In the horse world the lead rope is very much like your name on the office door. It alerts your horse to your presence just as your name plate tells your employees where your desk is located. These are symbols of formal authority that do not entitle you to trust, respect or loyalty from your horse or your employees.
I can tell exactly how the relationship is developing between a horse and a human by watching the tension in the lead rope. When the two first meet the rope is short and tight. The human knows he must provide leadership for the horse. What is really going through his mind though is whether this huge animal is going to either run from him or over him. He doesn’t trust the horse to cooperate and he doesn’t trust his ability to control it. In the absence of trust the human micro-manages the relationship by shortening or pulling on the rope. He doesn’t realize that this is a completely ineffective (and somewhat ludicrous) act. If a fifteen hundred pound horse decides he is leaving it doesn’t matter what length your rope is!
As the human and horse work together over time they begin to build a relationship. The human develops more horse handling skills. His communication becomes clearer and his actions become more consistent and dependable. He learns to focus on the horse and listen to its body language. As he demonstrates his integrity through his growing knowledge, consistency and empathy the horse begins to acknowledge him as the leader and becomes more cooperative. The rope loosens and lengthens as trust grows.
When both human and horse feel they have established a relationship of trust and respect the lead rope can be removed. This is the true test of earned leadership. If there is mutual trust the horse will not only stay but follow the human willingly. To have a horse follow you freely in this manner is a very powerful experience. As one woman observed, ” The first time he walked towards me and followed me, absolutely by his own choice, was a moment that has been suspended in time for me. He wanted to… and he trusted me enough to do it… and that was absolute magic.”
A simple lead rope can reflect the quality of a relationship with a horse. In our human relationships we also rely on intangible lead ropes. It seems easier to depend on symbols of formal authority to establish leadership in our professional and personal lives. In the long run however we will hopefully come to realize that the energy spent pulling on the lead rope could be put to much better use.