What made me become a better leader


This month, my horse Moondance taught me a valuable lesson about leadership. Moondance is a 12-year-old Lusitano 16.2 hands, and a young, retired dressage horse that was given to me because of behaviour issues. He’s a high-spirited and opinionated horse with a strong sense of leadership. He’s confident in who he is and knows what he wants, but has some insecurities. I feel I’m describing myself, as horses mirror who we are.

When I rescued Moondance five years ago, I gave him one year to just be a horse. Then I started to play with him in order to build our relationship and his trust in me. He had been broken very young to be a dressage horse and was pushed very hard, as the owners saw a lot of talent in him. My main objective was to get this horse to believe that he could be safe and confident with humans again. Over the next three years, our bond became amazing on the ground and we did some riding.

Last January, I decided to focus on becoming a better dressage rider. Lucky for me, I already had Moondance, a trained dressage horse, to reach my goal. I had it all planned out—in July 2021, I would participate in a dressage competition, and would be certified level 4 from Horse Quebec (Affiliated with Equestrian Canada). I started riding three times a week and hired a coach to help me progress. Little did I know what plans Moondance had for me!

Everything was going well, and my trust in Moondance was strong. But, four months into training, I was alone in my outdoor arena, trotting along the rail when, at the turn, Moondance started shaking his head, moving from side to side, and jumping up and down on his forelegs. Panic and fear invaded my body.

Who was this horse under me? I tried to stay on his back and calm him down, but

things escalated so quickly that after 30 seconds, I was on the ground.

When I came back to my senses after falling off, I had a rush of pain in my left arm and mixed emotions. I felt betrayed and disappointed, but most of all, angry. How could my equine partner, who I had so much confidence in, do this to me? I wanted Moondance to know how upset I was. I walked up to him, tied him to a lunge line, and cantered him while thinking, “How could you do this to me? I have been so good to you. I have been so patient with you. I thought I could trust you.”

Before the next weekly lesson, I was so anxious that I had tummy pain all morning. But I still couldn’t wait to get to the barn. However, my question remained, why did Moondance do that to me? Then it dawned on me – what if it was about my leadership? What if, when he tried to take over as the dominant leader, I couldn’t lead him back to me? What if, as his leader, I didn’t know where I was going and what I really wanted? I realized Moondance had sensed my uncertainty and fear and that I needed to work on my leadership. I had to communicate through my seat, my hands, and down to the reins, what I wanted and where I wanted to go. I had to stop being in my head and, instead, be in the present moment to lead him.

After a couple of days spent in shock after Moondance bucked me off, I decided to get back on. I wanted to show Moondance I wouldn’t let him down and that I was there for him as a leader.

I decided to stop my training lessons with my coach so I could concentrate on riding just for fun. I started riding Moondance in my indoor arena where he felt more secure. We started our sessions together, with 30 minutes of walking and trotting, three to four times a week. I wasn’t confident enough yet to canter with

him. When I felt him get stressed, I would stop, and stand in the middle of the arena and breathe. It helped both of us to feel calmer. While I had a plan for our sessions, I stayed tuned into how Moondance was feeling. When he needed to be motivated or reassured, that’s what I did. It was no longer about my needs, but about his. I knew that if he felt that I was aware of his need for security, his behaviour wouldn’t escalate into bucking me off. We did this for the next four weeks, with longer sessions each week. Then, slowly, we got back to working on dressage patterns.

I had taken it for granted that Moondance would just trust me however I was. Instead, he taught me that leadership is something we have to work on every day. We need to re-evaluate our leadership skills constantly, and make sure we’re sending the right message, whether it be to our equine partners, family members, co-workers, or friends.

There are still moments where I feel Moondance might disconnect from me, but now, when that happens, I do things differently, I take hold of my reins and tell him, ‘’Moon, stay with me, don’t go there.” I have chosen to be his leader and show him the way. When he feels that I’m leading him, he relaxes. Instead of going into a frantic emotional fit, he now trusts my decisions and comes back to me much quicker.

Through my stronger leadership, Moondance and I have built a closer bond, and now canter in my outside arena. He is permitted to question my actions and what I’m asking of him, but it’s my responsibility, as his leader, to keep him safe (emotionally and physically) in anything I ask of him. That is my promise to him. We’ve built more trust and harmony in our relationship, and I can now apply these lessons to my human relationships as well.

Believe all is possible !


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