Horses help to hone women’s leadership skills

Equine course adds a fresh perspective to managing people.
Emirati women from the public and private sectors take part in Dubai Women Establishment’s equine leadership initiative. Courtesy DWE
Emirati women from the public and private sectors take part in Dubai Women Establishment’s equine leadership initiative. Courtesy DWE

DUBAI // Emirati Maitha Al Zaabi never thought she would learn to be a good leader by interacting with horses – especially not with her fear of animals.

But it did not take the 30-year-old from Abu Dhabi long to change her views after what she called a “horse whispering” programme.

“One of the reasons I took this course was to see the meaning of leadership in a different perspective,” said Ms Al Zaabi, who is head of oral history and genealogical studies at the National Archives under the Ministry of Presidential Affairs. “It broke my fear of animals and taught me about leadership in a practical way, rather than theoretical.”

She was one of 30 Emirati women from the public and private sectors who this week took part in Dubai Women Establishment’s equine leadership initiative: Leaders Spirit – Leadership Skills from an Equestrian Perspective Advanced Programme .

“One of the things we were asked to do was to control our breathing because it becomes easier for us to control the animal,” she said. “The horse can sense our feeling through breathing. If we are nervous or calm, his feelings will follow suit, so we were given instructions to notice the movement of his ears, which identifies his mood.

“We were asked to walk with the horse,” Ms Al Zaabi said. “We realised at first we were somehow nervous, even when we walked, the horse faced down. But when you look up, it’s another way of looking at the future, the horse also looked up, so our energy was transferred to the horse.

“It was really fascinating,” she said.

Teams of seven divided tasks between them while walking with the horse by a few obstacles. “This showed me that I put a lot on myself in daily life,” she said. “I realised I needed to let people help me with tasks, always look up and live the moment because the horse usually deals with us the moment we need him. We can’t be nervous and we need to learn from the past.”

Walking to the horse’s rhythm was another lesson learnt – not to rush life.

“I always put a lot on my shoulders but today, I started distributing tasks to my colleagues and I feel much better,” Ms Al Zaabi added. “Expressing our feelings too, in a polite way, without blaming others was something else I learnt.”

For Ruba Saeed, a 35-year-old from Dubai, the course, designed to help female middle to senior level managers develop their leadership skills and self-confidence, and held at the Desert Palm Hotel and Resort in Dubai, was different to others.

“It helped me a lot,” she said. “If the horse can sense my energy, what about the people I work with? It’s a 360-degree management course; you have to know how to deal with subordinates and your boss, and how to deal with and affect your peers.”

Emotional intelligence was a crucial element for her. “It’s needed to lead people and influence them,” said Ms Saeed, head architect of road maintenance and facilities management at the Roads and Transport Authority.

“It also helped me realise that my attitude towards people is a reflection of my mind – they can feel my fear and my confidence, so the more confidence I have, the more I can lead my horse. It’s small, but small things help make drastic changes.”

Fatima Al Hammadi, a 32-year-old from Sharjah, applied what she learnt at home. “It opened up my mind to new ways of leading my family to the right goal,” said the head of design and technical services at the Sheikh Zayed Housing Programme. “It got us all thinking about our legacy and our value. It’s theoretical thinking but we managed to implement those activities through horses, which makes the information acquired stick with you.”

Programme leader Yolanda Sing, founder of Chloe Consultants, said it was important for leaders to shape the culture of their organisations. “Equine-assisted learning can provide them with the tools to do just that,” she said. “It allows them to connect with and influence people more effectively and enhance their self-confidence.”

Published: April 8, 2016 04:00 AM


Editor's Picks
Sign up to:

* Please select one