Research Paper By Lady Tinor
(Achievement Coach, CANADA)
The purpose of this research paper is to introduce and explore the concept of experiential learning (EXL) in a coaching practice. The research is focused on experiential learning through Animal-Assisted Coaching(AAC) with a particular emphasis on Equine Facilitated Professional Coaching (EFPC).
In the program offered by the International Coach Academy (ICA), the module entitled What is Coaching states that:
The International Coach Federation defines coaching in the following way:
Professional coaches provide an ongoing partnership designed to help clients produce fulfilling results in their personal and professional lives. Coaches help people improve their performances and enhance the quality of their lives.”
Coaches are trained to listen, to observe, and to customize their approach to individual client needs. They seek to elicit solutions and strategies from the client; they believe the client is naturally creative and resourceful. The coach’s job is to provide support to enhance the skills, resources, and creativity that the client already has. (International Coach Academy, n.d.)
Furthermore, the paper entitled Coaching Process by the International Coach Academy explains that:
Coaching involves a dialogue between a coach and a client with the aim of helping the client obtain a fulfilling life. It blends the best concepts from business, psychology, philosophy, sports, and spirituality. But, it is a distinctly different process to that of a consultant, therapist, or mentor. (International Coach Academy, n.d.)
The coaches must be trained and educated to recognize issues that fall outside of the scope of the service that they provide, particularly when incorporating animals within their coaching practice. Hence, coaches using this approach should be familiar and continue to abide by the Core Competencies and Code of Ethics as defined by the International Coach Federation.
Horses, in particular, may have the ability to elicit emotional responses within the clients who interact with them. This response can occur regardless of how careful the coach is, and how learning-based the service is. Therefore, an EFPC coach would do well to have a referral process strongly embedded in their normal practice and be prepared to refer clients to mental health service if deeper issues arise. (Hallberg, 2008, p. 400)
Experiential learning also knows as (EXL) is the process of learning through experience, and is more specifically defined as “earning through reflection on doing(Felicia, 2011, as cited in Wikipedia, n.d.).
Kolb’s experiential learning style theory is typically represented by a four-stage learning cycle in which the learner ‘touches all the bases’:
- Concrete Experience – a new experience or situation is encountered, or a reinterpretation of existing experience.
- Reflective Observation of the New Experience – of particular importance are any inconsistencies between experience and understanding.
- Abstract Conceptualization – reflection gives rise to a new idea or a modification of an existing abstract concept (the person has learned from their experience).
- Active Experimentation – the learner applies their idea(s) to the world around them to see what happens. (McLeod, 2017)
To put this into layman’s terms, Kolb believes that adults learn by having an experience, then reflecting on that experience, coming up with new insights or ideas, and then going out into the world to apply these new insights. Upon applying new insights, adults then have new experiences to learn from. In this way, learning goes on and on in an endless cycle.
Coaching shares Kolb’s assumption that the best way for the client to learn is from his or her own experiences. Coaches believe that clients are dynamic, powerful individuals capable of finding their own answers. As coaches, it is our job to ask the right questions. Coaches assist clients to reflect on and learn from their experiences. They also assist clients to apply this learning to new goals so that they can create new achievements. In fact, the coaching conversation could be seen as the “observations and reflections” step of Kolb’s Cycle of Learning and the whole coaching relationship could be seen as a learning relationship (International Coach Academy, n.d.).
The International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organizations (IAHAIO) is the leading global association of organizations concerned with advancing the field of human-animal interaction (HAI). This is accomplished through research, education, and collaboration among its members, policymakers, clinical practitioners, other human-animal interaction organizations, and the general public(IAHAOI, 2018, p.3).
Challenges facing the field of HAI at an international level are numerous. For example plentiful and various terminologies of Animal Assisted Intervention (AAI) confuse. There is also a dearth of guidelines regarding those involved, especially concerning the animals. Recognizing the urgency to address the issues above, a TaskForce was established and charged with the responsibility of clarifying and making recommendations on AAI terminologies and definitions and outlining ethical practices for the wellbeing of animals involved(IAHAOI, 2018, p.4).
The definitions recommended in the White Paper presented by the 2014 Task Force were updated again in 2018. They are intended for medical, allied health, public health, and care and veterinary professionals involved in animal-assisted interventions.
An Animal Assisted Intervention is a goal-oriented and structured intervention that intentionally includes or incorporates animals in health, education, and human services(e.g., social work) for therapeutic gains in humans. It involves people with knowledge of the people and animals involved. Animal-assisted interventions incorporate human-animal teams informal human services such as Animal-assisted therapy (AAT), Animal Assisted Education (AAE), or under certain conditions AnimalAssisted Activity (AAA). It also includes Animal Assisted Coaching (AAC). Such interventions should be developed and implemented using an interdisciplinary approach (IAHAOI, 2018, p.5).
Animal Assisted Therapy is a goal-oriented, planned, and structured therapeutic intervention directed and/or delivered by health, education, or human service professionals, including e.g. psychologists and social workers. Intervention progress is measured and included in professional documentation. AAT is delivered and/or directed by a formally trained (with active licensure, degree, or equivalent) professional with expertise within the scope of the professionals’ practice. AAT focuses on enhancing the physical, cognitive, behavioral, and/or socio-emotional functioning of the particular human recipient either in the group or individual setting. The professional delivering AAT (or the person handling the animal under the supervision of the human service professional) must have adequate knowledge about the behavior, needs, health, and indicators and regulation of stress of the animals involved (IAHAOI, 2018, p.5).
Animal Assisted Education (AAE) is a goal-oriented, planned, and structured intervention directed and/or delivered by educational and related service professionals. AAE is conducted by qualified (with degree) general and special education teachers either in the group or individual setting. An example of AAE delivered by a regular education teacher is an educational visit that promotes responsible pet ownership. AAE, when done by special (remedial) education teachers are also considered therapeutic and a goal-oriented intervention. The focus of the activities is on academic goals, pro-social skills, and cognitive functioning. The student’s progress is measured and documented. The professional delivering AAE, including regular school teachers (or the person handling the animal under the supervision of the education professional), must have adequate knowledge about the behavior, needs, health, and indicators and regulation of stress of the animals involved(IAHAOI, 2018, p.5).
AAA is a planned and goal-oriented informal interaction and visitation conducted by the human-animal team for motivational, educational, and recreational purposes. Human-animal teams must have received at least introductory training, preparation, and assessment to participate in informal visitations. Human-animal teams who provide AAA may also work formally and directly with a healthcare, educator, and/or human service provider on specific documentable goals. In this case, they are participating in AAT or AAE that is conducted by a specialist in his/her profession. Examples of AAA include animal-assisted crisis response that focuses on providing comfort and for trauma, crisis, and disaster survivors, and visiting companion animals for ‘meet and greet’ activities with residents in nursing homes. The person delivering AAA must have adequate knowledge about the behavior, needs, health, and indicators of the stress of the animals involved(IAHAOI, 2018, p.5).
Animal Assisted Coaching/Counselling is a goal-oriented, planned, and structured animal-assisted intervention directed and/or delivered by professionals licensed as coaches or counselors. Intervention progress is measured and included in professional documentation. AAC is delivered and/or directed by a formally trained(with active licensure, degree, or equivalent) professional coach or counselor with expertise within the scope of the professionals’ practice. AAC focuses on enhancing the personal growth of the recipient, on insight and enhancement of group processes, or social skills, and/or socio-emotional functioning of the coachee(s)or client(s). The coach/counselor delivering AAC (or the person handling the animal under the supervision of the coach/counselor) must have adequate training about the behavior, needs, health, and indicators and regulation of stress of the animals involved(IAHAOI, 2018, p.6).
Figure 1:Defining AAI,AAT, AAE, AAA and AAC
A great deal of information about the client can be gleaned from observing their interactions with an animal. Information about a client’s style of relating may be also obtained from observing the animal’s reaction to the client’s behavior or touch. In providing this kind of feedback, animals mirror aspects of the self back to the individual, thereby facilitating awareness This kind of feedback in the here-and-now allows opportunities for growth and change; in this way, animals often serve as experiential learning partners that, in collaboration with a human professional, provide “teachable moments” about one’s relationship with self and with others(Ewing, MacDonald, Taylor & Bowers, 2007; Fine, 2000; Karol, 2007; Levinson, 1962; Rector, 2005, as cited in Schlote, 2009, p. 5).
Animals also serve as metaphors, the animals, or animal-human interactions in session representing other individuals or interactions in the client’s life (Levinson, 1962; Parish-Plass, 2008; Rochberg-Halton, 1985, as cited in Schlote, 2009, p. 5).
Finally, animals play a host of other roles, such as providing a source of calm and relaxation (Kruger & Serpell, 2006; Lefkowitz et al., 2005, as cited in Schlote, 2009, p. 5), being a source of physical grounding in the present moment and connection with reality in the here-and-now (Levinson, 1962; Mallon, 1994a, 1994b, as cited in Schlote, 2009, p. 6), serving as a source of motivation or as an incentive in behavior modification programs (Rice, Brown & Caldwell, 1973, as cited in Schlote, 2009, p. 6), and serving as an attachment figure (Parish-Plass, 2008, as cited in Schlote, 2009, p. 6), among others.
Two specific models of practice have been documented regarding animal-assisted interventions: the diamond model (helping professional – animal handler/professional – animal – client) and the triangle model: (helping professional – animal – client) (Brooks, 2006).
Figure 2:Defining Diamond and Triangle Model
The Diamond model is often preferred by mental health professionals where the therapist needs to assist the client and the helper is there to assist with the animal.
However, within an equine coaching program, the triangle model is most often used; where the human professional steps back and truly allows the horse to help bring about the work with the client.
During a YouTubepresentation on Future of Systemic Leadership Coaching (Coachary, 2019), Professor Peter Hawkins encourages coaches to become eco-engaged in their coaching sessions and use the environment as part of the coaching resources. In the same conversation, he refers to the idea of coaching outdoors and involving animals such as horses and other living beings as part of the coaching, such as equine-assisted coaching.
As detailed in the book Walking the Way of the Horse, the author explains how the horses may be in a unique position to help humanity evolve:
They have the ability to help us hone our non-verbal communication skills, our sense of awareness, and re-kindle our sensitivity. They also help us realize that interspecies communication is possible, and therefore may help us to listen to the voice of the natural world calling out for stewardship and protection.
Through the subtlest of non-verbal/vocal communications horses speak to each other and us. If we are observant we can become aware of minimal sensory information, and respond accordingly, therefore validating for the horses that we can understand them.
Horses can sense through the smallest of actions, body posture, smells, and tones of voice how the approaching human is doing emotionally and physically. They respond accordingly, either inviting the human into their space or using cues to suggest that they are uncomfortable with that human in their space in the current mood or state that the/she might be in at the time.
Whether the human realizes it or not every single moment he/she is in the presence of horses, communications abound. Everything that the human does and thinks, and every emotion that the human comes to the session with is taken in by the horse, assessed, and utilized. The horse has an innate ability to understand, perceive, and respond to the subtlest forms of non-verbal/vocal communication that occurs both within and between species (Hallberg, 2008, p. 107).
The work of the coach within an equine-facilitated coaching session is to take the information provided by the horses and help the client to find ways of integrating that information back into his/her life (Hallberg, 2008, p. 181).
PATH International, a federally registered non-profit organization that was formed in 1969 to promote equine-assisted activities and therapies (EAAT) for individuals with special needs, summarizes the benefits of working with horses as follows:
Working with equines provides opportunities to teach critical life skills such as trust, respect, honesty, and communication. Equines use mostly non-vocal communication and are in-tune with human behavior. This can help participants to better understand and learn how our non-verbal communication might be impacting or influencing others in their lives. Equines ask people to be aware of their surroundings at all times. Through interactions with the equines, participants learn a heightened self-awareness.
Self-awareness is important to reveal patterns of behavior and allows participants to think in a new way. Furthermore, participants gain self-esteem and self-confidence while learning how to work with such a large and powerful creature. In all, equines provide us with a way to see our internal landscape and modes of operation exposed. They offer us the opportunity to experience humility, compassion, and challenge – all critical elements to supporting self-growth and self-awareness (PATH, n.d.).
Part of the challenge in working with animal-assisted interventions is the myriad of terms that are used by various practitioners such as Equine Facilitated programs vs Equine Assisted program.
As explained in Walking the Way of the Horse, the word “Facilitated” and as defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary means to, “Help bring about,” whereas the word “Assist” or “Assisted” means, “to give support or aid” or to “to be present as a spectator” (Hallberg, 2008, p. xxxii).
Horses who work within mental health or educational programs have the ability to both facilitate and assist. However, some situations and clients are better served by an assisted approach. If a provider is using an equine-assisted approach the horse will take a less active role in the process, either action as support staff or just being present during a session (Hallberg, 2008, p. xxxii).
Conversely, it has been proven that in almost every situation, if the horse is permitted to facilitate he/she will do so. An equine coaching program would most likely use a “Facilitated” approach – where the horse is present to “help” bring about awareness to the client.
The process of receiving reflective feedback from a horse can include learning how to observe the client’s own communication style in action. Using the ‘round pen concept’ is an example of how a client can learning about communication skills. After observing the horses communicating with each other in the pasture, the client is offered the opportunity to work with a horse in a round pen. While the client is in the process of learning this new ‘language’, his/her own unique struggles with communication may arise, and the coach learns where the challenges lie. Through teaching the client the language of Equus and setting the goal of being able to communicate successfully with the horse to move him/her around the round pen at specified gaits, the client can learn how to more effectively communicate in his/her own life. Within this kind of work, the horse provides continuous reflective feedback about how the human is communicating (Hallberg, 2008,p. 171).
A client struggles to assertively instruct the horse to walk forward. The horse patiently awaits the correct command, but the woman struggles to ask for what she truly wants. The [coach] continues to work with her, providing the tangible skills that she can utilize both in the round pen and back out in her daily life. Once the woman has found her voice and asks the horse using congruent communication, the horse immediately moves forward at the walk. The woman experiences success and can practice her new communication skill in a safe and non-threatening environment. Therefore she has learned a new and extremely viable tool that is hers to take away from that session. In a [coaching] setting the debrief process would veer away from the implications of her non-assertive communication style from the past, and instead stay in the present, focused on the skill itself. The [coach] would not ask leading questions that could move the session into a therapeutic one, but rather stay grounded and focused on the act of using the skill (Hallberg, 2008, p. 171).
(Hallberg, 2008, pp. 393-408)
Equine Facilitated Professional Coaching (EFPC) is defined as a triad relationship between the coach, the specially selected horse(s), and the client(s). It incorporates a mind-body-spirit awareness process that encourages the client to maximize his/her personal and professional potential (Hallberg, 2008, p. 393).
Within an EFPC format, the horse serves as the unique variable which can elevate the success of the coaching process. Results of the service depend upon the individual or the team’s intentions, choices, and actions, supported by the coach’s efforts, and the horse’s presence (Hallberg, 2008, p. 396).
Dr. Ellen Gehrke, Ph.D., and Sherri Petro, MBA have isolated four benefits of EFPC which distinguish it from alternative performance improvement processes. First, the client can develop new possibilities for more effective interactions in the workplace by observing the herd dynamics of horses and relating them to their own personal interactions. Second, they can discover their own impact as leaders and learn to develop a climate that is safe, productive, and creative. Third, through the interaction with the coach and the horse the client develops a deeper connection to their own ability to be authentic regarding accountability to self and others. This results in an awareness of their personal energy and how they direct their energy. This is a critical and surprising aspect of the EFPC model. Fourth, the uniqueness of the model is that changes can be made at the moment and can result in noticeable changes in behavior after only a few sessions. Clients that ownership of their own destiny to be successful or not (E. Gehrke &S. Petro, personal communications, n.d., as cited in Hallberg, 2008, p. 396).
EFPC appears to take the general objectives from traditional professional or life coaching and add the powerful presence of the horse who may provide a memorable catalyst for sustaining identified behavioral change (Hallberg, 2008, p. 396).
In the work of EFPC, the horse is considered a partner. Dr. Gehrke suggests that consideration of the horse should always be first and foremost and the basic assumption about the horse in a coaching session is that the horse does nothing wrong. She believes strongly that all behavior and responses from the horse are natural and energetic, and provide important information for the coach to process with the client. For example, if a horse begins to drift or pull away during a session and the client pulls or tugs on them to make them stand still, this provides information about the client’s leadership or management style that the coach can utilize in his or her work with the client. Ms. Gehrke believes that behavior such as this does not indicate the horse was “bad” and/or that the horse should be disciplined for his behavior. Dr. Gehrke reminds us that clients often realize through these interactions with the horse how their timing with other people is not synchronized. The client may recognize that his/her leadership style includes having to correct, pull, tug, and reprimand others to do what he/she wants. This type of realization tends to lead to awareness about relational and leadership issues that transfer from success with the horse-human relationship to success in human-human relationships (E. Gehrke, personal communications, n.d., as cited in Hallberg, 2008, p. 399).
The horse within an EFPC session appears to both provide reflective and feedback and act as an employee, engaging the client in activities that help teach skills such as communication, leadership, and team building. The horses working within an EFPC method are generally allowed the flexibility to choose their human clients and are encouraged to communicate information and reactions to those clients. EFPC horses are not usually forced into work-related situations where the coach chooses the horses for the clients or allows the client to do hands-on activities with a horse who obviously does not feel safe with that particular client. However, coaches will use interactions between horses and clients as “teachable moments” to help the client or clients see their impact on others around them. This does not necessitate the horse having to actively engage with the client if he or she is uncomfortable around that human being. It can occur from outside of the fence or from observation rather than hands-on experience (E. Gehrke, J. Esparza, R. Higgins, personal communications, n.d., as cited by Hallberg, 2008, p. 400).
Many EFPC coaches appear to view their horses as partners and treat them accordingly. The horse/human relationship between the coach and the horses can help model for the client healthful, respectful leadership methods. Critical to EFPC is the recognition that horses are not tools, that they are living, breathing, feeling beings who have the ability to recognize and respond to the emotional field (E. Gehrke, 2006, as cited by Hallberg, 2008, p. 400).
It is suggested that the EFPC coach take an indirect approach with the client, not telling the client what he/she should or should not be experiencing. The coach merely services as an interpreter and facilitator of whatever experience the client and the horse have together. The clients are encouraged to take ownership of whatever new insights they might have and make their own decisions about how to utilize that information in their daily lives (Hallberg, 2008, p. 402).
The coach helps to provide objective assessment and observations that foster the individual’s or team members’ enhanced self-awareness and awareness of others. Dr. Gehrke and Ms. Petro suggest several skills or directives for the EFPC coach:
- EFPC coaches practice astute listening in order to garner a full understanding of the individual’s or team’s circumstances.
- They act as a “sounding board” in support of thoughtful planning and decision making and champion opportunities and potential.
- They encourage clients to stretch and challenge themselves commensurate with personal strengths and aspirations.
- Coaches foster shifts in thinking that reveal fresh perspectives and challenge blind spots in order to illuminate new possibilities and support the creation of alternative scenarios.
- Finally, the coach maintains professional boundaries in the coaching relationship, including confidentiality, and adheres to the coaching profession’s code of ethics (Hallberg, 2008, p. 402).
It is important to keep in mind that the seven steps of the coaching sessions as demonstrated in the Coaching Process module of the International Coach Academy (International Coach Academy, n.d.) should still be implemented during an EFPC session.
The 7 Step Coaching Process
- Establish the coaching agreement
- Set the goal or outcome for the session
- Clarify the current situation
- Clarify the gap
- Identify and commit to action
- New Learning
The 7 step coaching process is fairly standard for all coaching in all contexts. A coach’s job is to move the client from where they are now to where they want to be and to do that in a way that allows the client to take the reins and direct the process. The client sets the intention for the session, identifies any goals, and brings forward any blockages or challenges. (International Coach Academy, n.d.)
In preparing for an EFPC session, the coach initially conducts an assessment of the needs of the client and then designs the EFPC session to include particular activities that provide opportunities for the client to achieve their coaching objectives. Below are examples of coaching objectives for an EFPC session (Hallberg, 2008, p. 396).
The client who engages in a coaching service may come to develop their leadership skills or learn new approaches to leadership or management. Observing and interacting with horses may allow them to experience the difference between leading with confidence utilizing a partnership model, or leading from fear and domination. The client is afforded the ability to process these insights and experiences within the group or individually with the coach and can determine for themselves more effective ways to lead based on their interactions with the horses. In many cases, this approach to teaching leadership has proven to positively affect the client’s personal and business relationships (E. Gehrke, J. Esparza, R. Higgins, personal communications, n.d., as cited by Hallberg, 2008, p. 397).
The coach assists the client in achieving this instructional objective by helping the client to identify and experience the impact their leadership approach had upon the horse. The horse assists in this process by remaining honest and authentic and providing a mirroring reaction to the client. The horse will generally respond to leadership that is authentic, respectful, and confident, but generally will not respond favorably if the client attempts to trick, cajole, manipulate, bribe, or plead for the horse to follow or partner with them (Roberts, 2002; Irwin, 1998; Rashid, 2000, as cited by Hallberg, 2008, p. 397).
In working with horses, EFPC clients begin to learn how to recognize and utilize healthful communications. Dr. Gehrke and Ms. Petro suggest the following communications skills objectives for EFPC.
- Assist the client in understanding the importance of delivering consistent information so that others experience the client as safe, supportive, clear, and responsible for self and others.
- Support the client in recognizing how the delivery of their communication reflects their ability to relate to others within their personal and professional relationships.
- Teach the client the importance of clear and concise communication skills(E. Gehrke & S. Petro, personal communications, n.d. as cited in Hallberg, 2008, p. 397).
Horses demand consistency, clarity, and self-responsibility. Through working with horses, clients can practice these communication skills and learn how to transfer those skills to their professional lives (Roberts, 2002; Irwin, 1998; Rashid, 2000, as cited by Hallberg, 2008, p. 398).
Many professionals come to an EFPC session to learn how to create and sustain high performing teams which are an essential component of any organization’s success. EFPC activities for team-building often include activities that allow the client to recognize characteristics and behaviors that contribute to height performance teams. Dr. Gehrke and Ms. Petro suggest that EFPC:
- Helps clients to develop more personally authentic approaches to working in team situations,
- Helps team leaders observe the energetics of their team in regards to how they synchronize the tasks required of them and work in partnership with others outside of their immediate team,
- Helps individual clients identify areas in which they can make improvements that will benefit the team as a whole, and
- Helps team leaders and team members collaborate on the creation of a team action plan which will guide the direction of future team-oriented endeavors(E. Gehrke & S. Petro, personal communications, n.d., as cited in Hallberg, 2008, p. 398).
Many people seek EFPC services because they want to discover ways to make lasting changes and gain deeper personal insights regarding what may be blocking or preventing forward movement in their lives.
EFPC focuses on personal development which can include issues of stress management, creativity blocks, time management, building personal relationships within the workplace that last, and learning how to balance their personal and professional life. Dr. Gehrke and Ms. Petro introduce four ways in which EFPC helps clients move towards personal insight and success.
- EFPC allows the client to learn how to live in the present moment.
- EFPC helps clients gain awareness about their own energy sources (draining, uplifting) and make decisions about how they allocate their energy both professionally and personally.
- EFPC helps the client define their priorities in different areas of their life.
- EFPC helps clients develop an action plan to manifest their newly experienced balance within both their vocation and their personal life.
(E. Gehrke & S. Petro, personal communications, n.d., as cited in Hallberg, 2008, p. 399).
To accomplish the learning objectives for personal development, the coach needs to allow the clients to identify for themselves what is going on in their session with the horse. Sometimes deeper issues arise that might require counseling. In this situation, it is appropriate for the coach to refer the client to a counselor (Hallberg, 2008, p. 399).
EFPC requires preparation on the part of the client and coach. Clients are encouraged to develop personal and professional goals, identify roadblocks they foresee, and determine skills they would like to develop. The coach prepares a semi-structured session that is still flexible enough to allow for changes in direction due to reflective feedback provided by the horse. The session plan may consist of a series of horse exercises, provocative questions, and debriefs which shed light on the client’s behavior and underlying beliefs (Hallberg, 2008, p. 404).
Dr. Gehrke and Ms. Petro suggest that clients may be asked to challenge themselves both personally and professionally during an EFPC session. They believe that it helps both the coach and the client to begin thinking about such areas even during the preparation stage of the EFPC process. They list nine such areas that the EFPC coach may consider introducing to his/her clients.
- Focus– on one’s self, the tough questions, the hard truths, and one’s success. What does the horse indicate to the client when the focus is clear?
- Observation– the behaviors and communications of self and others as they interact with the horse.
- Listening– to one’s intuition, assumptions, judgments, and the way one sounds when one speaks. The horse will let the client know the truth about their listening and intuition skills.
- Style– leveraging personal strengths and overcoming limitations to develop a more satisfying balance between life and work.
- Decisive Actions – by working with the horses learn to set clear boundaries and take appropriate risks
- Compassion – for one’s self as he/she experiments with new behaviors based on feedback from the horses
- Humor – committing to not take one’s self so seriously, using humor to lighten and brighten any situation. Hoses appreciate lightheartedness.
- Personal Control – maintain composure in the face of disappointment and unmet expectations, avoiding emotional reactivity. Applying emotional intelligence skills is important for learning in EFPC coaching.
- Courage – in the work of EFPC, clients learn to challenge themselves in new and different ways and to engage in continual self-examination which may help them to overcome internal and external obstacles (Hallberg, 2008, p. 404).
The success of an EFPC session is measured by both internal and external indicators of performance. Since goal-setting is a key component of coaching, outcomes are determined at the beginning of the process and measured by such questions as “What does a successful outcome look like?” Dr. Gehrke and Ms. Petro utilize assessment tools that include self-scoring / self-validating assessments which can be administered initially and at regular intervals in the coaching process, changes in the individual’s self-awareness and awareness of others, shifts in thinking which inform more effective actions, and shifts in one’s emotional state which inspire confidence. The external indicators are those that can be seen and measured in the environment such as improved perceptions by management, peers, and staff and be improved productivity. Ideally, both external and internal metrics are incorporated into an evaluation (Hallberg, 2008, p. 406).
Some of the most powerful coaching sessions often focus on the client’s leadership skills.
A president of a large organization came for an initial EFPC session. At the beginning of the session, the EFPC coach suggested that the client observe the horse herd who were turned out in a large fenced enclosure. The client was given the directive of isolating one of the horses within the herd whom he felt drawn to.
The client entered the pasture and began to move through the horse herd. A tall black mustang began to follow the client as he interacted with the other horses. The client continued to approach and meet the other horses, ignoring the talk black gelding. As the activity was drawing to a close, the client commented that he assumed that the black gelding “must do this to everyone.” The coach responded, suggesting to the client that in fact, this particular horse generally does not come close to clients during this initial activity. The coach debriefed the client’s reaction to the activity, and the client eventually did decide to continue his work that day with the black gelding.
The coach presented the next activity, a round pen activity created to observe how the client provided direction for his staff. The coach provided some basic instructions about how to move the horse around the round pen if he should want to do that and gave him safety guidelines that would keep him safe while engaging with the horse. The client entered into the round pen with the gelding who was waiting attentively in the center of the pen. The client patted the horse and then proceeded to stand in the pen with the horse, not offering him any direction or instruction as to what he wanted to see the horse do. After a few minutes of this, the horse moved away from the client and began nibbling on some grass. The client turned to the coach and asked her what he was supposed to do.
The coach provided the client with a reflection, suggesting that it appeared that initially the horse was willing to do whatever the client wanted, and in fact had followed him all around the pasture while he was loose. However, she suggested, once the client entered into the round pen and did not give the horse any direction the horse lost interest and did whatever he wanted to do. The coach asked the client if this might be typical of any patterns he experienced in his current work.
The client immediately engaged with the coach, sharing that in fact, he expected his staff and the vice presidents of his company to take initiative and “Get the job done” without much supervision from him. The coach proceeded to ask if this approach was working for him.
The client responded that in fact, it was not working. He suggested that he felt irritated and frustrated when the horse wandered away from him in the round pen because it reminded him of how his staff treated him. He shared that he did not feel he could get the horse’s attention back once he had lost it and that this was an ongoing problem at work.
At this point, the coach suggested that the client re-evaluate his intentions and then interact with the horse. The client found that he was still struggling to find his true or “Deep” intention, and thus even during the second attempt at the activity the client was unsuccessful at getting the gelding to move around the pen and leave the grass.
Over the following sessions, the client struggled to create and maintain a sense of his deeper intentions, both personally and professionally. However, as the sessions continued, the client was able to isolate new ways of interacting and connecting with the gelding, and soon he was able to guide and direct him both in a contained space and also out in a pasture.
This shift was observed by his staff over the weeks he worked with the gelding, and soon he had successfully re-integrated as a leader within his company. The staff validated his change by voicing a deeper commitment to the company and him personally.
The big black gelding had done his work. (Hallberg, 2008, pp 406-408)
EPFC may evoke a powerful relationship between humans and horses which can accelerate personal and professional growth. Leadership and communication skills, as well as team and personal development, can be enhanced. By leveraging qualified coaching and horses as partners, clients can set an objective, use insights from the equine experience, and allow outcomes to emerge. A successful EFPC process requires safety, flexibility, fluidity, a commitment to living in the moment, and deep respect for the client, horse, and the energetic relationship between them(Hallberg, 2008, p. 408).
Working with horses provides a provocative avenue to explore the realms of our consciousness as well as bring us more fully into the present, therefore allowing us to feel, listen, and truly hear what is occurring all around us. It is an amazing way to apply the principles of experiential learning (learning through reflection on doing) along with the core competencies of coaching as we assist the client to find the answers that lie within themselves.
Brooks, S.M. (2006). Animal-assisted psychotherapy and equine-facilitated psychotherapy. In N.B. Webb (Ed.), Working with traumatized youth in child welfare (pp. 196-217). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
Coacharya. (2019, November 1). Future of Systemic Leadership Coaching- Peter Hawkins [Video]. YouTube. Retrieved April 2020
Hallberg, L. (2008). Walking the Way of the Horse: Exploring the Power of the Horse-Human Relationship. iUniverse Inc.
International Coach Academy. (n.d.). What is Coaching? Retrieved January 2018
International Coach Academy. (n.d.). The Coaching Process. Retrieved April 2020 from
International Coach Academy. (n.d.). Coaching Influences. Retrieved April 2020 from
International Coach Academy. (n.d.). Workshop your Coaching Process. Retrieved April 2020 from http://coachschool.s3.amazonaws.com/modules/ICA-YourCoachingModel-WorkshopYourProcess.pdf
McLeod, S. A. (2017). Kolb – learning styles and experiential learning cycle. Simply Psychology. Retrieved April 2020
PATH. (n.d.). Equine-assisted learning (EAL). Retrieved April 2020 from
Schlote, S.M. (2009). Animal-assisted therapy and equine-assisted therapy/learning in Canada: Surveying the current state of the field, its practitioners, and its practices (Unpublished master’s thesis). University of Victoria, BC, Canada.
Wikipedia. (n.d.). Experiential learning. Retrieved April 2020 from