Horses are gregarious animals who live in herds. While they need a leader, they operate most of the time as a team. Their ability to work together, to synchronise and to communicate effectively is key for their survival. That's because, if the herd doesn't move fast enough soon enough, some of its members are likely to be eaten by predators.
Humans are in many ways similar: we don't take to isolation very well. We need to be in groups, and for thousands of years, our social groups have helped us survive. Corporations follow a similar structure. The leader, at the top, needs a strong team who works efficiently as a group to be able to perform.
As companies start to understand that 'team spirit' is not something innate, especially in an environment where there are often new members of the herds, the concept of 'team-building' has become increasingly popular. A lot of the team-building spirit is built under the guidance of the leader within the workspace but different types of exercises practised in an entirely new environment are proving very successful - one of them being team-building with horses. Here's why:
1) Operate in a new environment
Offices are very different from the other spaces we move around/live in. They are often designed to be impersonal, devoid of emotions and conducive to concentrating on work. While this may be effective (and yet some will disagree with this!) to getting people to be more productive it tends to be a source of stress and anxiety. If you want people to get to know each other in a stress-free, happy environment the first thing you need to do is take them out of the office. Nature and animals tend to have a calming and soothing effect on people.
2) Learn about yourself and others in a new light
Chances are, you only know your co-workers in the workplace. You may have developed a relationship with a few of them outside too, but it's likely to be a minority. This means you don't really know them. Horses have a knack of getting people's "real" personality traits to come out - and this very quickly. Ground exercises with horses at liberty will give you a chance to discover something you didn't know about others and probably even about yourself.
3) Be in someone else's shoes
Team building exercises with horses allow each person to work with the horse (always on the ground) as well as with your co-workers. Each person will do the same exercise with the horse while others watch and try to help by giving directions, cues etc. Most of the time, those who watch think it's easy until they themselves try and discover things are not as easy as it looked. We often try to put ourselves in others' shoes but we rarely get to be in their shoes. There's a big difference.
4) Re-learn to communicate
Most of us think we're pretty clear communicators. That's until we try to communicate with a horse and discover that our body language, our eyes, can often say the opposite of our words. Horses will tell you immediately if you are communicating clearly and will help you identify what to change if it's not the case.
5) Learn to work under adrenaline
Horses, because they are big animals that react quickly, tend to bring people's adrenaline up - something very similar to the stress experienced in the office. Games with horses teach you to operate, communicate and work as a team even when your adrenaline is high. Ultimately, they teach you to control and lower your adrenaline level.
6) Discover your speciality
When a group of people works with a horse as a team, distinctive traits tend to erupt immediately. Some naturally want to lead and direct others, while others are happy to follow instructions and some are even scared and need to be reassured. You will often see several leaders erupt at the same time - something which causes its own set of problems which you learn to solve to get to where you want with the horse.
7) Take it in turns to be a leader
If you have too many leaders, you'll have to learn to step down for the sake of efficiency. A horse will not respond to multiple leadership cues at the same time - like most of us really. You also give a chance to others who are not naturally leaders to become one. Real office life rarely gives you that opportunity.
Each member learns to know each other and each other's skills/weaknesses. By understanding how horses operate within their own herds, it becomes easier to open your mind on the different ways cooperation, communication and leadership can work.
8) Feedback is easy to accept coming from a horse
We don't really like to be criticised and the skill of giving criticism constructively is not given to many. Coming from a horse, however, feedback becomes much easier to accept. The horse doesn't care if you're the CEO or a new intern, it will just respond to your natural communication and leadership skills.
9) Have fun in the process
At the end of the day, you'll only have a team spirit once the team is happy together. For that, everyone needs to have fun!