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5 life skills you can learn from horses

One Alberta company says horses have a lot to teach us about leadership and life skills.

Alberta company uses animal's intuition to develop leadership and life skills

One Alberta company says horses have a lot to teach us about leadership and life skills. 2:32

Some people looking to take life by the reins are corralling together for a different type of learning — one where the teachers will not be pushed around, but could possibly take a carrot from time to time.

Horses have been at the centre of Calgary-based Equine Connection — an organization that helps corporate teams, women groups and at-risk youth find new life skills — since 2009.

"There's not one human being who's entered these doors who hasn't had some kind of a change," said founder Kari Fulmek. "And it's because we allow the horses to be teachers, versus us human beings teaching the process."

By overcoming challenges together, Fulmek says the 1,200-lb. teachers can show their students how to gallop towards success.

Leadership

An Alberta company — led by founder Kari Fulmek — is using horse intuition to develop leadership and life skills for corporate teams, women groups and at-risk youth. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Fulmek says horses demand leadership — someone they trust and respect. In this case, it's to lead them through a series of obstacles.

That requires problem solving and communicating with more than just words.

Leaving anxiety aside

Paired into teams of two, the students at Equine Connection have to lead their 'teacher' through a series of challenges. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Nervousness can spook a horse, so a calm and cool manner is needed at all times.

"What a prey animal needs is to always feel it's safe," said Fulmek, adding a horse can sense a human heartbeat.

Empowerment

Instructor Carolyn Charles says she saw the power of the program after one young girl, who counsellors said was belligerent and lacked empathy, came into the arena and was showing huge signs engagement during grooming while 'whispering in the horse's ear.' (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Horses don't criticize or judge. That's something participant Carol Baljet finds helpful.

"I was bullied as a child and it's always been difficult for me to move forward because I've always been afraid people are going to criticize me or say 'don't do that, let someone else do it for you,'" said Baljet.

"They give me the confidence if I can, you know, work with a 1,000-lb. animal, I'm unstoppable."

Being mindful

The participants have to find creative ways of negotiating six obstacles as a team. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

"Every time I was really getting caught up in doing and not being aware of being mindful … the horse just stopped listening and would go elsewhere," said participant Clarissa Khan. 

"So as soon as I was mindful and clear and concise and focused, then I was totally fine."

Authenticity

The learning arena is located near Strathmore, which is just east of Calgary on the Trans-Canada Highway. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Being honest and empathic are always good traits to have, even when dealing with horses.

"A horse is always honest, they can't lie. From mere survival alone they're always going to be honest with us," said instructor Carolyn Charles.

"So when we know something is going on within our participant, there's something that can be changed. 'Cause we all have the answers within ourselves. It's really about pinpointing what it is to take that next step. Horses can help us do that. They're constantly responding to the stimulus that we are providing to them."

With files from Monty Kruger