THE BLOG
12/05/2014 09:57 pm ET Updated Feb 04, 2015

An Equestrian Way to Mindfulness

In the last decade, things around us have evolved and changed, at an incredibly accelerated pace. The main contributor to this new world order is technology. Phones, computers, tablets, apps, contents are all tools that help us to quickly connect with people and customers, but at the same time, are generating a massive amount of data that, as leaders, we are asked to manage in real time 24/7.

How do we survive in a world that is always connected? A space where things around us move and change faster and faster? How do we manage the stress and keep focused under these circumstances? And even more important, how do we hold on to our humanity?

One important thing that we need to understand is whether technology really brings true connectivity, or is it, only a tool that allows us to quickly share, often disconnected and not well thought out information. In fact, being linked through technology doesn't necessarily mean that we truly have an intimate relationship with something or somebody.

Relationship, is the key point in being able to get what I like to define as "true connectivity." This doesn't mean to just join with, or become joined with something else, but requires the establishment of a mindful communication.

In order to get a better and deeper understanding of the meaning of true connection, I'm going to give examples from my experience with horses and specifically in dressage training.

For those not familiar with dressage, it is an equestrian sport involving the execution of precision movements by a trained horse in response to barely perceptible signals from its rider.

Horse riding is not just the action of a man sitting on a horse. Whether you go out for a walk with a horse, or you jump or do dressage or other disciplines, as a rider you are required to always be active on the horse. Being active on a horse, means to always keep in communication with the animal through your body and mind.

The horse is always looking and expecting full guidance from the rider. In dressage, the way you tell your horse the speed, rhythm and movements you want, is by the coordinated use of sit, legs, arms, hands, core.

The use of our body though, is not enough to establish a proper and true communication. In order for this intellectual process and training to be effective, we also need to use our minds. This is the only way for the rider to gain the horse's trust, and the only way to establish a true partnership with the animal.

It is amazing to see that when a full body and soul relationship is established, the horse responds to our commands even before we physically ask. What I have experienced is that this happens even when you simply lunge the horse (the technique of moving the horse using an extended rope). You are positioned away from the horse and connected to him with just a lunge line, but if you are really present, in the moment, a strong mental conversation takes place. At times, the mental exchange of information is so deep, that what you think, is immediately grasped by the horse, who anticipates the movements even before you ask for them.

Whenever I ride adopting this body and soul approach, I forget about the rest of the things going on around me, and I experience a unique horse-rider performance and adventure. It is a mindful practice, in which the horse and I are in the present moment.

With an energetic communication, this human and horse relationship, becomes meaningful. The horse feels the security or insecurity of the rider, and based on that it decides if it can trust you or not. When trust is there, the horse recognizes and respects the leadership of the person sitting on the saddle. Then he fully relies on that human body for guidance. At this point the relationship becomes a beautiful co-creation.

This type of practice requires a lot of patience and a deep mental, almost meditative approach.

There are days when all these components are in place and the co-creation relationship becomes a natural dance. Other times when, for many different reasons things fall apart, even a walk exercise can become very hard.

Let's think about it for a moment. How many aspects and similarities of the horse -- human relationships can be applied to our daily job as leaders? Where and how does vulnerability show up? In spite of the trust, the self-confidence, the experience, and the strong relationship, the rider has always to be ready to manage a situation where the horse spooks at something out of fear. Now the secure leader has to deal with an unbalanced situation, try to control the panic, reestablish the horse's confidence and bring the situation back to normal. At the same time, the rider has to work on himself, to make sure his own self-confidence in the relationship with this beautiful -- challenging animal is not lost.

For me horse riding and the relationship with these majestic animals, is what helps me to maintain balance at work, and most important, what keeps me connected to the most profound human values when I'm dealing with my team and the people around me.

Going back to connectivity through technology. In life as in business, I rarely see a true connection like the one I just shared. What we normally do is to quickly connect to the internet, and often read without reflecting on the meaning of what we are reading. We get to work and check hundreds emails a day, often without even having the time to analyze all the aspects of the content. We quickly reply because we are under pressure to reply fast to as many messages as we can. It seems like as if we are paid and rewarded based on the number of emails and phone calls we respond to, instead of on the value we generate through a meaningful understanding and management of all the shared information.

This way of managing our business and our lives generates chaos and mistakes, which in business translate to costs. It also drains energy out of our body and soul, undermines the quality of our execution as leaders, and prevents us from living a real life.