Conscious Leadership – The Path to Awareness and Wellbeing with Horses

The decision to become an Equine Facilitator and learn how
to develop conscious leadership through co-facilitating with
horses was born out of my passion for horses which began as a
teenager in Northern Ireland. During the two years I spent in the
United Kingdom, I learnt stable management, veterinary skills
and became a certified British Horse Society Riding Instructor.
However, as a young adult I could not see a future for myself,
servicing someone else’s luxury and earning just £50 a week
after room and board was deducted. I returned to Ottawa,
Canada, went to university, and left the horse world behind.
My soul cries every time I remember this life-changing decision.
Clearly there is a message here!
Fast-forward to two years ago. A colleague in the field of
organisational development introduced me to Equine Facilitated
Wellness and Learning (EFL). From this moment onwards, my
inner world transformed. I had found the coaching modality
I wanted to use in my leadership development practice.
It has been said that a person can achieve more personal
transformation working with a horse in two days than they
can achieve in months of talking therapy. Having now led
several EFL workshops, and been witness to several participant
experiences, I can readily support this statement.
In working with horses as co-facilitators, I have discovered
another level of impact that I refer to as ‘magical’, (the
description of an emotional experience which is very difficult to
put into words), which happens using the invitational approach
to working with horses. When we see, feel and think about
horses as sentient beings, when we ask instead of tell, and
facilitate instead of command, the result is a deep sense of inner
connection, a healthy positive life-affirming attitude, and greater
Canadian leadership consultant and global speaker on Conscious
Leadership Joanna Barclay describes a new coaching modality,
co-facilitating with horses. Known as Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL),
this technique can help create a workplace culture of human connection.

Horses connect to humans through the energetic field of our
Working with horses is a journey into heart energy. A horse’s
heart is five times the size of the human heart and creates an
energy field that is pure, vulnerable and authentic. Horses are
a medium to our self-awareness. They see past all our baggage
and help us to connect with who we really are, our authentic
selves. When we a have clear vision of ourselves, the world takes
on a whole new perspective. We make better decisions, which
has a positive impact on the world around us.
When we work with horses using an invitational approach, one
of the things they respond to most effectively is our level of
congruence and authenticity in how we show up. If we aren’t in
sync with ourselves or others around us, the horse demonstrates
this lack of coherence by not responding to a simple request
such as walking together.
Working with a horse on the ground may be the first time in our
lives we have experienced inner balance and heart coherence.
Barbara K. Rector’s research on heart-rate variability shows
that equine-facilitated learning increases heart rate variability,
immune system functioning and improved self-esteem in all
age groups. This inner balance and heart coherence is literally
a heart-felt experience. It is a pathway to connecting to a place
where we experience pure happiness, joy, connection, and
Experiencing these feelings by being with horses allows us to
bring the same experiences into our lives at work and into our
relationships. Thereafter, when we aren’t living in alignment with
what is most important to us we know the difference because we
have had the feeling of connection and wellbeing ‘with horse’.
Equine Facilitated Learning fosters these qualities by bringing
leaders on an inner journey to explore the conscious leader in
themselves, connecting to their inner self, others and nature.
It builds skills in compassionate and aware leadership EFL,
mindfulness, and coaching on values, through the lynchpins of
self-expression, connection and contribution.
During the groundwork with horses, participants often
experience the fears which are blocking and holding them
back from realising their full potential. Horses show us what
is possible through heart connection, love, and trust. With the
help of the horses, participants self-discover how to move past
their fears to a place which offers them greater possibility and
Horses are perfect for this, being role models of servant
leadership. They are both vulnerable and powerful, loving
and strong, controlled and free. All it takes is our conscious
invitation to be mindful, fully in the present moment with them,
and experience the relationship ‘with horse’.

Participant Quote
“The point about horses helping leaders to be
more authentic and real is ‘spot on’ and we see
great potential for integrating this practice into
leadership development. As the world is getting
more dependent on technology, I observe that
we humans need to reconnect with and learn
from nature and rediscover who we are. Trying
to exercise more dominance and control over
our environment (both in and outside of work)
is taking us humans in the wrong direction and
rarely works. My husband worked with horses
with his management team and observed that
those members of the team who displayed
dominating and controlling characteristics really
struggled with building rapport with horses and
couldn’t get them to cooperate. In my limited
interactions with horses I sensed this energy but
did not realise there was science to it. I guess
this is a great point for those who like facts and


(Posted in Association for coaching, January 2019.)

Much love, from Singapore.


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Joanna Barclay, Global Speaker, Published Author, and Thought-Leader on Cultural Transformation. 

With 30 years in business transformation working with organizations, Joanna’s passion lies in working with leaders, facilitating active participation in organizational change, developing resourceful teams and aligning strategic objectives. Her goal is to help organizations become high performing and values-driven, where people take ownership, build commitment and bridge communication gaps. As CEO of the Culture Leadership Group, she ensures successful transformation from concept through to implementation.