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Last semester three APEX Student Associates in the Developing Web-Based Technologies (DWT) team had an opportunity to work on a client project updating a website for a local business.  In order to learn more about the company itself, the team of student associates traveled 25 miles west of Waukee to Earlham for a visit to Dusten and Kim Gratny’s ranch.

Kim’s business, fullCIRCLE creative + coaching, serves corporate and non-profit teams as well as individuals with hands-on learning experiences in horse-guided coaching to learn the impact of how they ‘show up’ for life. A variety of groups, from corporate executive teams and non-profit organizations to middle school students and athletic teams, have engaged with the horses in their quiet, rural setting to intellectually, creatively, emotionally and physically connect with the horses to transform their communication, emotional intelligence, and leadership skills. Those skills are what often keep people from working harmoniously and collaboratively with one another. Research shows that experiential learning is impactful because the learner is actively engaged in the process of understanding in depth what is being learned. It creates lasting change mainly because it involves the body,  emotions, as well as thought processes. By involving all three, learning is accelerated and retention levels are higher.

Sarah Schaffer, a member of the APEX DWT team, explains that their experience on the ranch started off simply and gradually got more complex. “We started with observations, verbalizing what we saw and classifying differences between assumptions and observations.” Kim then asked the student associates to think about how what they were experiencing directly ties into a business environment. Sarah explains that they were able to connect that many times in school and/or work the assumptions that people make have a tendency to create blocks and prevent progress. “It is important to recognize that many of us make assumptions on a daily basis, which can hinder us from staying within a growth mindset.”

Additionally, Kim tasked the team with creating a physical connection with the horses, but she did not give them specific instructions on how to accomplish this task. It was an opportunity to practice how “the try” matters more than the outcome. There were several ways to create a connection. Trying something was more valuable than being paralyzed by perfection. Once one member of the team successfully connected with their horse, they were able to assist the others in figuring it out. Finally, they worked on leading the horses, which provided multiple challenges. One horse had trouble standing still, while another kept invading their human partner’s space. Sarah explains that through this challenge, they learned a lesson about conviction and how to solve the problem of someone violating your boundaries without causing them to lash out. “With the horses, it took creating boundaries by patting their chest repeatedly to establish clarity about who was leading.” Sarah goes on, “From there, we were able to lead the horses across the pen, teaching us that we needed to find a pace that was best for both the horse and for us. Sometimes when we wanted to go faster, we were encouraged to slow down and always keep the end goal in mind — getting there together. I feel that this lesson can be transferred to any team.”

The APEX DWT team felt that the experience was eye-opening and provided many insights as to how coaching all members of a team as individuals help the team work better together. For more information on Kim Gratny and fullCIRCLE creative + coaching, visit the newly updated website at seekfullcircle.com.