Leadership Lessons from Horses

Executive Coach, Author

Evelyn McKelvie


The transformation of her life and career as took place during her first experience with a horse, recalls Evelyn McKelvie, Executive Coach, author and founder of Equine Coach. She describes its effect on her as both physical and spiritual, to the degree that she felt her emotional body had been given a deep tissue massage. At the time she was working in Information Technology, which she calls a knowledge-based abstract intellectual pursuit, while learning all she could about horses and searching for a trainer. She found her perfect trainer in western Canada, named Chris Irwin, who opened her eyes to the secret world of horses, their language and the way they behave with each other. Erwin taught her how to communicate with horses so they understand her.
Evelyn began comparing the socialization of horses to that of humans in the workplace. Both species are mammals that perceive the world in terms of threats or safety. In fact, technology has recently shown that people react to potential threats much faster than possible rewards. Horses also perceive threats most of the time, but because of the difference in their brains and social patterns, their response is much different. In fact, the stability of the herd lies with everyone knowing their roles in the hierarchy and behaving within those roles.

First Respect, Then Trust, Finally Love.

Evelyn wrote a book about her experience and how she incorporates it into coaching called, The Executive Horse: 21st Century Leadership Lessons from Horses. She Executive Horse Book Coversays that the idea of the stallion as the leader came from the Victorians and is not how the herd actually works. The lead mare is acknowledged by the herd when she has proven that she can care for the herd and keep it safe. Horses don’t love until they know they can trust you. She describes the stallion as the doorman or bouncer who keeps other stallions from mating with the mares. But the leader is chosen by and earns her place within the herd. If humans chose their workplace leaders in the same way — based on behavior and character, instead of by power or money — Evelyn says our workplace leadership would be much more authentic, and our work more productive and positive.

Awareness of the Present Moment

Both Evelyn and Dr. Nancy talk about how you have to remain in the present when working with horses. Dr. Nancy laughs about what happens if you let your attention stray. Because of horses’ size and strength, self-awareness becomes absolutely imperative. Evelyn became comfortable with living in the now while riding. This present-focus kept her acutely aware of the interaction dynamic and how she could create a greater sense of ease and calm with the horse. If we would apply that to other humans, our relationships would be much more rewarding for both parties.
Evelyn invites everyone to check out her website. She has a 7-minute self-assessment there that only takes around seven minutes called “The 8-Fold Path of Equis,” which is based on the principles from her horse trainer. She also has a blog and offers to sign her book if you order it from her website. Also attend her monthly webinar in which she interviews women leaders with executive coach Carrie Galant at “Alpha Mare Leadership.
Be sure to listen to this interview for more comparisons and contrasts from Dr. Nancy and Evelyn between horses and humans. Learn how very much they have to teach us about creating relationships that work.

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