UKAg Using Horses to Teach Emotional Intelligence

In March, University of Kentucky (UK) researchers will launch a second study of the effectiveness of Equine Guided Leadership Education, a process of using horses to teach emotional intelligence and leadership competencies to nurse leaders.

The encouraging results of a similar pilot study completed in November 2012 by the UK Center for Leadership Development in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment and UK HealthCare helped make this next larger research phase possible. The new study’s objective is to explore innovative ways to develop nursing directors' and nurse managers' emotional intelligence skills. This includes competency in the areas of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management, which create effective professional relationships and are critical to running safe, efficient, and high-performance hospital units.

“We are so pleased to be working again with the nurses at UK HealthCare on this larger study," said Lissa Pohl, the center’s assistant director and project lead. "With around 60 participants, our data should be more conclusive as to whether working with horses develops emotional intelligence competencies in humans.”

The study will compare the before and after emotional intelligence assessment scores of both a control group and an experimental group. Those nurse managers and directors who participate in the one-day Equine Guided Leadership Education workshop will also complete a qualitative survey that will provide information on what skills the nurses acquired.

The basic premise of equine-guided education is that horses provide in-the-moment feedback about leadership skills and, therefore, allow people to develop insights they can apply both in professional and personal lives. Participants will take part in exercises conducted from the ground, including observing herd behavior, leading horses, grooming and picking their feet, and moving unrestrained horses through an obstacle course or into an enclosure without touching them.

The Horse Institute, a New York-based provider of equine-assisted learning programs, is partnering with UK’s Center for Leadership Development to publicize the research and raise funds for the study.

“We see again and again the amazing results our corporate groups and executives have when working with the horses,” says Marie-Claude Stockl, executive director of The Horse Institute. “This is why we will match up to $2,500 for every dollar donated to this important research.”

Information on the results of the previous pilot study and about how to contribute to the new study are available at All contributions are tax-deductible and will be used solely for the purpose of research in Equine Guided Leadership Education.

Lissa Pohl, MA, assistant director of the UK Center for Leadership Development, provided this information.

Want more articles like this? Sign up for the Bluegrass Equine Digest e-Newsletter.

More information on Gluck Equine Research Center and UK Ag Equine Programs.

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from Learn More