Jason Webb’s blog: horses training humans

  • We’ve had an exciting past couple of weeks here, including a visit by 20 of Sainsbury’s brightest young managers. I’ve worked closely with performance psychologist Charlie Unwin in the past and we’ve found a lot of parallels in our work with humans and horses.

    Charlie works with individual athletes, such as Sochi star Lizzie Yarnold, teams and numerous riders, but he also develops management and leadership skills for businesses through his work with management consultancy, Lane4. He has always said he would love to bring the corporate world to the yard so we set up a day for the Sainsbury’s “future leaders development” group to come down.

    Sainsbury's young managers learn from Jason's horsesThe majority of them had never handled horses before and it was fascinating to see how they approached the tasks we set up for them. All of the activities were designed to provoke thought about how they can become better leaders of their teams and it ended up being quite a profound experience for many of them. They found that working with horses was a powerful way of helping them think more intuitively about getting the best out of their teams and how to be authentic leaders.

    After understanding how important it was to give horses time to understand what is being asked of them, and time to reflect on that learning, one girl said she realised her management style did not allow her team the time to complete their work to the best of their ability and that she was always putting them under pressure.

    Another, who was very nervous of handling the horses at first, came away understanding the importance of being confident in your work in order to maximise quality and efficiency. It was also extremely interesting for me to watch and teach people with no previous experience of horses and I came away with some useful insights that I can use in my future teaching programs.

    More unusual projects

    I’ve also had 2 other unusual enquiries recently. One involves a stunning dressage horse that has been competing at a decent level, but has become dangerous to handle and ride at times, due to a nervous and unpredictable streak. His owner is keen for me to take him on and he arrived at the yard last week. I have been a ‘last resort’ for quite a few dressage horses over the years, some of which have been working at a high level. It’s always hard to change a horse if they are older and their habits are very ingrained, but one of the hardest cases I have had is now competing at prix st georges, which is very satisfying.

    The other enquiry has been from a local horse charity that rescued 5 neglected young colts. Having got them to their farm, the horses are now running completely wild and causing havoc! We are putting together a plan of how to catch them in order to geld them, before moving them here to get them handled and started under saddle. I’m quite looking forward to dusting off my livestock skills that I learnt through years of chasing sheep and cattle and the odd brumby in Australia!

    It’s polocrosse time

    Last weekend was also the start of our polocrosse season. Although polocrosse has a large following in Australia, it is still a minority sport in the UK. It’s great fun that all the family can be involved in and at the top level requires an extremely high level of skill and horsemanship – think canter pirouettes, side passes, canter changes and transitions all done at top speed!

    I play for our local club, Kent Target, and have captained the UK team over the past couple of years. It was great to start the new season off with a narrow win in the final of the Highlanders Tournament with some younger up-and-coming players. It was topped off with a best horse award for Banjo, my 9-year-old Australian Stock Horse gelding.

    Not only do I have so much fun playing the sport, polocrosse has been pivotal in my life, as it was at the Australian National Championships in 1998 that I met my future wife, Penny, who was touring with the UK team. Some 16 years on, I’ve not only become an honorary Pommie, but we are celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary this year!


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