly.

Whether we want to change people’s behaviours or direction, there are a few things to remember from my simple ride out on a horse I'd not ridden before:

  1. Give others a reason to have confidence in you. Know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. 
  2. Work in partnership and reward success. If people trust you, a successful outcome is more likely.  
  3. Know the dangers and calmly plan for them without instilling panic.
  4. Remember, after the initial training, people are likely to slip into the old ways they are comfortable with – you’ll need to reinforce the learning. Self-development tools, like those in Managers’ Library, might really help here.
  5. Communicate what’s needed, in the right way. Lots of small, quiet, encouraging interventions work better than a stick (which I’ve never carried). Give feedback often, and well. Use the AID model.

I think these five principles can be applied to anyone involved in change, whether that’s managers, or indeed us as trainers. What would you add to this list?

There are lots of tools in Trainers’ Library and Managers’ Library that will help you deliver the changes your organisation needs. If you're not familiar with these services, why not visit now and download the free samples from Trainers' Library or free samples from Managers' Library.

As always, I appreciate all feedback on my blogs - positive or constructive - so please do leave a comment below. 

Rod Webb


Author Profile Picture
Rod Webb

Director and Co-Founder

Read more from Rod Webb

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