In the arena, an old cowboy stands alone in the middle of a round pen, while onlookers in rapt attention fill the surrounding bleachers. They’ve come to witness something that’s been described as miraculous between man and beast, but a process the cowboy simply calls, “Join Up.”
The cowboy’s name is Monty Roberts, and he has been training horses and amazing onlookers for decades with his abilities to connect with and influence the behavior of horses through instinct instead of coercion – a radical departure in his day from standard, more aggressive horse training practices. So effective are his methods, however, he has earned widespread fame and even been invited by Queen Elizabeth II of England to work with her personal horses.
Roberts keys into the horse’s instincts — its “inner animal” — to predict and silently influence its behavior.
They lead a young Thoroughbred into the small round pen, take off his halter and let him loose. The animal snorts, gallops in frenzied worry around the edges of the circular pen, looking everywhere but at the old cowboy, quietly standing in the center. Roberts wants this horse to calm down, respect him and do his bidding, but he doesn’t lasso the running horse, pull him into submission or punish him for misbehavior. No – here is where Man’s idea of leadership and Nature’s truth part ways.
Roberts keys into the horse’s instincts — its “inner animal” — to predict and silently influence its behavior. The cowboy is familiar with the instincts that drive the animal’s behavior from the inside out. In particular, he knows that
- Animals are calmed by a clear social hierarchy with a trusted leader at the helm, who establishes his status by directing behavior and following through on those directives without malice yet without apology.
- They will retreat from perceived danger or pressure.
- They are drawn to strength, as aligning themselves with the strong represents the greatest chance of their own safety and survival.
Slowly, the cowboy begins to move toward and behind the animal, driving him forward with the pressure of his nearness. If the animal slows, the cowboy does not allow him to stop. With quiet determination, he increases the pressure to keep the horse moving. Occasionally, the cowboy crosses the pen to the other side to head off the horse, making him to turn and go the other way. To and fro. Fro and to. At the cowboy’s will and clear direction.
Closer and closer, the horse begins to relax while being drawn to the cowboy’s leadership and quiet strength – without a word…
After a few minutes, the trotting horse is now paying attention, coming closer with curiosity to the cowboy as he circles. He drops his head as he travels around the pen, and his jaw loosens into a contented chewing action. Closer and closer, the horse begins to relax while being drawn, in ever decreasing circles, to the cowboy’s demonstrated leadership and quiet strength – without a word being spoken or a lasso thrown.
Then, the cowboy stops. He turns his back to the horse and begins to walk away without a word or glance, and here the miracle of “Join Up” that the crowd has come to see, happens. The wild horse now follows the cowboy wherever he walks. He stops when he stops. Walks when he walks. When Roberts turns around, the horse puts his head in the cowboy’s hands and the cowboy softly strokes and assures him that all is well.
The beauty and majesty of Nature’s world and her promise of harmony through this quiet hierarchy is profound and those that witness it can be changed forever. Imagine if we as humans could learn to influence others in our life through instinct instead of coercion! Think how learning these quiet secrets of leadership could change how we relate to our children as parents or to our staff as bosses or managers. Who wouldn’t want children that listen and do what we ask without a fight and a staff that follows directions, completes assignments and actually enjoys working for us?
The good news is that you can have this! Begin by familiarizing yourself with the most basic human instincts. I list them for you in my earlier blog: “Animal Secret #2: Instincts Rule; Intellect Just Plays Catch-Up.” As the title implies, you’ll find that the instincts that make us tick are not all that different from those that motivate a horse or any other social mammal for that matter! We all desire a strong and trustworthy leader, we like roles to be clear, ditto expectations and we want to be treated fairly, among other things. If you can learn to influence others’ behaviors by tapping into these instinctive needs, you may find that “Join Up” is possible with your favorite humans, too!