A story of “leadership” — and confidence

As some of you know I was on holiday last week.  G and I headed off to France on the Eurostar.  This is G’s first time in France since he was a young boy, so he was a bit nervous and excited about the whole trip.

We had a chat, and he decided he would like me to hang onto tickets, passports etc – -and “take the lead” on the travel day, as then he could relax and enjoy the whole experience without any worry.

So I sorted out the tickets, passports and planned the travel itinerary to make it an easy day.

I built in lots of time for making changes from one place to another, or one state to another – for example we arrived in London with plenty of time to have a relaxed lunch, and then head to the Eurostar check in without any rush.

As we travelled, G developed a habit of being slightly behind me, and I would make sure I matched my pace to his, so he never got too far behind, and to keep an eye on him to ensure he didn’t lose any confidence in our direction or progress – -he was so distracted by everything he was seeing, I had to work pretty hard to do this.

When we made it to Paris and had to cross the city to catch our train to get to my brother’s, we used the metro.  Here there were a LOT of distractions, it was all new – so I slowed right down, often stopped by the wall to talk to G about where we were going, and what we were looking for – and how we had plenty of time.  I wanted him to feel safe and secure.

When we made our connection, and were on our way to Burgundy, I finally relaxed.  Leadership is hard work!

We had a great few days of R&R then we had a day in Paris before heading home – so I used the same approach.    We had a lovely day.


When we got back to the UK that night, G said “I am on home turf now” and took the lead.  It wasn’t a discussion – just while we were standing talking about getting from St Pancras to Euston train station (a short walk) he suddenly picked up his luggage and said “I’m going this way!”

I followed him out of the station.  I was worried, not at all sure we were heading in the right direction.  He didn’t explain what he was doing, or why – and was walking rather fast ahead of me – I felt rushed and in danger of being left behind!

I did not like that feeling at all…


When we made it outside the station and he strode off in one direction, I was certain it was the wrong one so called out to him – he turned, looked where I was pointing – then came back and continued past me in the direction I had pointed, (the right one!)  and didn’t even stop to say anything.

I definitely was not feeling good at this stage!


He marched off.

I was left behind


It was only at the first junction that he looked round for me – and was surprised to see me so far behind.  He waited for me to catch up– but before I could speak he was off again….


When we finally got to Euston I was not happy – I was certainly not relaxed and not confident about anything!

We saw that it was half an hour before our train left to come home, so I said to him

“I felt really stressed on that walk”


He was surprised – and said “well I just did what you did, went ahead and let you follow me”


I had to laugh.  I asked him how he had felt on our trip out, and in Paris.  During that conversation he said   “I felt you always knew where I was, you were ahead of me, but not too far – I always knew where to look to find you, and I felt that you always knew where I was…. I was relaxed, knew that if I stopped to look at something it was ok, you would notice and wait for me or even come and join me in looking….”


As he spoke he slowed down.  And realised. “That’s not what *I* was doing, was it?  I was just marching off expecting you to keep up with me – I had no idea you weren’t even with me….”

I replied “exactly – and I felt that I could have fallen over and you wouldn’t have noticed….I didn’t feel very confident at all!”


He said  “ I had no idea you were doing all that…. I just knew I felt safe and confident and you were taking care of me – while we were also getting everything done that we had planned….”


I am sharing this story because I think it highlights some aspects of leadership that are very relevant to us, our horses – and our confidence.


G realised that I had provided good, trustworthy leadership – and he hadn’t even noticed it, he had just felt safe, confident – and so had “let me lead”.

There is often a lot of discussion about the use of the word “submission” in horsemanship – and to me, THIS is what submission is – the voluntary handing over of trust because you feel safe and confident…


When G thought HE was “leading” he was in fact just doing what he wanted, with no regard to where I was, my emotional state or how I felt about it – and I certainly did not “submit” to him – I didn’t feel safe OR confident and so was not relaxed or happy about that short walk


If a short walk from one train station to another can cause me to feel that way,  if a day of careful thoughtful leadership can cause G to feel safe and confident and trust me enough to hand over that responsibility so he can enjoy the process –


What does THAT mean for leadership with our horses?


And our confidence?

I shared this article with a few friends before posting it on the blog, and they came up with some interesting connections I thought I would share with you:

–          Now I know why I feel so confident with some of my friends and not with others

–          There’s a difference between leading and “walking off expecting others to follow”

–          Leadership involves a lot of caring

–          With my new instructor I feel safe and confident – it was SO different with my last one

–          Now I understand my horse a lot better


What are YOUR thoughts?





Yours, in Confidence




8 thoughts on “A story of “leadership” — and confidence

  1. What a good illustration of the meaning of leadership, full of wonderful insight…that leadership is about caring about and seeing the value in the one(s) you are leading, not just deciding where to go. Thank you for sharing. I had a boss once who people said about him “he leads from behind” because it was much more about encouragement than bossing. My RBI mare really thrives when I can get to the place of placing her comfort and safety as the top objective.

  2. Brilliant! I have always wondered about that crucial difference between real leading, and the one that simply doesn’t work. At first it seemed to me that it was mostly about something in one’s character. This is why I often had ideas about being naturally able or inept. Meanwhile, I had all of this hiding somewhere in my subconsciousness… After all, this is exactly how I behave when I am on a trip with somebody – I am sometimes called a sheepdog for it. However, when I am with horses, my subconsciousness is muted in favour of my conscious mind, and this is why I often forget to check these ‘little’ things, while I worry too much just about whether I am followed or not; listened to or not. Regardless of the HOW or WHY.

  3. This is a great example of leading with empathy. Trainers may get sick of people giving excuses for their troubles with their horses but sometimes there are real reasons. Making the horse’s feelings most important, and strengthening the relationship instead of straining it, are real goals. Just as real as showing goals.

  4. Studies into wild horse behaviour by ecologists show that horses do not have leaders, they have social structures rather like wolves do, and roles changes due to situations etc. Studying domestic horses gives a false picture of natural horse behaviours due to numerous unnatural stress factors ( like the alpha pack leader myth that came from studying captive wolves ) Anthropologists are discussing that it is only the human species that have a concept about leadership, or need leaders ,or want to be leaders of others. Food for thought.

    • A great point Margrit – -and one reason I tend to talk in terms of leadership, not of leaders. Even in packs, there is a “point” role played in hunts, for example — the role changes and different individuals will take that role, but the role exists. With meerkats, there are similar roles.
      With horses, within the fluid dynamics of the herd, one horse may decide to head for water, and the others follow, by definition that horse is a “leader” —
      All these examples help us to realise that leadership has nothing to do with dominance, nothing to do with control — and is just about individuals stepping up to do different things at different times, and whether these things help the group or not…..which of course is radically different from how most humans interpret leadership a nd leaders….

      with humans, I forget who said it, but I strongly believe that anyone who WANTS to be a leader, should automatically be disqualified from taking that role,

      I once did a research experiment where groups has a task to do. There were 10 groups. 5 were told to nominate a leader, 5 were told to nominate a liaison — I would only communicate with the nominated people
      That was the ONLY difference in the activity — the one word: leader or liaison…

      the behavioural processes and outcomes for the teams were RADICALLY different: the ones with a liaison were more creative, more collaborative, asked more questions, got more information, tried more things — scored more points AND had more fun — than ANY of the groups with “leaders”

      some thing to learn there I think – more about how humans interpret the word than the fact itself….

      If you would like to write a guest blog on how understanding the reality of animal behavoiur vs the myths we create would help with confidence, that would be fantastic xxxx

      • I thoroughly enjoyed your reply Cathy 🙂 an insightful read and gave me food for thought too ! . I am writing a new book so for now will have to pass on the blog invite for now. But yes , will do so later ….
        Margrit xx

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