The Dubai Women Establishment’s equine leadership initiative earlier this month gave 30 Emirati women from different professions an opportunity to interact with horses, in order to build their leadership capabilities and enhance their understanding of human behaviour. Image Credit: Dubai Women Establishment

Dubai: A leadership initiative has helped female managers from the public and private sector develop their management skills and self-confidence through ‘horse whispering’.

The Dubai Women Establishment’s (DWE) flagship equine leadership initiative, ‘Leaders Spirit — Leadership Skills from an Equestrian Perspective Advanced Programme,’ which took place earlier this month, included 30 Emirati women of different professions.

In its fourth edition, participants were given an opportunity to interact with horses, in order to build their leadership capabilities and enhance their understanding of human behaviour, team dynamics, human development, and creative approaches to conflict and change.

“The ‘Leaders Spirit’ sessions place greater emphasis on personal leadership development to help participants overcome common barriers to achieving personal and professional growth, and in turn, enhance their role in the UAE’s continued development and progress,” said Shamsa Saleh, CEO of DWE.

The programme, which provides a powerful alternative to traditional classroom training, involved on-the-spot learning, taking participants out of their comfort zones and ensuring that they were more open to feedback and ‘self-discovery’.

Leading the programme, Yolanda Sing, Founder of CHLOE Consultants, pointed out the importance for leaders to shape the culture of their organisations. “Equine-assisted learning can provide them with the tools to do just that, allowing them to connect with and influence people more effectively, and enhance their self-confidence,” she said.

Some of the key insights participants gained through the equine exercises included skills in managing teams, and understanding how guiding others with empathy earns respect and authority.

Teamwork skills

Participant Emirati Balqees Zainal, Director — Digital Communications Commercial at DU, said while she had gone horse riding once before, she was puzzled about how the programme would actually help participants develop leadership skills through interaction with horses. “It was a unique experience, which taught me many things like how horses can understand people through their [human’s] breathing patterns and how you can make a horse walk, run, and change direction by holding the leash and working together with it,” explained Zainal.

She explored her team work skills in order to work together with her horse to complete the series of obstacles provided during the session.

“During one exercise, we were told to think of sad thought, and as soon as I did and showed emotion, the horse moved his head towards me and began consoling me. I found that there are many concepts implemented in situations when dealing with a horse, that are metaphorically the same when dealing with a team at the workplace,” said Zainal.

Participants agreed that revealing hesitation or anxiety at the workplace, akin to showing stress or anxiety when dealing with a horse, can halt progress and team work. Showing both composure and control when walking a horse yields the same productive results as does dealing with others at work, and creates a sense of trust.

Another participant in the programme, Moza Ali Kayaf, Deputy Director of Excellence Department at the Ministry of Finance, also pointed out her ability to explore themes such as the importance of body language and emotional intelligence when dealing with teams in the workplace. “The unique method behind this programme involves discovery focused learning experiences through the honest reaction of the horses as ‘team members’, using insightful theory and practical exercises, which are relevant to real-world life and work situations,” said Kayaf.

Emotional intelligence skills

Similarly, first-time participant, Dr Mariam Ketait, Specialist Family Doctor, and Head of Business Development at the Dubai Health Authority, said she was curious to understand the relationship between leadership and horsemanship. “I was looking forward to finding out how to connect and communicate with a horse, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only did I learn to interact with him, but I learnt how to emotionally connect with him and be firm at the same time,” said Dr Ketait.

During the two-day event, Dr Ketait said she developed her emotional intelligence which has in turn developed her teamwork skills and understanding of verbal and non-verbal cues and body language.