‘Learning with horses’ by Beth Duff, Training Journal, March 2010

Ben Crowley2 Blogs Leave a Comment

This review follows another article a few months ago when the use of horses was recommended to support recruitment decisions; now the benefits are being suggested for learning, particularly around leadership skills.

I must admit to some personal bias here because I am just about the only member of my extended family who is not obsessed with horses and the obsession of my fellow family members has left me (financially) poorer than I otherwise would have been. But I tried, despite some initial prejudice against the idea, to be as objective as possible. You might come to the conclusion that I failed!

The author has, as you might expect, adopted a ‘TLA’ to justify the concept – EAL, Equine Assisted Learning. The impression is given that this learning approach is relatively routine, even if it is admitted that some managers who attend EAL workshops have some anxieties at the outset. My reaction was that it would be cynicism rather than anxiety that would greet such an idea, particularly as it is made clear that actually riding the horses is not part of the workshop activities.

The claim is made that handling and communicating with a horse will develop lateral thinking, team working, leadership and increased self-awareness. One theory is that, like people, horses respond to a collaborative rather than autocratic approach and that this will help the learner to adapt behaviour back in the workplace.

This may sound feasible but it makes two questionable assumptions. Firstly it assumes that the lessons are transferable from one species to another. But are people who are good with horses always good with people and vice versa? I suspect not. Secondly will all horses respond to a collaborative approach? In fact the article later answers the second question by saying that all horses are different. Perhaps that is the real lesson that should be drawn; that just like people, horses are all different and you need to understand each one to get the best out of them. But do we need an EAL seminar to prove this obvious truth?

One omission from the article is the issue of cost. My experience is that anything to do with horses is likely to leave you out of pocket so presumably EAL workshops are not cheap. So the question that has to be asked is – will you get more value from an EAL course than a well run conventional leadership seminar? Because of all the reservations mentioned above, I doubt it.

To read this article go to:


Leave a Reply