Could horses hold the secret to emotional intelligence and leadership?

With the wide range of leadership development initiatives available today, it seems there is no shortage of options when it comes to building the emotional intelligence and people management skills of future business leaders.

However, one academic institution is taking a less orthodox route – getting people to mingle with horses in an attempt to uncover the underlying fundamentals of emotional intelligence and leadership.

The University of Kentucky Center for Leadership Development will commence a new research project in March this year, and the scope of the study involves exploring how horses can teach humans about emotional intelligence, specifically in the healthcare sector. The project follows on from the 'The Effectiveness of Equine Guided Leadership Education to Develop Emotional Intelligence in Expert Nurses' pilot study, which was also conducted by the University of Kentucky and released early last year.

As part of the study, some of the participants from the healthcare sector will be required to work directly with horses and before-and-after emotional intelligence scores will be recorded for both control and experiment groups. The researchers believe that working with horses can help boost a number of EQ competencies in humans, such as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management – all key skills required in healthcare professionals.

But why were horses and not another type of animal chosen specifically for the study?

According to the previous pilot study, horses exhibit a number of social cues that are common among humans – for example, non-verbal communication and the reliance on immediate feedback from their environment to survive. This unique “communication dynamic” between horses and humans makes for an ideal environment in which to study the importance of emotional intelligence, the researchers say.

It will certainly be interesting to dig into the results of the study when published and see whether humans can indeed learn a thing or two from the animal kingdom.