Part Two: The Gaping Hole in Our Plan

If you’re just joining this series, I encourage you to start at the beginning…

Part one, “What We Did Right” – how it began and what we did in preparation for a safe, wonderful experience for a 2-day equine facilitated leadership training!


If you have already read Part One of this series: “What We Did Right”, then you know you are about to find out how all the preparation and planning for a 2-day equine facilitated leadership training very nearly fell apart!

Day One: We prepare the participants to be with the horses through some conversation on herd dynamics and observation. One of their experiences is to watch the horses as they are introduced to the arena one at a time and notice how they interact with one another and their environment.

Apparently, having the horses haltered wasn’t enough preparation to prevent them from bulldozing their way past the equine specialist and escaping into the yard! (Thank goodness our participants did not see that fiasco!).

10 minutes later the horses are finally escorted to the arena one by one. And then, one by one we witnessed a strange and stressful example of 6 insecure, high strung Arabians scream and charge the corner of the arena that they were sure was the only way out.

There was no curiosity about their surrounding or the people at the other end of the arena (in a secure area, by the way). No clear leadership was tested or established amongst the herd members. They appeared to be panicked about the fact that they were at liberty in an arena they had all been in many times (though we came to find out later, not together and not at liberty).

Have you guessed the first gaping hole in our planning and preparation yet?

We did not practice the activities with the horses the day before.

Had we practiced the exercises on our agenda, we would have observed the equine specialists level of horse handling (and lack of it) as well as how emotionally fit the horses were during the various experiences.

Later in the day we had an experience with 3 groups, each with a horse on line and there was one horse liberty. Remember, we had discussed which horses would be best suited for the various experiences ahead of time, (though we had not practiced with them). Unfortunately, the poor horse they chose to be at liberty, named Golden, was clearly distressed by her freedom to move about the arena and not able to buddy up with one of the horses on line.

Golden was frantically flying around the arena at a total loss as to how to ‘hold her own space’. Again, there was no curiosity on her part to explore or calmly meet the participants. Fortunately, we had prepared the group on safety and how to protect their own space from an unwanted intrusion. By the time one of the equine specialists was able to catch her, she was a shaking, sweaty mess.

There is great learning from every experience and this was no exception, for everyone involved. But what our team learned from the equine specialists the next morning was so shocking I could hardly believe they were considered professionals and running their own programs!

In Part Three of this series, “From Ignorance to Bliss”, I share how our team handled an uncomfortable conversation about the reality of the herd’s emotional fitness for this work, the second gaping hole in our plan and the celebration of a happy ending in spite of the turmoil.

Part One: “What We Did Right”