Primus Inter Pares

Posted by on Oct 1, 2011 in Equine Training | Comments Off on Primus Inter Pares

“Primus inter pares” means, “first among equals,” or “first among peers.”  I’ve given a great deal of thought to this concept in my training practice over the past year, and have used the concept as a manager in many of my supervisory jobs in the past.

As a boss, I’ve always found things ran the smoothest when I trusted my “subordinates” to do their job correctly.  Given clear direction and trust, I’ve been fortunate to have folks work with me who just plain got things done.  It wasn’t always that way, though.  Earlier in my supervisory career, I was a bit more autocratic, telling folks what to do, how to do it, and when I wanted it.  Invariably, timelines were skipped, quality suffered, and ultimately I, as supervisor, was called onto the boss’ carpet to answer for the “crimes.”

It wasn’t until I started taking a more trusting approach, training direct reports where they didn’t yet have the skills, and intending projects would go smoothly that they did.  Basically, I went to my co-workers and said, “We need to work together.  So, we’ll try to get things done as well as possible in the time given, with the tools we have, and in the end, because someone has to take the heat, that’s my job.”

At first it was hard, but soon, my employees started stepping up to the plate swinging for the bleachers.  Sometimes they struck out, but once in a while, they hit a home run.  I always made sure to stand in front of them before the boss to take the heat when they struck out, but at the same time, when they hit the home run, I pushed them forward into the boss’ office to get praised.  I suppose somewhere along the line, I learned how to be a leader; standing out in front when the bullets fly, and standing behind when the medals were awarded.

I think the same is true with the horse.  Calm, confident leadership gives the horse confidence to do a good job, and yet, whenever my horse doesn’t do exactly what I’m asking, I’ve always thought, “It must be something I’m not doing correctly.”  Changing my ask just a bit changed how my horse responded, and through a process of trial and error, trying different approaches, the “right” outcome is eventually achieved.

Someone always has to be responsible.  Your horse looks to you for guidance, leadership, respect, and most of all, safety.  I take the heat for my horse.  Improper behavior becomes my fault, a lack of clear communication between my horse and I.  It’s my job to display and exhibit these qualities and characteristics at all times when taking the lead with your horse.  But, I always look for those small, subtle “tells” which train me how to become an even better leader for my horse.

There are many in the horse training “industry” who advocate leadership through dominance.  There may be times when your horse, or one you’re training needs to see this side of you, but the ultimate objective in my mind is leadership through example, while at the same time keeping open to listening to your horse and taking their counsel in certain circumstances.  That is true partnership.

A clinician I admire and count among my short list of teachers, coaches and heroes has a quote from Don Vincenzo Giobbe on her website.  It is as follows: “…and I whispered to the the horse; ‘Trust no man in whose eye you do not see yourself reflected as an equal.'”  I feel this quote exemplifies the principle I’m writing about here.

Respect, and a willingness to listen to your horse becomes essential for TRUE partnership, and brings you to a true state of leadership.  Be still and try to hear the whisper…