Business Leaders Use Equine Therapy to Get Back in the Saddle

Mindy Tatz Chernoff leading an equine therapy session at her farm outside Philadelphia.

Mindy Tatz Chernoff leading an equine therapy session at her farm outside Philadelphia. The Resonant Horse

In the cutthroat world of business, executives and would-be executives will do anything to reach the winners circle. While in the past these corporate climbers may have relied on grueling work schedules, regimens like “the Buffett Formula,” and, in some cases, dubious brain-altering nutritional supplements, executives now turn to a new business hack—equine therapy.

For many years, this type of therapy, which matches participants with specially trained horses, treated autism, PTSD, anxiety and addiction, but it’s increasingly attracted business clients in the professional arena. Prancing with horses might be the last place you’d expect to see a time-is-money CEO, but the sessions provide valuable insight into their leadership shortcomings, suggest those in the burgeoning industry.

The strong, yet nonthreatening manner in which horses behave, the thinking goes, can help uptight business leaders enhance crucial soft skills, such as developing patience and openness.

Getting a grip on the year ahead.

Getting a grip on the year ahead. Illustration by Kaitlyn Flannagan for Observer

“Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the big buzz term in the executive world,” Mindy Tatz Chernoff, owner of The Resonant Horse, an equine therapy farm outside Philadelphia, told the Observer. “Horses are superb at EI because…they express themselves very strongly, but in a nonverbal manner.”

Tatz Chernoff, who has raised horses since she was 8 years old, recently expanded her company; she previously just counseled addiction patients but now trains executives during private lessons and team-building classes for whole departments or companies. The one-day sessions cost $7,500 for a single executive, or up to $20,000 for a team. With interest growing, Tatz Chernoff is looking to add two-hour seminars as well as two-day sessions to her offerings in the coming year. 

In a typical exercise for corporate clients, students practice leading an unrestrained horse in a trot around the perimeter of a round pen about 60 feet in diameter. Tatz Chernoff recalled one client who initially skillfully maintained the trot before she lost her connection with the horse. The experience “mirrored how she was always getting ahead of her staff and they sometimes can’t keep up,” Tatz Chernoff said.

In the same exercise, another executive’s horse would trot for a bit but then repeatedly return to walking. When Tatz Chernoff asked the client to assess the reason for the horse’s recalcitrant behavior, he replied that he could not sustain his energy to keep up with the horse’s faster pace. Her follow-up questions about if he’s felt this way in the office inspired self-reflection; months later, he returned and credited the session with a “huge” impact on his professional life.  

Tatz Chernoff givin a Ted Talk titled "How horses heal, transform, and empower" at TedX Wilmington.

Tatz Chernoff giving a Ted Talk titled “How horses heal, transform, and empower” at TedX Wilmington. YouTube

David Wiedis, executive director of Serving Leader Ministries, a nonprofit organization that serves pastors and their families, said the workshop was “just what he needed.”

“The emphasis on reflection, achieving balance, staying mindful and present, and reducing stress by observing the resonant horse whose internal reality reflects ours helped me to address inner anxieties I was facing in the course of my job,” he told the Observer. “I was able to apply many of the lessons learned at the workshop to my everyday experiences as an executive, and my staff has benefited.”

Tatz Chernoff believes equine therapy is lassoing more business clients because there’s a demand for it in an era when authenticity has become a buzzword. “I think it is clear that corporations of today are searching for something that is real, genuine and impactful,” she said. “They are searching for something that is novel, innovative and works.”

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