Dr. Croney, who was not previously familiar with Equus, added, “We don’t want to bash what they’re doing.”
Humans “certainly can influence” horses’ behavior, she said. “But it doesn’t reflect some sort of inherent characteristic in us, is what I’m saying.”
Still, it is possible, Dr. Croney said, even outside the formal trappings of, say, leadership exercises, for people to obtain benefits just from spending time in the presence of animals. This is one premise of “the biophilia hypothesis,” which holds that people are inherently attracted to nature.
“My animal behavior work has made me a far better teacher,” she said.
Working with sheep, Dr. Croney said — “everything scares sheep” — requires her to be still and calm; to notice what the sheep are doing; to take stock of the environment they’re in and even to look at what they’re looking at “so I understand what’s going to impact them.”
“As long as the animals are comfortable, they’re in an environment where they feel safe and protected, and you have the ability to sit and watch them — or even better yet, interact with them safely — all of those are fantastic opportunities,” she said.
When asked what, exactly, Equus does, Ms. Wendorf’s answer was typically starry-eyed and expansive: “We create conditions for people to have breakthrough learning so they can have the lives that they’ve always dreamed of,” she said.
But the flourishing value for herself and Mr. Strachan may be that, in creating a business reliant on contemplative horse observation, they have found a way to perpetually hone skills that make them better than the average person at dealing with all unpredictable, skittish animals — including humans eager to improve themselves at any price.