Leadership lessons from a horse and the rural sharing economy

Now autumn is properly here. There are still more leaves on the trees than on the ground, but the wind is doing its best to change that pretty soon. After a busy September and October with workshops and a sprint, I am now looking forward to a couple of quieter weeks. Actually, the plan was to visit my family but that got cancelled as case numbers have been rising steeply again, especially in the more densely populated areas. Here up north, the situation is still somewhat more relaxed, and I am grateful that we have beautiful walks and leisure activities beginning right at the doorstep. Speaking of which, I would like to share a couple of reflections from my recent encounter with Irma, the friendly horse that lives across the street. 😊

My neighbour Tine with her two horses Irma and Lisca

I must admit that I have never been much into horses; even as a teenager I did not go through this phase that most girls seem to share where you totally fall in love with horses. There was always a lot of respect in me for these big animals that carry themselves so gracefully and some admiration for those gifted people who can ride horses in a way that looks so effortless. As if the animal was a natural extension of their own body. Now that I have a neighbour with two horses who offered me to take me along and share how she works with the animals, I did not ponder long if I should take her up on that.

Now, while I don’t know much about equitation, I am aware that there are different ways of working with horses and I understand that Tine has a gentle approach that works without snaffle and stirrup. Even the saddle that she uses looks more like a thicker version of a blanket than the heavy, thick leather objects I had seen before.

I had heard somewhere already years ago that there are people who offer leadership trainings involving horses because through communicating with these animals, you can learn a lot. That intrigued me.

A horse can help you find out if you’re the type of leader you want to be

Do I communicate clearly, or do I send mixed signals? How do I build trust? Can I persuade a creature that weighs some 500kg to move in a direction of my choice – without touching, offering food, or pulling on a rope or a rein? Fascinating stuff, if you think about it! And there are many parallels to working with and leading people. Do you motivate through extrinsic or intrinsic factors? Do you get people to follow you because they fear the consequences of not obeying? Or do they naturally gravitate towards you because they feel you can be trusted as a leader?

Irma enjoying herself – when I see that I feel awed, and I definitely don’t want to stand in the way 🙂

Now, for me it was quite frustrating in the beginning to communicate with Irma. There I stood in this indoor riding hall with my wellies and in front of this beautiful animal and I was trying awfully hard to be friendly to her. Irma was a bit puzzled and did not quite know what to make of me. Though I stuck to the words, sounds, and motions and gestures that I had been given in the briefing, I did too many things at the same time plus I was not really convinced that this would work out. You can imagine the result: I was the exact opposite of a natural leader and I felt and probably also looked a bit desperate. Ok, so lesson one: Less is more when it comes to invitations and I need to believe what I am saying –sounds logical… So I tried again, taking Tine’s feedback on board and… oh, the joy as with the next try finally Irma followed me, walked behind me with her head close to my shoulder and we went round the hall together. It worked! She even stopped when I stopped and after a while I think we established a little taste of that invisible band that my neighbour Tine had described in the beginning.

A change of perspective – in many ways

Me on horseback - would not have thought this a couple of weeks ago

After we had gotten to know each other and tuned in to each other, we went for a walk together and I got treated to a very different perspective from on top of the horse. I quickly got used to this dynamic way of sitting and enjoyed the sensation of somehow sharing the movement of Irma. She was amazingly relaxed and that made it easy for me also to relish the experience. At the same time, I was grateful that Tine was with our and that I did not have to hold the reins myself – maybe next time.

What this story also shows is the power of a rural “sharing economy”. The invitation to come and get to know the horses came about because I had shown Tine a bit of yoga and of course I did not want payment for that, rather I trusted that there will be something that pops up as a way of helping each other in turn. It’s like this with other things too. The neighbours on the other side of our patch can use our sauna in return for the help we’re getting from them with gardening work, vegetables etc. If you need to borrow a tool or small trailer or even a tractor – there are people who can help and I was surprised what becomes possible by just talking to people. This feels like a bit of a taster of what a world in which money is no longer pivotal could look like. I am aware that for many, this may sound romantic and naïve – and that’s ok. What would the world be without dreamers?

I wish you a cosy, healthy and happy autumn season – wherever this finds you.


  1. Thanks for sharing Sonja! I like the parallel of horse rising with leadership… Made me reflect too. I truly hope we will be coming closer to the “rural sharing economy” soon again. I have to say, being currently in rural Mexico, I also witness a lot of helping each other, it seems it comes naturally in a smaller environment. So I wonder what would make it possible in a larger setting such as a city?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Fanny and that’s an intriguing question. There seems to be a point at which people feel no longer part of something bigger but rather that it’s better to fend for themselves. I reckon that through the pandemic, many were able to re-kindle that notion of looking after others in a community and I hope that this is here to stay and becomes common practice.


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