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Rod Webb

Glasstap Limited

Director and Co-Founder

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Merlin’s Magic 2 – Learning About Leadership from Horses


In my last blog, I talked about my experience training a previously unhandled horse and the lessons I could take from that experience and apply to training people. If you didn't catch them, last time, here's a link to the home videos we made recording some of the key moments in that process.

In this blog, I want to use the same experience to talk about leadership.

To train a horse, you first have to become a leader to that horse. Leadership is an integral part of horse life. Every herd has a leader – although the role can change. In our herd (of three!) there is a clear leader. The hierarchy is most apparent when you want to bring the horses in – they always come off the field in the same order and both boys will ‘hang back’ to show due deference to our mare. (As I write this, Bobby is making a huge racket outside because my partner is off riding the mare and he’s been left behind!)

In episode 1 of my home videos, I illustrate something that Monty Roberts causes Join Up. It’s a powerful illustration of what can happen when you establish your leadership credentials and something I found quite emotional the first few times it happened. An effective leader can lead his horse not just from the front, but from the side, from behind or, of course, from above.

So, how do you establish yourself as a leader of a horse, and what can that teach us about leading people?

Here is a list of things that Merlin has taught me about being a leader of horses:

1. You only become a leader when the horse sees you as a leader – not when you give yourself the label. (If you have to chase your horse round the field to catch him, who’s the leader?)

2. Leadership is built on trust. The horse will only truly follow you if he trusts and respects you.

Communication starts with listening. You have to listen to what the horse is telling you (through body language) and the feedback you’re receiving in order to understand their perspective and be able to work with it.

3. Never deal with issues in anger. If you’re angry, walk away. Horses don’t respond well to anger and anything you might do in the heat of the moment is likely to result in a defensive, knee jerk (and often dangerous) reaction. (Fear and previous difficult experiences are often at the heart of long-term behavioural problems too.)

4. Punishment simply doesn’t work as a tool for improving the performance of your horse. It’s important to focus on rewarding the right behaviours, rather than punishing the wrong ones. And, when asking them to change a behaviour, it’s important to reward the ‘slightest try’.

5. One of my roles is to establish clear goals and expectations for the horse and myself. Goals need to be a mixture of short-term goals (getting him to clear a low jump without hitting it) medium-term goals (riding him) and long-term goals (competing?).

6. My job, ultimately, is to help my horse be the best he can be. I need to regularly review performance and be ready to challenge Merlin in order to help him step outside of his comfort zone and achieve his full potential (for example, when dealing with the puddle phobia).

7. Finally, the reward. The more successful I am as a leader, the easier (and safer) my life becomes. A horse that is unafraid, willing, that can be guided with the lightest touch, that feels valued, respected and listened to, is a joy to work with.

Personally, I think you could replace the word horse with person (or people on occasion to keep it grammatically correct) and end up with eight pretty decent golden rules for leading people too. (And, no, I don’t have to chase my team round a field in order to get them to come in to work!)

What do you think? As always, I'd love to hear your views. You can leave your comments here, or if you prefer, email me.

(And now I promise to get off my high horse and talk about something else next time. Actually, he’s not that high…)

Rod Webb

2 Responses

  1. Merlin’s Magic 2 – Learning About Leadership from Horses

     Hi Rod

    Thanks so much for sharing the video.  Watched it during a quick lunchbreak.  Loved the horse, loved the analogy. Great to see a creative approach to sharing thoughts and learning points about Leadership.  On a personal note it made me miss my Irish cob and also reminded my of my training of my four Jack Russells.  Great post.

  2. Thanks!

    Hi Alison,

    Thanks for the lovely feedback and sorry I've not responded before. I didn't realise I wasn't set up to receive alerts when someone commented on my blog. 

    All the very best,


Author Profile Picture
Rod Webb

Director and Co-Founder

Read more from Rod Webb

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