Want to Be a Better Worker? Please Consult This Horse

Mixer isn't your typical business consultant. Sure, he's spent years coaching workers to personal breakthroughs. He also has four legs, hoofs, and a flowing mane.

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Horses have long been romanticized for possessing a mysterious innate intelligence, from the equine protagonist of the 1877 novel Black Beauty, to Clever Hans, the turn-of-the-century Trotter famous for pawing out answers to arithmetic questions. And of course, there was TV's Mr. Ed, offering lippy counsel to his clueless human owner, Wilbur. Over the summer, I encountered the latest variation on this theme when I attended a workshop provided by Wisdom Horse Coaching, LLC, a Minneapolis-based consulting firm that uses horses to teach people to run their businesses more effectively. Really.

Equine Guided Education is based on the idea that horses see things differently than people -- literally. Equine eyes are the largest of any land mammal, and they are set on the sides of the head, affording almost 350 degrees of vision. Whereas "hard" eyes of natural predators, such as dogs or cats--or humans--focus binocularly on their target ("eyes on the prize"), "soft eyes" are typical of prey animals that need to be alert to their larger environment. According to the theory, they offer a more big-picture view.

Of course, horses aren't psychic. Rather, their instinctual intelligence offers lessons that elude our own thinking.

I visited Wisdom Horse with a seven-person team from Meyers, a Minneapolis printing and manufacturing business that was there for its second annual training session. The routine at Wisdom Horse--and in Equine Guided Education generally--does not involve riding or any part of what is familiarly known as "horsemanship." The horse is not expected to perform, but rather to be read, as a kind of emotional mirror and does not require any extra training to do this. Thus, Wisdom Horse owns no horses of its own but merely "borrows" them at the sites they use for the trainings. When I attended, the horse they selected from a paddock was Mixer, a jet-black gelding with a flowing mane who looks like he just galloped off the cover of a romance novel.

One of the first team members to embark on an exercise leading Mixer was Lesley, a planner and production manager who had expressed to the coaches a desire to take more "active leadership" at work. Lesley had a shy, almost timid demeanor, and Mixer dragged her around the arena a few times until, with gentle coaching by Romberg and Baskfield, she determined that she needed to be more "grounded" and assertive. When she achieved this state of mind, Mixer suddenly turned from wild horse to docile pet. Ann Romberg, the co-owner of Wisdom Horse, said this was the point of the exercise: When a client has a breakthrough moment, the horse responds, making the epiphany hard to miss.

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Marie Myung-Ok Lee is a novelist who teaches at Columbia University and writes for Slate, Salon, The New York Times, and The Guardian. Follow her on Facebook.

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