YOU could say its an occupational hazard!
Businesswoman and horse lover Heidi Dawson is nursing a bruised foot – an injury sustained while riding. Her cob, Ruby, got spooked and Heidi came off, getting her foot trampled by Ruby in the process.
It’s not the worst injury she has sustained pursuing her hobby – an interest that has now become part of her career in business coaching and hypnotherapy.
“I came off a horse two years ago on a beach ride in Cumbria,” says Heidi. “I landed on wet sand and it was like concrete. I was airlifted to hospital, but I didn’t remember anything of the accident. I had severe concussion and compression injuries to my arm which left me with nerve damage. It took 18 months to stop having problems with my arm.”
But Heidi, who has been passionate about horses since childhood, wasn’t deterred by her frightening experience. In fact, it helped her develop her service as a business coach.
“Talk about every cloud having a silver lining,” she says now.
Heidi began to research the growing phenomenon of Equine Assisted Coaching – or Horse Assisted Development – as she prefers to call it.
Heidi, who worked in health and safety for 15 years before setting up her coaching business in 2006, has introducing the concept of Horse Assisted Development to help people learn more about themselves and the way their behaviour influences other people – through horses.
Heidi, who runs Success Unbridled from offices at New North Road, Highfields, said: “I began looking at this just as the recession bit. People were being made redundant and there was suddenly a big increase in the number of people in the consultancy field – but no increase in the amount of work to go around.
“I felt I needed to do something to differentiate myself from the other coaches. I had always loved horses, although until then I had never owned one. I was also interested in the interaction between people and horses. That was more interesting to me that just riding.”
Coaching sessions based at her stables help delegates develop leadership, communication and “people” skills as well as help in team-building.
Says Heidi: “Horses don’t do ‘role play’ – they provide instant and honest feedback based on how we are behaving around them. In the wild, horses are prey. So they are particularly sensitive, but they are also full or energy because all the time they are wondering if they are safe. They respond to our energies and moods.”
Heidi has used Horse Assisted Development to help one client – involved in combat sport – to learn how to “switch off” and calm his aggression. She has also worked with hyperactive children who have learned that to calm an agitated pony they need to moderate their own behaviour.
Courses at the stables have helped young people struggling with school or facing other problems by helping build up their confidence and raise their self-esteem.
Heidi set up her centre last October, having previously worked out of a livery yard. She is assisted in her work by her three equine friends – a miniature Shetland pony named Gertie, a rescued Arab called Zahra and Ruby.
“They each have their own characteristics and personalities,” she says. “Clients choose which horse they want to work with. People think that Gertie will be quiet because of her size, which shows that we all make assumptions!”
Heidi takes delight in seeing the positive results of her coaching sessions. “One group of pupils from a school in Dewsbury were blown away by the scenery and the animals,” she says. “I don’t think they had ever been out of the town. Things that I would take for granted, they saw as wondrous.”
She says: “Horses are genuine and honest in their behaviour. They help you get back to basics. Horses have always been seen as a class thing – the battle between the haves and the have-nots. I got my first horse because of my work. I didn’t get it for competitions. I ride once in a while and they live their lives as horses. It is important to let them be natural and respond to things naturally.”
Heidi says TV programmes such as Martin Clunes’ Horse Power have created interest in all things equine.
“The equine industry is a growth industry at the moment,” she says. “I wanted to be a vet when I was young. There were not many other options if you wanted to work with animals. I grew up in Ossett and there were two riding schools. I spent every minute I could there.
“Now, far more people own horses and job opportunities have increased. Colleges offer courses in stable management and being a groom in a livery yard is the first step on the career ladder to owning your own yard or being a riding instructor.”
Regarding her own career path, she recalls: “When I was 19 or 20 I applied for 400 jobs I applied for anything and everything. I was very determined to get a job, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do.”
She worked as a school lab technician before moving into environmental health and food safety. She held posts with organisations including Rank Hovis McDougal, York City Council and Greggs before working for a construction company as a public liaison officer on flood defence schemes.
When that company lost its contract with the Environment Agency, she became a consultant for the agency itself in relation to flood defence projects, including ones in Wakefield and Todmorden.
With Government cutbacks in 2006, Heidi was given six months’ notice that her contract was going to end.
Instead, she set up her own consultancy – drawing on her own “people” skills and her training as a hypnotherapist, which she had undertaken some years before.
“I enjoyed working with people, so I trained as a coach,” she says. “My career before that had been was fulfilling, but it was stressful, which might have been damaging long-term. I think I made the right decision. I am much happier doing what I do now.”
Along with Horse Assisted Development, Heidi offers conventional business coaching, personal coaching and hypnotherapy. She also runs Success Unlimited Business Masterminds, a forum which meets regularly for members to share best practice and tackle common business challenges.
When things get fraught, there’s always a little horse sense to fall back on. “There’s nothing more relaxing than being in the fields on a nice spring morning,” says Heidi. “The horses give you something else to focus on and you can be alone with your thoughts.
“I don’t need to go to the gym any more, either. Pushing a wheelbarrow up and down the hill a couple of times is a pretty good workout!”