Horsey Therapist

Monday, August 20, 2007

Leading, following

RNB and I enjoy dancing. Recently we went to a "Mostly Waltz" evening of dancing. An instructor was there who started with the basics, including everyone learning both the leading and the following roles of a few basic waltz patterns. I took the opportunity to switch roles with RNB for a dance, and then practice leading as well as 'enjoy' my usual following role.

I was especially struck by these words of instruction (hmm, is that where the word "instructor" comes from?):

It is the responsibility of the leader to lead in a way that the follower needs to be led.

Why did this strike me so profoundly? Several reasons, one of which is that this applies to my horsemanship. It does not work if I am leading in a way that suits me but doesn't suit the horse.

I was surprised how hard it was to lead RNB in a way that he needed me to lead him. I wanted to lead how I wanted to lead -- actually to lead how I wanted to be led. That didn't work for him. It left him feeling frustrated, confused, and uncertain about how to follow. I sorted through my reactions to this -- including 'boy, this isn't any fun to lead him this way' and other angry and frustrated thoughts before I 'got it' -- and adjusted what I was doing so he felt good with my leading style. This did change and progress to something that felt closer to how I would lead if left to my own devises. I would hope that if we danced in reverse roles more often, we would come to an understanding of my leading cues that would allow much softer cues -- more response to intention -- than our achievement the other evening.

It very much reminded me of riding different horses. Naturally, I have my favorites and now can see that my preferences are based on being able to 'lead' in the style that comes most comfortably to me. I have had to develop flexibility in my leading/handling/riding styles in order to suit the various horses I handle and ride. Effort! Awareness! 'Work'!

And that amount of work sets the foundation for less work. The understanding between two beings develops over time so the messages from one are received and effectively put into appropriate action with less and less effort, with more and more subtlety.

Meanwhile, from all I've questioned, it is a prevalent gender difference that shows up around horses: women are culturally trained to be superb followers and struggle to grow into the leadership role. And horses need good leadership.

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