Editor’s Note: We hear this week from Nancy Lowery of Calgary, Alberta. Lowery has been blogging about her Leadership Learning through Horsemanship Experiences for more than a decade. A recent interview series by Lowery explored what Calgary leaders have learned through their relationships with horses.
This guest post addresses some of what we will explore at Stepping Up, a supplemental day of workshops and discussion at the Best Horse Practices Summit.
Her voice shook. She began with a disclaimer: what she was about to say might not be true. It was something her friend had told her after attending a clinic. Still, it had deeply shaken her friend and had taken eight months for her to share the experience.
It’s one thing to have a man approach you at a bar or a campfire, it is another thing entirely when it happens while you’re alone, in a guest room of the clinician’s host.
The clinician was some 30 years older. She froze at his drunken attempts to seduce her. She had no idea what to do. Fortunately, he was not so drunk to realize his advances were unwanted. He stumbled out of the room.
As I listened to my young friend tell the story, I managed to say: “I’m disappointed, but not surprised.” When someone we’ve placed on a pedestal reveals himself as troublingly flawed, the fall is ours, not theirs. We are the ones who are offended, hurt, and disturbed.
But this is not an uncommon phenomenon in the world of horsemanship clinics. Have women enabled the dysfunction through our silence and tolerance? Can we, as female students, do better and demand better?
People openly talk of womanizers and Buckle Bunnies (the young women who swoon over cowboys at rodeos). As at rodeos, the clinic circuit can also create the Perfect Storm. It can be a setting where women – eager to improve their horsemanship – hope to be noticed by the male leader. Often, they end up with the wrong type of attention.
#MeToo isn’t about being politically correct. It’s about all of us recognizing bad behavior as bad behavior. You’d call it out if you saw someone behaving badly with a horse, wouldn’t you? Then why do we women struggle to call it out when it happens between humans?
Despite all the recent events and media coverage, women are not always the best supporters of women.
Does jealousy, cognitive dissonance, ego, or simple denial get in the way?
We need to get better. It’s about believing your friend when she says it was unwanted. It’s about having the ability, the skills, and self-assurance to avoid enabling men when they behave badly.
Clinicians: I know it can be difficult to be humble when those around you are in awe. You tell students: a horse has no ego. What about you? Can we make sure the words apply equally to the one delivering them? Can you offer the same dignity to your students as you do to the horses?
My friend didn’t immediately believe her friend’s story: The horseman is famous and married. She’s not even a great rider! Why would he seduce her?
No wonder it has taken so long for women to come forward. How many times have you or one of your friends wanted to share an experience, but feared being judged, discredited, or alienated?
The #MeToo movement began when women stopped placing more faith, more value, more credence in an idol than a friend. It’s when we began to speak truths and finally listen.