Berkshire HorseWorks was covered in a November 1, 2015 article on the website, MeetingMagazines.com. The article covered types of teambuilding techniques and Berkshire Horseworks was the lead feature in the article. See their coverage below
or click here to see the original article on the MeetingMagazine.com website.
To an outsider, corporate teambuilding activities may simply look like fun and games, but in reality, they can play a significant role in helping an organization reach important goals such as improving communications, fostering a better sense of cooperation or learning to overcome challenges. And the choice of teambuilding activities now available is as diverse as the organizations that engage in them.
When Antoine Alston, owner of Berkshire Functional Fitness in Richmond, Massachusetts, was getting ready to launch an innovative new fitness concept, he wanted to find a teambuilding activity that would take his employees out of their comfort zone. Alston chose Berkshire HorseWorks, a nonprofit organization located in Richmond, Massachusetts, to guide his group of 14. Berkshire HorseWorks specializes in equine-assisted personal development programs designed to help employees learn how to work together toward a common goal and/or to adapt to a new management style.
Contrary to what some people may assume, the Berkshire HorseWorks program does not involve horseback riding. The goal of the program is to have participants learn about themselves and others by connecting with the horses and then observing and discussing the experience. All sessions are led by professionals trained and certified by the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA).
Berkshire HorseWorks “gave me a really good assessment of who was willing to get out of their own comfort zones, take charge and be comfortable being uncomfortable.”
— Antoine Alston
“Horses are innately intuitive,” explains Hayley Sumner, founder and executive director of the program. “They give feedback in the moment. Because they are fight or flight prey animals, they’ll make a decision in a split second as to what they’re going to do in reaction to those around them.” She says that horses can sense whether someone is being true to themselves. “If there is an incongruity between what you’re saying and how you’re acting, they will call you out in a moment. You have to adjust your thinking and think out of the box. When the horse feels that there is a connection, and that the person has come to a place of acceptance and openness, the horse is more apt to work with them.”
One exercise that the facilitators at Berkshire HorseWorks conducted was to have each participant choose the horse that is most like them. “The alphas of the group picked what they thought the alpha horse was, which was completely incorrect,” Sumner explains. She says that the lesson taught here is that people should not make assumptions about others on their team, because those assumptions may turn out to be false.
In another exercise, the participants were asked to self-identify themselves as to whether they’re natural leaders or less inclined to speak up. Next, an obstacle course was created to represent the challenges the participants typically had to navigate during the course of a work day. Then the tables were turned. The self-described leaders were blindfolded and had to follow the verbal directions of a non-leader in order to lead their horse through the obstacle course successfully. This exercise helped the non-leaders step up and feel what it was like to be a leader, and taught the leaders what it felt like to be vulnerable and have to rely on their teammates.
After each exercise, the group discusses what they learned from the experience. Sumner said that the leaders talked about how uncomfortable it was to feel vulnerable and that they had to be able to trust that they were safe with this person leading them. This led to a discussion about what the options are when a person feels vulnerable and whether there’s a way for them to spread out responsibility.
“It was a very unique approach to many things, from communications to teambuilding to cooperation to problem solving,” Alston explains. “It was something different, and it still spoke to the things that I need in my company and the interpersonal relationships that we had to work on. I basically wanted people to forget some of the old-school thought processes and get them out of their (regular) environment.
“(The Berkshire HorseWorks program) was a nice way to do some icebreakers and work together on a situation that none of us really was familiar with, which is kind of what I’ve been asking them (to do in my business) anyway. Second, you have these big, beautiful horses, and these obstacles,” he adds, explaining that the members of his group did not have previous experience with horses. “I thought, OK we’re going to be uncomfortable together and walk this through together. What a great environment to do it in and to have it be facilitated by professionals, at that.”
Since Alston was looking to his team to take his company into uncharted territory, the Berkshire HorseWorks program gave him a unique opportunity. “It gave me a really good assessment of who was willing to get out of their own comfort zones, take charge and be comfortable being uncomfortable. When you’re doing something that kind of goes against many other standards in the industry, you’ve got to be ready for it and be strong in what you’re doing.”
Alston said that the full-day program definitely helped him achieve his goals. “I learned a lot about my team, and my team learned a lot about me. We also had fun, which was actually very important because no one was in their comfortable place. It definitely disclosed some things I wasn’t prepared for, but it also disclosed many things I was extremely happy for.”