When not in the saddle, Craig works as a consultant, specializing in Change Management for government and the private sector. Translated into English, this basically means that he coaches people in how to cope with organizational change, anything from implementing a new computer system to accepting new leadership. Apparently, getting people to handle change effectively is more difficult than it sounds, because Craig’s consulting business is thriving.
Leaning on the pasture fence Saturday morning, he pushed back his favourite worn cowboy hat. “I have to tell you, everything we humans need to know about change can be learned just by watching a horse,” he said.
What he was referring to specifically was our newest family member, a bay thoroughbred gelding by the name of Victory Calibre. He was probably, in a younger day, quite a splendid sight, but through some passive neglect at the hands of his inexperienced owners, had been reduced to a ribby, sallow-eyed candidate for the good folks at Alpo.
When I first saw him, his mane was ratted, his coat dull, his unshod hooves splitting and threatening to curl into snowshoes. Although his owner kept insisting on his virtues, Craig and I were hard-pressed to see them. Still, my job was to work with the horse and render an evaluation, since the owner was considering selling him.
You know that old phrase about a diamond in the rough? Well, we put Calibre out in the arena, and one look at his big, bold stride, even with his feet in such dire condition, told us there might be something special there.
“Oh, he’s a wonderful horse,” exclaimed the owner, adding with a more cautionary tone, “but you can’t catch him, he hates being brushed, he doesn’t tie, and, oh yeah, he really hates men.”
Craig and I exchanged one of those looks possessed only by people who know each other very, very well. At that point, we decided that perhaps the best home for this horse might be with us. We took him home that day. One of the best sights I’ve seen since we had to put Spook down was that of Durango, galloping along the fence line as we drove by with Calibre in the trailer. It was like he knew that we had found a special gift, just for him.
“One of the best ways to approach change is to abandon all your pre-determined thoughts, your prejudices, and your mental models of how things are supposed to be,” says Craig when coaching. “Basically, you need to abandon your old, worn-out assumptions.”
We decided to take this tenet and use it in our own backyard, working with Calibre. Discounting every piece of information we had been told about this horse, we decided to approach the next few weeks without any mental constraints.
The first few days we worked on his immediate needs, those being his coat, his stomach, and his feet. The vet arrived to administer a full course of vaccines and worming paste, and to assess his general condition. Aside from being about 150 pounds underweight, we were assured he would probably last at least a couple weeks. On the heels of the vet came the farrier, who trimmed, padded, and poked until Calibre had on his first set of shoes in four years.
Then Craig and I set to work with clippers, shampoo, and some good old-fashioned elbow grease. We smiled at each other when, at the end of a three-hour grooming session, we saw hints of quite a handsome fellow. Each day we increased the supplementary feed to Calibre’s diet to help him gain weight, and every day has shown us a horse that is livelier, more interested in his surroundings, and more willing to please.
The first day we rode him, we took him on a trail ride. We threw him into Western tack, which to our knowledge, he’d never been ridden in. He performed flawlessly, accepting the neck reining as if he were born to it, and negotiating a rocky deer trail as if it was all he’d ever done. The second day we rode him, we pointed him at a three-and-a-half-foot fence, and he sailed over it effortlessly. The third day, we put a skilled, but tiny 6-year-old girl on his back, and he went through the paces with a clear understanding that he was working as a teacher and a nanny.
So, leaning against the pasture fence Saturday morning, Craig and I reflected on how this horse has changed. In a mere two weeks, he has gone from being a skinny backyard pet that was slowly atrophying to a shiny, spirited animal that seems not so very far from to the winning racehorse he once was.
What is remarkable in all this is not just the changes Calibre has experienced, but also the grace with which he has accepted it all.
I can’t think of one person who, faced with a sudden move (new pasture), a job change (being ridden), a change in leadership (new owners), and new coworkers (barn-mate Durango), wouldn’t go into it kicking and screaming, even if these changes represented a significant improvement in lifestyle. But Calibre has greeted each day with an expression on his face that seems to say, “Well, boss, what adventure do you have planned for me today?”
During organizational transitions, the degree and diversity of change experienced by Calibre would be considered a catastrophic level. “In an organizational environment, this level of change with this many obstacles would be too much,” Craig contends. “The change effort would almost certainly fail. But with Calibre, there was no internal or external resistance, only positive sponsorship.”
For those not familiar with change management terms, translated, this means that no one was telling Calibre he couldn’t do it. There were only people telling him he could.
All of us have to deal with change in our lives at one time or another. In my case, it came three years ago, when I started to lose my eyesight. I wish I’d had Calibre in my life then, so that I could look to him for some clues as to how to navigate through what I perceived as a catastrophe, do so with grace and dignity.
For any change process to succeed, you need to have an awareness of the obstacles, a desire and commitment to overcome them, and the ability to suspend preconceived notions. In his own way, Calibre possesses all these qualities.
One of Craig’s favourite quotes is: “Those who say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by those doing it.” Calibre’s definitely is doing it.
And by the way, about the warning we received from Calibre’s former owner about the fact that this is a horse who hates men – I’ll have to remind Craig about that every morning, as he’s giving Calibre his sunrise ear rub.
Ah, those preconceived notions, they’ll get you every time.