Linda Kohanov is one of the pioneers in the area of building emotional intelligence skills through human/equine interaction. Based on the theories she discusses in her numerous bestsellers, her organization Eponaquest offers programs in Arizona to artists, educators, and business leaders that “employ horses in teaching people leadership, assertiveness, personal empowerment, relationship, intuition, and emotional fitness skills.”

I had the pleasure of spending a day on the Texas ranch of one of her certified instructors and effective apostles, lawyer Francie Kilborne. Kilborne last year left her position as Associate General Counsel with Energy Transfer Partners. While she continues to service clients and chair the Corporate Counsel Section of the Dallas Bar Association, she has founded Solace at her ranch outside Dallas, Texas to provide her lawyer colleagues and others with equine-facilitated emotional intelligence development workshops. Some of her initial clients have been referred by a treatment center for substance abuse, a condition that many lawyers struggle with.

What exactly does equine-facilitated emotional intelligence development look like? After discussing some of the principles of emotional intelligence, our group lined up in our boots, sunscreen and hats for the morning session with the horses.  Each of us took a turn at entering a ring to approach our first horse. The challenge was to assess the horse’s demeanor and quickly adjust our behavior to the horse’s “personality,” such as its extroversion or introversion, based on the horse’s cues.

equine EI 2

The second exercise in the afternoon was to guide the horse in a small ring to a walk, trot, walk, turn in direction and trot again using primarily our voice and body language. It drew on our confidence and ability to project authority and enlist cooperation without physical coercion.

These interactions fine tune our ability to read emotion (fear, anger, anxiety, ease) in movement and expression and to then conform our behavior so as to promote collaboration and teamwork. They also exercise our confidence and commitment to a course of action, and teach us how to read and “work around” the usually unanticipated idiosyncrasies that commonly occur.

Dogs are another animal resource for learning how to better read and react to expressed emotional cues that are not verbal. Dogs are usually masters at reading yours–that is the skill that makes people consider them to be “smart.”

For further exploration of how lawyers can learn to be smarter than just their IQ, our forthcoming book (newly-retitled) Beyond Smart: Emotional Intelligence for Lawyers is coming out in time for the ABA annual convention in August and is filled with resources.