Virginia’s “Horse Country” and VCU Host Equus Leadership Coaching Event

Beth Herman and Jean Gasen pose with one of the farm hands who helped handle the horses for the event.
Beth Herman and Jean Gasen pose with workshop assistant Kennedy Tabor

Last weekend, EBH Consulting CEO Elizabeth B. Herman conducted an Introduction to Equus Leadership Coaching seminar for corporate leaders, coaches and business partners of VCU at Stillmeadows Farm in Mechanicsville.

Through Equus training, Herman demonstrates the importance of body language by letting clients enter a circle pen with a horse and giving them a chance to attract the horse and utilize their own personal leadership skills in making a connection.

Because of horses’ nature as prey animals, horses typically follow a leader the herd perceives as calm, collected and confident, according to Herman.

Herman says she's been involved with equestrian since she was 7 years old.
Herman says she’s been involved with equestrian since she was 7 years old.

“Human communication is 70 percent body language, 20 percent voice and 10 percent words,” Herman said. “Practice making that 70 percent count.”

During Saturday’s seminar, the two clients who volunteered to enter the circle pen were asked by Herman about a current challenge they were facing in their personal or professional lives.

Responding to these respective challenges, Herman let them work with the horses, offering them a chance to demonstrate their leadership abilities and creating confidence by highlighting skills and revealing areas to improve on while communicating what they wanted the horse to do.

In the process of attracting the horses’ attention and dictating the pace in which they ran around the pen, both volunteer clients were able to impose their personal difficult situations and prove to themselves they could take on any challenge, such as gaining the trust of a 1200-pound animal and assuming some degree of control over it.

The exercises would, both times, end with the horses circling the volunteers. Once trust and confidence had been built, the horses would gradually enclose the circle around the volunteer. Both horses would then rest their heads over the leader’s shoulders. This is the moment of connection, where a horse shows a relaxed state, having chosen a leader they find comforting.

Volunteers who entered the pen were asked by Herman what they'd like to see the horse do, with little instruction on how to handle the horse.
One of the volunteers, Denise Kasper, entered the pen and was asked by Herman what she would like to see the horse do, with little instruction on how to handle the horse.

Prior to Saturday’s event, both clients who volunteered said they have had little to no experience with horses.

Herman says the exercise with the horses lets clients try to exhibit leadership in ways that are different than what is fairly standard for those in positions of power.

“Humans toggle back and forth between two leadership models: domination and schmoozing,” Herman said. “Horses don’t respond well to either one.”

Mimi Weaver, who works as midlife transition coach, and Jane Alford, a rehabilitation consultant, said participating at the event gave them a new outlook on leadership habits and traits. Aware of the typical subconscious tendency to lead either by demanding results or sweet talk, both Alford and Weaver say they have new things to consider when having to demonstrate their roles as leaders.

“I’m in very adversarial work in the legal and medical field,” Alford said. “I have to push so hard, but I need to attach less to that and be present to my environment and be a better listener.”

“Often I notice the energy clients bring to me when they come,” Weaver said. “I notice the impact of me staying calm and how it opens up space in my clients to connect with themselves and feel safe to share.”

Saturday's event drew nearly 20 people. Two clients were invited into the horse pen during Saturday's demonstration.
Saturday’s event drew nearly 20 people. Two clients were invited into the horse pen during Saturday’s demonstration.

Herman, a Towson, Maryland native, says she first made the connection with Stillmeadows Farm years ago by association in equestrian jumping, an activity which Herman says she’s been long involved in.

Because of Stillmeadows reputation as a training facility with award-winning equestrian riders and mutual associates between Herman and the Center for Corporate Education Executive Director Jean Gasen, Herman was able to find a partner in the Richmond metropolitan area to host her leadership seminars.

Certified as an Equus Coach in April 2013, Herman has owned, ridden, and handled horses her whole life. In addition to her certification in Equus coaching, Herman also earned certification in a program called The Leadership Circle. Trained to coach and facilitate the Leadership Circle 360 assessment, Herman and EBH Consulting help businesses and organizations take a snapshot of employee/client/superiors confidence and morale.

“In a 360, if you’re the executive, you’re going to pick people above, below and beside you in the organizational chart and invite them to go online and give feedback about you,” Herman said. “It’s a little risky, and you’re going to learn with a dataset against other executives, you’re going to learn how your associates view you on various measures.”

Gasen says her daughter has been involved with horseback riding at Stillmeadows Farm for several years.
Gasen says her daughter has been involved with horseback riding at Stillmeadows Farm for several years.

Because of networking between Gasen and Herman within the Leadership Circle, Herman was able to bring her talents as an Equus coach to Virginia for the first time this month. Having founded EBH consulting in 2010 and expanding her consulting services to include the Leadership Circle and Equus Coaching in 2013, Herman’s Equus Coaching practice is based in Maryland with additional workshops in California, the Pacific Northwest, and now Virginia.

Gasen believes a continued partnership between VCU and EBH Consulting is possible, with future events on the horizon.

“I think at a minimum, one-day or two-day workshops are in the future,” Gasen said. “There’s nobody else in the Richmond area doing this.”

To learn more about Equus Coaching, EBH Consulting or Beth Herman, click here.

To learn more about the VCU School of Business Foundation’s Center for Corporate Education and Jean Gasen, click here.

-Article by Chris Suarez, student journalist

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