Horse Talk with Mădălina Vîntu Popa

Hi Mădălina, welcome to our new set of articles under the expressive title – horse talk – they do neigh loudly about what they care about, so we’ll try to do the same.

We’ll have a set of 5 quick questions. Please use all your experience as a trainer and an educational designer to answer. Anecdotes from the training activities you designed and delivered are more than welcome.

  1. Why is leadership important?
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Funny thing, this is the first question and I chose to answer it last because it’s so encompassing. I believe Leadership is important because it’s an expression of how we relate to ourselves, the others and the world at large. Someone or something (ie. our emotions) always lead. All of us are in a perpetual dynamic – we are going somewhere. Sometimes it’s a deliberate journey, we are in the lead, other times it’s not, we are there for the ride, enjoying it or holding on like it’s the end of the world. We can look at leadership like a paradigm – a filter through which we see items inside or outside. It’s what I just proposed.

In this approach, it’s something you can see (detect) in yourself and others if you are curious enough. Working with horses is a fast track to your own paradigms. Please do not read “shortcut” because the only way is through – you have to live through the experience to get the benefits. There is no app and no shortcut to learning how to lead yourself and then others.

2. All people can be leaders, not just the CEO or the members of the board. Is this true? Could you see in the horse-guided education events people from all departments and management levels act like real leaders?

To your first question, the shortest answer I can offer is Yes, depending on the context! The reason why I find this answer both true and relevant is because in any given situation, someone leads.

There is no neutral.

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In the arena, this becomes incredibly visible, to the point that, up to date, every time we have asked the participants “Who led?” they took less than a second to answer. And the answer is either a person from the group or “the Horse”. I have yet to hear the answer “no-oTo the second question the answer is also “Yes” – I’ve seen leadership behaviors regardless of age and role. I’ve seen very young people lead in very creative ways, I’ve seen older people lead from a distance and with very little control. I’ve seen official leaders (meaning the highest corporate role present in the event) be the role model and I’ve seen them be the source of confusion for the team. I’ve seen people from all type of roles (both management and non management) be elected into activity-specific-leadership roles, based on the competencies they displayed in previous exercises. I’ve also seen the opposite – people deliberately choosing to have “invisible roles”, meaning they were never there when we asked for volunteers for another exercise or, when they were there, they chose the roles where “doing nothing” was an option. And they used that option, in the most practical way you can imagine.

The most interesting point in what I’m trying to say here is that I was not the only one to see. Everyone present can see these things. Horse guided education is as visible as it gets.

3. What may a senior manager expect from horse-guided team building or training?

At Horse Touch we propose the training approach to those who are courageous enough and ready to look deep inside their own beliefs about themselves, others and the world at large.

We propose a team building approach to the clients who either don’t have the time or mental/emotional availability to go deep on their experience but they are open to it and want it.

They may expect customization on both of the approaches, at a different level, of course: the training is a blank page, the team building has a predetermined structure.

Expect questions from us, before, during and after the experience.

Expect something way more different and challenging than what you imagine beforehand. Expect to be rewarded for your involvement in the activities – by the Horse and also by your colleagues.

Expect lessons delivered in a very straightforward way as this is the Horse way. Expect to be challenged on your paradigms as the Horse is a prey and you are the predator. Will you drag the horse into your world or will you go visit his? On what terms? With what expectations? Following which rules?

Expect to have fun. Expect to recharge your batteries.

4. You said at some point that Horse Touch and horse-guided activities in general help you see your blind spot. The thing that you don’t really know but is an obstacle to BETTER or even GREATNESS. How does this happen?

The Horse (capital letter intended!) is an active contributor. When he leads you will learn about your followership approach, when he follows you, you will learn about your leadership approach.

Either way, because his active or reactive input is a result of your actions and not your words, you will get to see what “socially acceptable” or “political correctness” or low trusting relationships usually do not allow you to see. “See” is a fact here, not a metaphor. You get to see. It’s so visible that even blind people (visually impaired as a biological condition) see it. We work with such beneficiaries, and this is a direct quote.

Then, there is us, the facilitators, who input some questions based on what happened and what we know the “usual” approach of the Horse is. This way, we bring light to those elements which otherwise would remain in the background and are actually key. We also propose individual or team challenges, meaning some specific tasks which will help you test whether what you’ve just observed is what you think it is.

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Here is where the expertise of the facilitators is important and why this should be a major decision factor when you choose a Horse Guided Experience for your team. HGE is always about the individual or the team, never about the Horse.

5. Why are people smiling and laughing so much at the Horse Touch activities?

What a great point you’ve just made through this question! Horse Touch learning is fun! People are smiling and laughing because it’s joyful in the most basic and authentic way. We explicitly discourage “making fun” or “joking” around horses because it creates safety issues. Still, our participants live such strong emotions that come straight out. Laughter is one of the most frequent manifestations, because at the end of day, real business does not happen in the arena so here we can see the funny part, whilst in the office we would probably see the potential downsides.

Then, there is that strong feeling of self-confidence/ pride for being able to lead a 400kg partner (because pulling or pushing it is not possible, nor recommended! ), which comes out as that really wide smile we all recognize.

It’s a profoundly honest experience filled with the joy of simply being!

Madalina Vintu Popa is an educational designer with 15 years of experience in designing and delivering top level learning experiences to Romanian and international teams. Accelerated learning and development of her clients is what makes her enthusiastic and happy. We always see her offering 100% precent of her energy to delivering on the promises and meeting clients expectations. You can read more about her at and about HorseTouch at For all questions about learning and leadership through horse guided education, you can reach her at .

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