Kelly joins me today to share her flashpoints in life and how she found her passion for horses. She describes how her father influenced her work today, the influential people in her life, and how working with horses affected her career trajectory…
On a hot, humid afternoon, a small dog-like creature nibbles on fruit suspended above a lush fern-covered ground. The thick jungle forest is bursting with sound, as this is a time when mammal life explodes with innovative evolutionary options. Nearby our earliest ancestor (also small) moves past, vying for the same sweet delicacy. For a moment the two lock eyes.
On one such afternoon, Scott and I, the Sayas and caretakers were sitting together on the portal looking out over the horse paddocks, Scott and I nibbling on an offered peach. A younger member of the group was speaking about the #MeToo movement. She was fuming about the various famous men appearing in the headlines for their sexual crimes, and other men she knew who were behaving badly, and proclaimed with much passion and righteous anger, “Yeah, it’s time we really call them out!!” I nodded in resolute solidarity.
Recently a friend asked me how I was doing. “I’m angry,” was my simple reply. At once they rushed in to comfort me with advice on how to deal with my anger as if anger were some kind of a parasite, disease, or unwanted house guest. I stopped them, “No…I’m really grateful for it. Anger is very useful for me.”
What would you do if you suddenly realized you were a racist? In the midst of the peaceful Black Lives Matter worldwide protests I took it upon myself to dive into as much antiracist material as I could get my hands on. My Kindle running hot, I read in a weekend White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander and listened to Brené Brown’s recent interview with Ibram X. Kendi author of the New York Times bestseller How to Be an Antiracist. I read papers and articles. I had difficult conversations with loved ones.
If you’ve ever been to a circus or traveled somewhere exotic, you may have encountered elephants either doing tricks or taking tourists on rides through the forest. How are such enormous creatures trained? All around the world a tragic process is still being implemented by elephant handlers. They start by training the elephant when he is a baby and weighs only 200 pounds. At that stage, they shackle his legs to a twelve-foot length of chain and stake the chain into the ground. During this process many other unspeakable events happen to the baby elephant.
Society points the finger at the individual—to raise a good kid, to be healthy, to recycle, to reduce carbon emissions, to succeed financially—but it’s a deflection to keep us engaged in our own personal choices rather than hold the society at large—our leaders, our institutions our policies—responsible for creating a culture that supports us to thrive.
Aedín is a small black six-year-old quarter horse mare who was saved from the kill pens last year. When she arrived three months ago to live at our ranch she had not been trained or ridden. In horsemanship terms, you would say she hadn’t been ‘broken’. Broken––such an incisively appropriate term for what we do to horses (and people I would add). In order to feel safe on the back of one thousand pounds of wild horse muscle, trainers notoriously intimidate, bully and manipulate their four-legged companions into submission, rendering them emotionally numb and spiritually bereft. Cowboys call these horses proudly ‘yes ma’am-ers’. I call them a tragedy.
“People talk about getting back to normal,” said a colleague the other day, a senior executive who has been working from home for a large health care organization since the lockdown. “Well, I don’t want to go back to normal! Normal was insane!”
She’s right. Normal American life was insane.
We have a lot to learn from animals – just ask Kelly Wendorf, whose life’s work shows us what we can learn from horses about leadership. Kelly sat down with us for a chat about her work with horses, her journey to coaching and her upcoming book, Flying Lead Change (out October 2020).