Jakarta. Horses are majestic creatures: graceful, powerful and loving. Their beauty and elegance are lauded all over the world; the bond between horse and man is often a deep and strong one.
Yet horses are much more than working animals or mere companions; HorseDream International, a German-based global company, invented a very unique form of horse-assisted leadership training and team building.
HorseDream was founded in 1996 by husband-and-wife duo Karin and Gerhard Krebs, both of whom used to work in the IT sector and found themselves overworked and close to burning out. They decided to travel to Iceland for a few weeks and it was there that they sat on horseback for the first time in their lives; they fell in love instantly. Upon their return to Germany, they decided to develop a new concept for workshops and seminars that teach leadership and management skills.
“The horse is a very present being, very real, living always in the here and now,” Gerhard Krebs explains on HorseDream International’s website. “That makes people, working with horses in Horse Assisted Seminars, learn about 100 percent presence, responsibility, self confidence, awareness and all that is necessary to develop leadership skills.”
At the same time, he adds, the horse — with its historical and mystical background — is also a dream.
“It opens horizons, changes belief systems, empowers people to step out of the box,” Krebs continues. “So HorseDream means exactly what is needed in modern business life: reality and vision.”
After establishing the brand in Germany, HorseDream brought its concept to other countries around the world and currently has more than 150 license partners globally. Recently, VERI Coaching, in cooperation with the Asian Leadership Center, introduced the concept to Indonesia.
Led by certified coach Verena Risse, the horse-assisted leadership seminars take place at the Jakarta Perkumpulan Equestrian Center in Sentul, West Java.
“The workshops are designed in a way that they nurture personality skills that are essential to leadership,” Risse explains. “Many leadership seminars aim to strengthen effectiveness within a company, yet they often overlook the fact that the most important part of successful leadership is communication. If we don’t communicate clearly, we can’t lead. We have to be able to communicate what we want and expect, but we also need to be able to listen very carefully, read between the lines and understand body language.”
This is where the horses come into the picture: they react to people’s body language and attitude.
“If I am not focused on the horse 100 percent, it will turn around and leave,” Risse says. “Horses by nature have several characteristics that form a perfect leadership skill-training platform, mainly because they ‘force’ us to challenge our default behavior and focus instead on strategies for true understanding, authentic action and mutual respect.”
The workshops, which usually last an entire day, consist of simple exercises with the horses, either in groups or individually. The participants, for example, are asked to get the animal’s attention and then lead it from one point to another, ideally without a rope.
“It’s all about the right communication and gaining the horse’s trust and respect,” Risse explains.
In between the exercises, which are all filmed, Risse takes time to talk to the participants about what they have experienced and how their insight translates to their leadership style in their professional life.
“It definitely helps to show them the footage afterwards,” she says. “For instance, when I ask someone how he managed the exercise, and he thinks he was very straightforward, the video sometimes shows a completely different story.”
Risse adds that the exercises are not about "doing well or doing badly," but simply about giving the participants the chance to self-reflect on and experiment with their individual leadership style.
“The participants quickly make the transfer to their real lives in the office, based on what they have learned during the exercise with the horses,” Risse says.
It’s not an easy task to introduce HorseDream to Indonesia, as the majority of people here have never even touched a horse and are nervous and frightened to take part in the seminars. But once they overcome the initial timidity, they quickly grow fond of the animals.
“You can often see a big physical distance between the human and the horse,” Risse recalls. “But at the end of the seminar, many of them are literally clinging to the horse’s neck.”
Risse herself worked many years as an investment banker before deciding to take a step back from the corporate world three years ago. Instead, she trained to be a professional coach in Singapore and obtained a certification from one of the world leaders of the coaching industry. She provides individual leadership coaching, drawing on her strong network in the corporate world for her clientele.
At the same time, Risse adds, she has always been a passionate rider. She practically grew up on horseback but took a long break when she attended university and later began to work.
“After a 35-year break, I picked up riding again. As I was obtaining my coaching license, I coincidentally stumbled across a website — HorseDream. I felt that it was the perfect complement for me to combine my enthusiasm for both coaching and horses,” she explains.
Risse didn’t think twice: last year, she attended a one-week training in Germany and officially became part of the HorseDream family. Since the concept is still quite new and foreign to Indonesia — and Southeast Asia in general — Risse currently puts all her energy into promoting the benefits of horse-assisted leadership seminars to a local audience.
She has already came up with a new idea that she wants to realize as soon as possible: a seminar addressed specifically to women.
“Women often have to juggle so many different things in their lives that they tend to forget about their own goals and dreams,” Risse explains. “With this new workshop, I would like to help them rediscover what they really want in life — with the help of horses, of course.”