Leading and following

I am not sure how many books and specialty courses are offered on leadership, but there are a lot. It seems as if everyone is interested in learning to be a leader. Oddly enough, there is no one agreed upon definition of what leadership is or a common list of the characteristics necessary for leadership or whether these are inborn traits or can be learned. And yet I have spent nearly three months learning something about the subject, at least from the horse’s perspective.

One model speaks of the relative position of the leader in relation to the direction the herd is going. One possibility is leading from the front. In military language we call this “leading the charge”. There is a lot of trust that the leader must have in that you have to trust that the herd will actually follow where you are going. Most leaders have to expend a lot of energy verifying this. And then there is the challenge of what to do about stragglers.  The lead mare of the horse herd uses this method when leading the herd to water.

Another possibility is leading from the back. You see this in cattle drives where the humans ride or walk behind the cows and work to keep them together, pushing the stragglers to catch up with the herd. The herd must have a great deal of trust in the leader, for they cannot see the leader most of the time. And the challenge is how to make the herd go in a certain direction and maintain that direction.

The third possibility is one that I was shown during this sabbatical. It is called, ‘leading from the middle’. Certain tribes in Saharan Africa use this style a lot. As they lead their cattle to new pastures they walk in the middle of the herd.   Here, the trust level for both leader and for the herd must be high. From the midst of the herd it is easier to identify and prevent stragglers as the herd will quickly tell you when the pace is too fast. And the herd can shift to a new direction more quickly. It seems to me that Jesus lead his disciples from the middle: both literally as he was always in their midst and figuratively as he demonstrated so much patience over their obtuseness.

All of these leadership resources tell the reader that no matter which position a leader uses, the leader must be balanced and how great continuity. Most of these same resources are terrible in teaching how this can be created. Some even suggest that either you know it because you were born with it or you don’t. Yet to be a good leader, you must also be a good follower. And most of the resources don’t seem to value spending time on how to be a good follower. Jesus spent three years teaching his disciples on how to be good followers, with only episodic opportunities to try on the leadership roles that they would so soon inherit.   I would suspect that being a good follower is a very important skillset for any community member. Most herd animals are followers. And all leaders in the herd were first followers. I think this is true whether you are led from the front, from the rear or from the middle.

More on this in the next posting.


So as my sabbatical begins to wind down, I thought I would introduce you to some of my coaches. First the human ones:

Barbara Alexander owns Sacred You Academy and normally teaches at her site at Epona Ridge (http://www.eponaridge.com). She has an over 30-year career in executive coaching in the corporate world, especially around emotional intelligence as well as leadership skills. She began to add horses to this work some years ago as a gentle way of reframing her clients’ work.

Lisa Murrell (http://www.guttmandev.com/our-team/lisa-murrell) and Schelli Whitehouse (http://www.theequineinspiredlife.com) have independent training and coaching careers, but also join together in Equine Alchemy (http://www.equinealchemy.com). They not only provide one-on-one executive coaching, but also equine encounter days for various groups.   As I write this, they are bringing in a large group of deaf children where the children will not only get to see and touch horses, but will also get a basic lesson on how to integrate head, heart and gut reactions and learn how to use observations of body language and energy to determine horses’ boundaries and their own boundaries.

So those are the human coaches that I have worked with for the past couple of months, but even more important are the ones with four hooves! Here are some of my equine coaches.



Simon is an older Thoroughbred. He had a short racing career followed by a very successful eventing career (jumping at a gallop over a complicated course of fences in natural settings, dressage (think fancy steps in a complicated movement pattern) and showjumping (high fences in an arena with tight turns). He has some arthritis and has retired to sunny NC for this third career as the senior male of the herd. If you are not clear in your intentions, he will quietly stand there until you finally decide what you want to do and can share that clearly. He and I stood in the arena together…a lot!

Lilly is the senior mare in the same herd as Simon. She is the emotional center of the herd; every horse likes to associate with her and if there is something going on, they look to her to see how they should react. Lilly is the pastoral care expert. She wants to do everything right and wants to make sure everyone is emotionally OK. She is the one that horses and humans feel comfortable leaning on when the work gets too hard. I spend a lot of time decompressing with her; like a golden retriever, she just happy to stand in a shady spot and get petted and groomed. She taught me a lot about this style of leadership.

Cierbo is a member of Barbara’s herd in Asheville and is a bay Azteca mare who is built more like a stallion than a typical mare (arched neck with a thickness behind the cheeks). She has a very powerful presence and energy. She will push you around if you need it. She is a good one to learn how to become comfortable not only with your own sense of power (we should all become friendly with our own power) but also how to balance that with appropriate respect of other people’s boundaries and how to set our own boundaries. It is this latter skill that she shared with me as she drove me around the arena instead of the other way around.

Bodie is a paint mini, standing about 28 inches at the withers (top of the shoulders). He likes to play fast and loose with physical boundaries with humans. Inviting him into your personal space provides a great lesson on how to communicate your comfort level with his closeness and how to appropriately set your own boundaries. He will crawl into your lap and chew on your clothes and nip at you if you let him. And no I did not let him do that: that was strictly for Boots the barn cat to take advantage of. But Bodie demonstrated the importance of setting rules, boundaries and limitations even in the midst of play.

And when the lessons just get all too much to take in, there is Magic. Some of this work may seem like magic to the casual observer, but I am talking about an elderly black Shetland pony who was a rescue. He is the top horse in this herd, dominating not only Bodie, but also Cierbo and Zorro (both large horses). However, like Lilly in the other herd, Magic is the one that consoles humans with hurt feelings and soothes fears and frustrations. He also likes to chew on running shoes. And  he has almost figured out how to open doors with the round handles.9916241

Meet the Coaches




In Biblical Hebrew, the word, berit’olam, is translated as covenant. A covenant in this sense is not a reciprocal contract where both parties must agree and act. An eternal covenant is one-sided, in our case, what God states he will do for us. The first example of an eternal covenant is when God speaks to Noah. At the end of the Flood, God says: This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.   God promises to never to destroy all living creatures through flooding.

By the time God calls Moses and the people of what will become Israel, it is necessary to summarize how to be in community with God, with each other and the internal relationship people have with themselves. The goal is to create a holy and just society as the people of God. In language surrounding the covenant language suggest that this is a conditional covenant, except that the only thing that will happen is that the people will be punished, but NOT abandoned. The Ten Commandments from the 20th chapter of Exodus summarizes the covenant terms.

“Then God spoke all these words:  I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work.  But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.  For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.

 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder.  You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.  You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Covenants are created for community building. In the above cases, the community building is between God, the creator of everything, and God’s living creation. Every community must have some rules of conduct in order to thrive. They may be overt and spoken or merely understood by enculturation of new members. Think about what rules we have in our own cultural settings that are not in the code of law, and may not be formally taught. It reminds me of a punchline of a joke about an Episcopalian arriving in Hell. The person said that the reason they were there is that they used the wrong fork at dinner…once.

The above punchline demonstrates that covenants among humans can be life-giving or life-destroying. Consider some of our historical political systems or some of our corporate cultures as examples of societies that are not life-giving.   ISIS has demonstrated that some people had no rights to life or liberty based solely on who their parents are. The corporation Enron promoted unbridled aggression and the goal of maximizing paper profits, encouraging employees to create rolling blackouts in California, which caused much economic misery and many deaths. The challenge for humanity is to discern whether the laws/covenants are life-giving and promote a holy and just society.

Creating covenants, whether one-sided or not, is critical for community building. Here is an example from the community I have been with during my sabbatical. These are called, “Authentic Community Building Agreements.” They were developed by Linda Kohanov, with additional support from Carol Roush and Kathleen Barry Ingram, who developed the concept of “holding the sacred space of possibility”.

  • Maintain confidentiality.
  • Refrain from using others’ vulnerabilities against them.
  • Use emotion as information, communicating the information behind the emotion to avoid shaming others in the name of “authenticity.”
  • Sit in uncomfortable emotions without panicking, recognizing that emotions can be contagious.
  • Resist the temptation to “fix” people, horses, and uncomfortable situations.
  • Read “misbehavior” as a form of communication, recognizing the learning edge of others.
  • Demonstrate sensitivity, flexibility and responsiveness to personal space and boundaries, yours and those of others — people and horses.
  • Focus on the present. Notice which emotions belong to the current situation and which belong to the past, including projection and transference.
  • Pay attention to the dynamics of shared emotion: empathy and emotional resonance.
  • Distinguish between instructive personal feelings and conditioned (False Self) emotional patterns.
  • Create a psychological container of support, holding the “sacred space of possibility”* as a fully engaged form of patience.
  • Activate the Authentic Self, thus enabling innovative solutions.


An interesting question is whether these can be used in a broader setting and would they help build a holy and life-giving society.  The research by Dr.Gehrke, summarized in the blog link at the beginning provides a clue that it might.


Yesterday was the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. I, like so many adults around the world, watched the horror unfold on live television. As a child of the military, one of the most striking things was to look up into the sky, and for two days, see absolutely no contrails. I had grown up near major military and/or civilian airports, so airplane contrails were just a part of my reality. It was disconcerting and unsettling. As the rest of the nation began to recoil in fear, I became more unsettled. People do stupid and rash things when they are acting out of fear. When we are fearful, we cannot process information well, especially when our “fight vs. flight” instinct has been triggered. Fear’s first cousin, hatred, also began to roil into being. Some of my American colleagues and students who were Muslim began to worry for their personal well-being. Fear is a powerful motivator, but not always a good one.

Linda Kohanov in her book, The Power of the Herd, differentiates fear and vulnerability. She defines fear as nature’s warning system to external threat, like a hungry grizzly bear charging towards you. The other feeling that she writes about in tandem with fear is vulnerability, which she defines as the sensation felt when there is an internal threat. An internal threat can be a challenge to your self-image, your belief system and your comfortable habits. While they feel the same, they call for a different response. We humans are not good at differentiating these. Think about this. As a society, we would tell someone to run if they are near a grizzly bear, but not if their physically abusive spouse walks in the door. We are getting better at this particular example, but as Huffington Post points out: The number of American troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 2012 was 6,488. The number of American women who were murdered by current or ex male partners during that time was 11,766. That’s nearly double the amount of casualties lost during war. [http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/23/domestic-violence-statistics_n_5959776.html] On the other end, during the economic crisis I had the unfortunate task of watching people emotionally fold when their economic status was changed through job loss. There was no grizzly, but their self-image, their habits and their belief in the U.S. job market was totally challenged. Some people during the recession committed suicide because the internal stress and fear triggered mental illness. Their bodies triggered such fear and depression that they could no longer make a rational decision.

Horses are better at fear and vulnerability. If a grizzly comes at one horse in the herd, they all either run or, if there are enough of them, gang up on the bear. And after all this interaction? Everyone goes back to grazing. Most of the time, when a predator shows up, they assess whether it is in the hunting mood. If not, they go back to grazing. Vulnerability, such as pecking order, can cause chronic physiological stress, but at the end of the day, everyone goes back to grazing.

After 9/11, we were vulnerable and felt vulnerable. Our way of life, our casual assumption of security was challenged. Our self-identity as the bulletproof protector of world security was threatened. When this hit the more sensitive members of our society, the fearful emotion escalated into rage. Our country was NOT threatened with an invasion from another nation. No foreign soldier was going to knock on our doors, but that was not what it felt like. It felt like an external threat, and the possibility of another terrorist attack reinforced that feeling. And feeling became belief.

In the midst of reading and working with some horses, I have become acutely aware of how time and trust interacts with fear and vulnerability. I watched a video of a horse attacking a trainer who had walked into the corral with a blanket in his hand. The goal was to teach the horse that the blanket was not a threat. The problem was that the horse saw the trainer as the threat (no trust had been developed) and was given no time to assess the situation from a place of safety. The trainer managed to escape but not without injuries. And the horse learned that attacking humans with teeth and hooves when you are fearful is an option.

The American population had its trust violated (all of the terrorists came from our country’s allies, the most common being Saudi Arabia). Our political leaders did not feel that they had the time to spend in mourning the loss of so many lives and patiently formulating a response, and so for two days there were no contrails and our lives changed.


So today I began my equine work, beginning with something called, The Experience, through Equine Alchemy.   I am the only student there that is at the beginning, all the rest are in the advanced program and working towards teaching this or using it in their therapeutic riding programs. The Experience is the foundational work.

God uses irony to get his message across at times. While taking breaks from my reading list, I have been working in the crawlspace of our home. When we returned from visiting grandchildren outside of Seattle, Washington, Bob and I noticed that the master bedroom smelled musty. This explained all of our allergy symptoms this summer. And so, I am working on foundational issues.

Working on foundations is not fancy, not exciting nor visible. Once I am done with all the hours of crawlspace work, no one will see its results unless they actual open that tiny door and belly-crawl in. This metaphor works for all of our foundational work. Those of you who remember memorizing multiplication tables likely do not remember the work fondly, but it was necessary to know them for the later work in math. Our youth frequently don’t like being dragged out of bed on Sunday morning to come to worship with everyone, yet it is the rhythm of this worship that will help them through the trials and tribulations of future spiritual work.

So the work this weekend will not be exciting (I promised Bob that I would not get kicked), but very, very necessary.

Who am I supposed to trust?

I am a fan of Mike Holmes’ Make It Right. In this show, homeowners have asked contractors to do work on their house, only to have their money taken and either the work not done or the work done shoddily. Their trust in the building trades has been violated and their money gone. The harshest part about this show is that these are real situations. Homeowners contact Mike Holmes in desperation, and he, then, volunteers to step in and resolve the homeowner’s dilemma (holmesmakesitright.com). He has discussed the loss of trust that the homeowners experience and how hard it is to regain it. When he comes in, he not only fixes what is wrong, he goes above and beyond to give the homeowners their dreams, as much as he is able.   The lesson here is that once trust is violated, it takes a lot of extra effort to regain it.

Mark Rashid, also mentions trust in his book, Horses never Lie.

“Over the years I have noticed a very distinct different between horses that choose to see us as leaders and those that have been forced to follow. The difference is palpable.   Every horse I’ve been involved with that truly trusted its owner was always willing to bend over backwards to do the right thing. The horse was always there for the owner when it was needed the most and would seldom, if ever, quit. Horses that have been forced into submission, on the other hand, bend just enough to get the task accomplished, but no more. If given the chance, the horse has no qualms about quitting when the owner needs it most.”

“In the end, I guess the only way a horse is going to decide to choose us as its leader is if we can show the horse that we can be dependable. How we choose to accomplish that is up to us. Whether the horse chooses to choose us is strictly up to it.”

Many years ago, when I was first starting to explore a call to ordination, someone asked me why it took so long for me to consider it. I said that, “I had to learn how to keep my faith in a fallible organization for it is not a matter of if the Church hurts me, but when.” When I was young, my parents stopped going to church, though they continued my faith training. I trusted my family and so learned to trust God, but I was not active in a larger faith community. However, Jesus calls us to be in community with one another, to worship God together. And he constantly debated the religious authorities about their use of fear and force, and about their subsequent violation of the trust that the population placed in their religious leaders.

In prior centuries, the Christian faith sometimes relied on force to keep people faithful to the Church and the Church’s community. You did not want to get crosswise with the Church because you and your family could suffer dire consequences. During the raging religious conflicts of the 1500’s in England, it could get you tortured and burned at the stake. And the challenge was that the Church’s stance on a variety of things was a moving target, depending on who was in power at the moment.   It was as if we had inherited all that was wrong with the Pharisee’s world that Jesus spoke out against.   The common worshipper could wind up being like the horse that has been forced into submission. As the Church lost its political and social clout, it has to go above and beyond the normal act of developing trust. Like Mike Holmes, it has to work to regain a trust that has been lost by many.

In today’s religious life we have to ask ourselves several questions. Who can we trust? What does a faith community that is based on their absolute trust in God and in each other look like?   What does God do or not do that fosters that trust? What do we do or not do to also foster our trust in each other.   If we fear our faith community, then will we not be like the horses that Mark Rashid described, only bending enough to get the task accomplished and the pressure removed?   Imagine the faith community that is like the other horse, willing to be there when needed most and almost never quitting.


Sabbatical time is different from regular working time. This first week of my sabbatical, I have been learning a lot about our concept of time and how it has changed throughout human history. My schedule of wake/sleep has not really changed, but how I perceive it has. The stress of trying to make sure that I go to bed by a certain hour so that I can wake up after having enough sleep is gone.

This past week, I continued to sort the various items brought from my father’s house. He and his wife have moved into an apartment of their choosing and the house has been emptied for repair and sale. In a very short period, my stepsister and I and other relatives came and collected items, helped our parents pack and then unpack. Among the things that I brought back home were my mother’s linens.   My mother, being an officer’s wife, did a lot of formal entertaining over the years, and so there are a lot of tablecloths and napkins and runners, etc., many that I have no memory of! Some of them are cotton, but most are made of linen. For those who are unfamiliar with handling linen as a fabric, here is a short primer. Linens can be finicky about stain removal, it wrinkles when washed, and must be blocked while being ironed or you will have a misshapen mess. When my sabbatical began there was this large stack of freshly de-stained, washed and wrinkled cloth to iron. Ironing linen so that the corners stay square takes focus and time, especially if ironing is not your strength. While I spent an hour here and there ironing, I had the time and space to become aware of time and how our perception of it contracts or expands. Rushing the ironing means that either you have to accept the results, or you get to do it all over again. Ironing teaches you to take the time to do it right the first time, even if that time is longer than you might want to spend.

I also finished Mark Rashid’s “Horses Never Lie: The Heart of Passive Leadership”. One of the anecdotes that Mark tells is from his childhood. As a child, he worked with an old cowboy who bought and sold horses. The cowboy’s attitude towards his horses reflected that passive leadership that mark also began to see in many of the horses that were on the ranch.   One horse that came to the ranch did not like to be caught. When it came time to move the horses from one pasture to another, this horse avoided Mark and the cowboy. Mark was ready to either try to lure the horse closer with food (a technique I learned as a child) or to try to chase and corner the horse (not advisable). The cowboy showed him another way. He let the horse decide when he would be caught. It took a little longer for them to transfer him to the other pasture, but it took a lot less energy on the human’s part and the horse was forever willing to be caught. The challenge in training horse is that most people are not willing to spend the time to allow the horse to gain total trust and develop the communication system that a good human-horse team has.

Benjamin Franklin said, “Remember that time is money.” Much of our society believes this in this axiom. Horses do not. I don’t think God believes in this axiom either. In 1Timothy, the author writes, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. We put so much stress into our concept of time because of our love of money, that we do put ourselves through so much pain, and we drag horses and other animals through it as well. Until we learn to view time differently, we will put ourselves through a whole lot of unnecessary pain.