When César Ritz Colleges (CRCS) student Dilnaz Jakishev was still in Kazakhstan preparing to come to Switzerland to pursue the studies of her dreams, she tried to imagine what experiences were in store for her. She figured she would have long hours in lecture halls absorbing new ideas while tapping notes into her CRCS iPad. About that she was right. She figured she would develop close friendships with fellow students from around the world – right again. But she never imagined that some of her most insightful lessons would come while on the back of a horse!
In the fall of 2022, Dilnaz was one of 12 to participate in the Equine Leadership Workshop, a new leadership training offered to final -term students at CRCS. According to management training expert Sarah Krasker, who leads the workshops not only for CRCS senior students but for executive training programs in multinational corporations and international organisations around the world, the goal of equine-assisted learning is to facilitate emotional intelligence and related skills, competences, and behaviors. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage one’s own emotions, while also recognizing and influencing positively the emotions of those you work with. Only in the early 1990s did leadership experts come to realize the critical role of emotional intelligence in the success or failure of aspiring leaders.
The workshop consists of ground work exercises with horses that address aspects of emotional intelligence, after which Sarah guides a process of personal reflection and learning that can lead to real insights into an individual’s habitual way of acting in the world.
Why are horses uniquely suited tutors of heightened emotional intelligence and self-understanding? “The horses give you an opportunity to see how you feel, perform, and behave in situations outside of your comfort zone,” says Sarah. “We learn a lot by watching horses. The herd’s dominant horse isn’t always the leader in every situation. Any horse, regardless of its place in the herd’s hierarchy, can lead the herd to a tastier patch of grass, or to a shadier spot in the field, or to take flight from a perceived danger. So any horse will follow another, depending on the circumstances,” she says.
In human interactions, horses respond to changes in heart and breathing rates, muscle tension, and movements. “For example,” says Sarah, “when we consciously think about moving, our bodies start to prepare for the movement by tensing the muscles that will be used. This might not be visible, but a horse will react to it even before we have moved.”
This highly sensitive and nuanced interaction with a horse allows students to intently focus on managing their emotional intelligence to lead, teaching them about themselves and their emotions and the effect they have on others.
Dilnaz says she greatly benefited from the workshop’s lessons: “The interaction we had with the horses was one of a kind. The horses taught us that there is no need to take any particular action to lead someone; the key is the connection that cannot be described,” she says. “And it is so much easier for the horse to follow you when you (as a leader) clearly know the direction, and illustrate the way to get there. We had so much fun as a team and created so many memories,” she concluded.
The Equine Leadership Workshop is a training usually offered only to upper leadership professionals already on the job. But CRCS, eager to give our graduates a head start in their careers, will offer the workshop to 24 final-term CRCS students in the spring semester of 2023, and to many future CRCS students in years to come.