Trusting your gut feeling: horsey lessons on intuition

There’s lots of evidence to suggest that intuition is a valuable asset in the workplace. Unlike our horsey friends, though, it’s a skill that most of us humans need to work on and develop.


Do you know one of my favourite things about horses?

They respond to every situation honestly and immediately; either they feel safe and comfortable and will work with you happily, or they won’t.

We humans also have intuition, or what we know as our ‘gut feeling’, but unlike horses we often choose to ignore this feeling.

I vividly remember one particular time (one of the many over the years) that I personally experienced this. It occurred during one of our facilitator training weeks. We were in Denmark and I was asked to be a program participant to even out numbers for a team. My human team mate, Suzanne, had just successfully completed a task with a different team.  Following on from this, she was being very directive about how Bendt, our horse, and I should complete the task at hand. It made me very uncomfortable. I did not want to say what my gut was telling me as I thought it would come across the wrong way.

But there is no fooling horses! Bendt was not relaxed and he would not budge. It was not until both Suzanne and I were honest about what was happening were we able to move forward. I admitted – out loud – that I felt I was being pushed in a direction that I didn’t want to go. Suzanne was so surprised at my revelation that she cried! The last thing she intended was to be “bossy”. Bendt literally sighed and yawned – a release response for horses – we all hugged (pre-Covid days!) including Bendt and worked beautifully as a team from then.

Often, at the completion of training, because of the immediate cause and effect feedback loop provided by the horses, we see that participants have laid a solid foundation for being able to develop and practice their intuition skills at work.

This is not to say we should only act on ‘gut feeling’ – just listen to what it is telling us and make a decision from there.

Some questions to get you thinking about trusting your intuition more:

  • Does everything feel right about this situation?
  • Have I been over-analysing a situation?
  • Am I ignoring inconvenient truths?
  • Am I always second-guessing myself?
  • Is my intuition in tune with that of my colleagues, my team?

It may be that we don’t want to face the reality of the situation, so we think: “This was supposed to be my dream job, it might work out if I just keep trying”. Perhaps we’re trying hard to modify our behaviour or circumstances to suit others: “I feel as if this person isn’t treating me very well but I can turn things around”. Or, a host of other reasons.

Many times, I’ve had groups in our training who have been dysfunctional for one reason for another – it could be that the group isn’t listening to each other, no one can agree on what to do, or one person is dominating proceedings. It’s only when the group recognises this discord – shown to them by the horse’s responses – and changes intentions and behaviours  does the horse respond.

And there’s evidence to back up the value of intuition – a few years ago researchers set out to measure the value of intuition, finding that it can boost accuracy and confidence when making decisions, as well as speed up response times.

From my own experience in the leadership development space, I know that a team which has an intuitive leader and is ‘in tune’ with each other, is always far more functional.

Intuition is powerful. It’s nature’s way of telling us that something isn’t quite right. Listening to it more will not only make us happier, it will make us better colleagues and stronger leaders.

Learning to trust intuition

While intuition obviously is something that occurs naturally in us all, it’s also a skill that we can refine, similar to the way natural artistic or sporting talent can be developed with training and practice. And then, we can learn to apply intuition within the frameworks that we employ day to day in our work.

Teaching these skills are a big part of what we do. Because not only do horses act on intuition, as mentioned above, but they make sure the humans they work with are following intuition too. If there’s something not right about a situation, then a horse will not move forward.  When you’re working with a horse, you have to guide and trust each other, so there’s no time for over-thinking.

Let’s all learn to trust our guts the way that our horse friends can!

How good are you at acting on intuition? Let me know in the comments.

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