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Rod Webb

Glasstap Limited

Director and Co-Founder

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Golden Rules of Leadership – From a Foal


If you asked me what I’m most proud of achieving in my life, it wouldn’t be starting a business which is 20 years old this year, or any of my other work-based achievements.

It would be training a young horse from scratch. It was so far outside my comfort zone that it felt braver than anything I’d ever tried before. And my stomach still skips when I think of the journey Merlin and I went on.  

In 2023, 11 years later, I’ve started that journey again with a 21-month-old filly who joined our family a few weeks ago. 

I’d visited Talulah four times before she left the breeder to come and live with us, and she’d always been friendly and inquisitive. On those visits, I’d managed to get her on a lead rope, walk her around the farm and groom her. 

But in her strange new environment, I couldn’t get a headcollar near her. No matter how quietly I approached, she’d take one look, and back off. I can’t blame her; the last time she’d been caught, it had resulted in a 2-hour journey in a lorry taking her away from her family. So, I waited, hoping that as she settled, her confidence would grow, and her behaviour would change. But after 10 days of coaxing, she still hadn’t accepted a headcollar.

This video (captured by my security camera) shows what happened over the next three days. It’s important to understand that there was no additional training – this was it. Day 1 is far from elegant (did I mention complete amateur) but even I was surprised by what happened on Day 3 - as you’ll hear if you have the sound up!

For me, there are golden rules when it comes to horses, which include:

  1. Neither punish the wrong behaviour, nor reward it. Punishment often comes from a desire to exert power or extract revenge and it can easily set you up for a fight that no-one can win. Avoiding punishment doesn’t however, mean doing nothing. Avoidance can, at worst, reward the wrong behaviours and make the situation much worse. Instead, learn to approach each difficult situation assertively and calmly.
  2. Always reward and praise the right behaviour. With horses, this means learning to immediately release pressure when you get a positive response, to take a deep breath, and encourage your horse to feel relaxed, happy and comfortable in that space.

The third rule is probably the most important:

  1. Always be aware of your own feelings and how these are exhibited to the horse. One of the most important things I’ve ever learned is if you feel angry, walk away. Come back when you’re in control of your own emotional responses.

Why am I sharing this with you? Well, have a read of that list again? Don’t those rules apply equally well to how we lead people? 

Isn’t it important to avoid rewarding the wrong behaviours through inaction? To encourage people to stretch outside their comfort zone? To focus on rewarding the right behaviours rather than punishing the wrong ones? And most importantly, to learn to manage our emotional responses to people and situations?

These moments captured by my camera, give me a valuable opportunity to review my performance and think about what I could improve - and that’s important too. And recording success is a great way to remind ourselves of what we’ve already accomplished when we hit future obstacles.

But isn’t posting these videos on YouTube a bit egotistical? Perhaps, a bit. But I’m passionate about the need to continue to challenge old ideas about horses. It breaks my heart when I hear people still talk about breaking horses and I want to show what can be achieved, even without much expertise, when you put trust at the heart of learning. We should not be trying to ‘break’ horses any more than we should try to coerce, bully or, indeed, break our people.

Horses have so much to teach us about ourselves, about communication and about leadership – as long as we are open to learning, which I hope I will always be. 

By the way, this was me with both Merlin and Talulah less than a week later. I know there will be lots of challenges ahead and I’m sure there’ll be some major downs as well as ups – just as there are with people. But, for now, I’m feeling pretty proud. 

And that’s a feeling we can also get when we help create environments that allow people to thrive. 

Until next time…

Author Profile Picture
Rod Webb

Director and Co-Founder

Read more from Rod Webb

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