The following has been inspired by one of my lovely Mustangs, Toby. He has just come back from a weekend clinic & competition for a sport called Horse Agility. The Horse Agility Club looks for leadership, relationship and accuracy. Points are awarded based not only on your horse performance but also your own handling skills. It is all about the way you ask, reward and most importantly, how you handle things if they go wrong. There are no whips, sticks, or forcing in this sport. Its about positive relationships and respect.

Traditionally horse training is based around negative reinforcement. I.e., I will increasing put pressure on you to do something and when you do I will stop that pressure. This can be a successful method and there is no denying that soft hands that are quick to yield will shape a horse that is light and willing.

I prefer to engage my ponies in their work. They love food so I “pay” them to carry out the tasks that I ask of them. They choose to be on the payroll as they are rewarded fairly for what they do. I observe that they are more creative, braver and that I can shape their behaviour faster than with the negative reinforcement method.

Positive reinforcement has helped Toby and I have strong foundations in our working relationship. When he encounters new challenges, he is able to find the confidence to try and solve them. His encouraged curiosity led him to offer behaviours that I was then able to shape and reward. We were the overall champions for the weekend, despite his inexperience but the most important thing is he has come away confident, engaged and really wanting to do more.

If you are reading this as a business owner or a team leader, it will probably not surprise you that there are a number of corporate leadership courses that involve animals. There are even prison programs to help train dogs, rehabilitate equines and all in the name of positive working relationships. These exist because there really isn’t any difference between a pet, working animal or human when it comes to relationships. Consistency, fairness and setting up to succeed are all ingredients that will help you achieve.

So, I ask you. In your own workplace. Are you a positive or negative reinforcer with your team? It’s not always about the money. Do you pay well? In compliments, coaching, development and leadership? Are you consistent in your behaviours, requests and rewards?
Business is stressful, as is a novel environment for an animal. Be that inspirational leader that others look to and you will get the results you seek.

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