When horses invite you to take up authentic SF Leadership
Sep 8, 2020
Book Review by Anton Stellamans
Author - Wendy Van den Bulck - Equoia, 92 pp, ISBN 978-94-63883-85-6, 2019
Wendy Van den Bulck is a familiar face for many of us who attend SOLWorld conferences and summer retreats. We all know how passionately she can talk about her life with her 10 horses and how much wisdom she received from working with them. She has been working as a coach, trainer and consultant since 2010. Two years later, as she and her husband established Equoia, she started to introduce her horses as co-coaches in her practice. Some SF therapists use their dog in the therapy session, Wendy doesn’t hesitate to let you interact with one (or more) of her horses in the coaching session. It is best not to wear your Sunday shoes when you have an appointment with Wendy!
Before you dismiss Wendy’s way of working as some sort of equicoaching, I want to stress that her approach is totally different. In the past I have attended two such sessions from other providers and have been rather disappointed by them. To me, these coaches were acting as some sort of seers. They didn’t predict the future from the horse’s behaviour as the ancient seers used to do, but they had the pretence of reading what was wrong with you in the way the horses mirrored your behaviour. Oddly enough, what their horses were telling them was very much in line with the Transactional Analysis model their coaches were passionate about.
Wendy approaches her horses with both feet on the ground. She remains at the surface, so to speak, sticking to a description of what the horses do and not losing herself in dubious hypothesising. She points out that horses are prey animals and therefore are always scanning the surroundings to know if they are safe and if they can trust you in that regard. In her sessions the horses help Wendy to let her coachees become better communicators. In the paddock, she lets people experience what happens when we are not clear in our messages to the horses and what is different if we adopt an unencumbered communication style. The coachees experience the difference immediately. And what’s more, it is so simple that it is easy to apply in their communication back home or at the office.
In her book, Connective Clarity, Wendy organised all the wisdom she got from her horses. We could therefore classify the book under social biomimicry, the discipline that draws lessons from the natural world for social innovation, i.e. human communication. The book is written for leaders, but I believe that everybody can profit from its content.
Connective Clarity consists of three parts. Part one shows what we can learn from the way horses communicate to obtain a clearer, unencumbered way of communicating our messages. The second part consists of 5 guidelines we can learn from horses to deal with unforeseen situations in a resilient way. The third part brings both models together and helps leaders to:
- Act out of the right role
- Do away with self-evidence
- Embrace feedback
- Dare to step into constructive confrontations
- Build a strong dynamic balance in your team
As you can imagine, this is a highly original piece of work. I don’t think that there are many authors which combine such a rich experience with horses with a practice in solution focused coaching. Sometimes you may feel you have to navigate your way through a lot of new concepts and insightful distinctions (such as power/force, goal/destination, story/message, act/react, cautiousness/thoroughness, …), but stick with it and you will certainly enjoy the stories about her horses and the lessons in leadership we can draw from a herd. You will also be challenged to ponder on your own way of communicating as I did, and you will certainly remember the 5 core elements that will help you to maintain your resilience in difficult situations. There is so much Wendy has to share and I hope therefore this will only be the first book of many.
If you would like to see the video interview with Wendy that we featured in an earlier InterAction, you can watch it here: