The walk is a quiet smooth gait. It has a 4 beat count, just like certain musical scores, 1., 2,3,4,1,2,3,4,… It is the first gate that a young or newly trained horse finds its rhythm and balance. It is the first and last gait a horseman will use during any training session. One of the few golden rules of horsemanship is always walk your horse back to the barn. The other is, ‘if you can’t do it at a walk, you have no business trotting or cantering at all.
Any good horse trainer understands the importance of integrating the walk throughout his/her athlete’s training program. This is done specifically to produce endurance, stamina and resilience as opposed to fatigue. Another golden rule is that always walk your horse back to the barn, to go any faster will only sourer him.
My favorite retort for those who are impatient with the walk is that cowboys did not gallop their horse across the country. They walked a lot! In fact, they loved that walk. Any true horseman knows this from experience. (However there are very few true horsemen these days). Maybe because they forgot the difficulty and reality of riding all day and night in the saddle, day after day.
What does the walk have to do with leadership? Look at the story above and imagine instead of a horse and rider it was you and your team. Young team players don’t’ have rhythm and balance yet. They usually are running instead of walking. When they are young they have endurance because of their youth, but you, a little older starts to feel the fatigue of running after everything and working so hard.
In Leadership and Horses™, I have observed patterns in a person’s reythm and energetic pace. These patterns tend to repeat themselves and correlate with comon mishaps in relationships.
The walk represents specific conversations such as:
Conversations of relationship
Conversations about planning
Conversations about strategy
Ideally these conversations happen in ‘walk’ mode. Slower, more rhythmic and balanced in that they are weighing the pros and cons rationally, without sentiment. Where trouble starts to happen is when these conversations are had at the trot or canter. Yes, it can be done, but imagine the cost. Running after planning, running after strategy, running towards relationship. Not only exhausting, but scary for those around us. And then we wonder why it’s not happening, why our team is not effective, or us for that matter.
You and your team:
Sally was a thirty something business woman who attended my Leadership & horses™ program in 2002. She was a single mother with three children. She had a quiet confidence that exuded warmth and femininity. Like a goddess she seemed complete, yet there was a tiredness about her. The exercise at hand was to make a declaration of a specific goal she wanted to accomplish and then lunge the horse in a large circle. The horse represented herself, her confidence and her energy. As she made her declaration, she spoke about wanting to trust herself more, to allow herself to be informed by her intuition. Since she was speaking in terms of a quality of presence, I asked her for more information. I asked her why she felt she needed to trust herself more? She explained how she had always taken care of everyone else. She was great at ‘putting out fires’ and people always came to her with their problems. She was tired of living her life from fire to fire, from one chaos to another. She wanted to just be present to herself and her needs. She wanted to be able to say no to fighting fires.
Ole was a copper chestnut stallion. Five years old and very gentle. He had an independent air about him and was not much impressed with the notion of teaming up with a bunch of strangers.
As she worked Ole’, she brought him into a trot almost straight away. Her trot was beautiful. Ole’ was steady, his energy and implusion alive and his rhythm matched hers, they looked as though they were cut from the same mold. He seemed happy and relaxed. She made the trot look easy, but as she brought the horse down to a walk the steadiness disappeared. She began to look down at the ground and walk a few steps forward and then a few steps to the right. She seemed to be rambling along, unsure of herself. Ole’ responded by lowering his head and almost staggering around, the circle lost it’s clarity and they both seemed disorganized.
The trot represents high-activity and a level of complexity distinctly different from the walk. Sally’s beautiful trot represented her embodied habit of living by responding to the emotional fires of life. It was clear that not only did she know how to respond to life that was complex and full of energy, but perhaps she felt comfortable in that role. She began to realize that she not only attracted fires, but perhaps even started some of them so she could continue to feel comfortable at that kind of pace.
The walk represented her desired state, which was to be present to herself. Her mind understood this desire, but her body still responded the way that it had been conditioned to do so. And so the walk was unfamiliar and uncomfortable. She reported that she felt like she had lost her baring at the walk. I had her practice the walk some more so that she could get a sense of what it would feel like to be in this new practice. I reflected to her that the uncomfortable feeling she was having was actually a good sign because it meant that her body was learning a new way to be present that didn't require such a large expense of energy. The more she practiced it the more she became comfortable with this new way of being. We completed by making a plan for how to integrate the ‘walk’ it into her life. She later reported that when she was at work or home and a fire began, she was able to remind herself to walk.