The Mane Intent farm just east of Peterborough is no ordinary farm. It’s home to a unique program that uses horses to help teach team building, wellness, coping and leadership skills through experiential learning.
It started seven years ago when farm owner Jennifer Garland purchased her first horse, a Palamino named Sunny: With a Chance of Tornado.
“Sunny really taught me about my own leadership skills, how to be grounded and stepping out of my comfort zone,” Garland said.
That prompted Garland to step away from her corporate position and launch the Mane Intent in October, 2014. To date officials with the organization estimate they’ve helped 200 individuals with programs ranging from 12 weeks to one day.
Garland said typically a session begins with a silent visit with the animals and then individual groundwork (no riding necessary). Sometimes, for example, the client and the horse must complete a task together or work toward a common goal.
“Horses really help us see how we present ourselves to the rest of the world,” Garland said. “For example, if you’re doing a change management project you’re often going to, in the workplace, run into resistance. So if you’re working with a 1,200-pound animal and they provide you with resistance, you’ll see how you respond to that,” she added.
She said those interactions translate into everyday life.
“They teach us about grounding, they teach us about boundaries, they teach us about being clear on directions and also how our body responds to different situations,” Garland said.
Now Garland is teaming up with Adaptimist Insight, an organization that teaches social and emotional skills to leaders, to offer a two-day workshop. It is a new program for the organization to expand the scope of clients.
The president and CEO of Adaptimist Insight, Geoff Crane, said this teaching approach helps to identify challenges with personal interaction and communication.
“When you work with the horses you can’t use language or the traditional cognitive skills that we use every day. Now all of a sudden you are acutely aware of what is going on within yourself,” said Crane.
That, he said, is especially important in the workplace.
“If you’re a leader and you’re trying to guide people through those stressful minefields, you have to rely on skills that are far above and beyond the old school command and control type of things we used to think were so important,” said Crane.
Garland said each horse is drawn to certain emotions in clients based on their specific needs.
“Mystic Mel is our nurturer, our mama,” she said. “She came to us as a broodmare so she is often drawn to people that need nurturing in their lives.”
Jordanne Mclaren has seen the impact of programs at the Mane Intent. She works as a crisis support counsellor and advocate with the Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre (KSAC) in Peterborough. While she hasn’t been involved with leadership training, a program at the KSAC uses the animals as a form of therapy.
“Participants are able to develop skills that help with emotional regulation, personal resilience, coping strategies, positive self-esteem. It is just really encouraging to see and it is magical to witness,” said Mclaren.
“Often we are hearing that they (program participants) are better at creating boundaries and maintaining boundaries within their lives or acknowledging the boundaries that other people have set. They are also presenting with higher self-esteem more emotional regulation and personal resilience,” added Mclaren.
Crane says he has seen the healing power of the animals himself and said he is excited to share that experience with others.
The leadership event takes place April 24 and 25 at the Mane Intent in Indian River.