In this ongoing series of conversations with gifted leaders I am exploring #LeadershipFlow in action. What is it? How does it help leaders navigate change and inspire others to reach for more?
Today I am sitting down with Kim Frederick who is the owner of Foxfield Arabians, a horseback riding and training center where my daughter Sophie is learning to ride. As happens many times in my search for #LeadershipFlow, I find that I am drawn to certain individuals when I see them in action, and the leadership coach in me gets excited. What I first noticed about Kim was the powerful yet loving presence she embodied as she taught Sophie. After a few lessons I realized that I was in the presence of a leader who was an example of #LeadershipFlow in action. The energy at the stable is electric and at the center of that energy is Kim. She creates an environment that brings out the best in the riders, so I wanted to share her story with you.
Croft: So, let’s just start with how you got where you are today?
Kim: Well, it wasn’t planned this way at all. I started riding horses just as a childhood hobby. After high school I continued general studies at a technical college and I didn’t like it very much. I wanted to do something different, so I decided to attend Michigan State in their equine program just to get something going, change my life, see something new. I liked the program. They offered me an internship in Northern Ireland, so I went there. I ended up scared to death to ride horses for a while after that because they had them jump through too many huge obstacles and had major falls. A horse I was on broke his neck and had to be put to sleep. I thought to myself, this is ridiculous, why would we ask horses to do it? I made a promise in my heart and my soul that I would not ask a horse to do something that they physically couldn’t; that was too dangerous. I came back from Ireland and finished up school and then started my internship. I knew I wanted to work with horses so I thought instead of showing horses why not breed horses? But, that turned out to be completely opposite of what I wanted. I missed showing and riding.
Kim: I ended up working at a local horse farm, and the owner asked me to start teaching lessons. I had never ever thought of myself being a teacher at all. I thought I was going to go into a business or management type of career. So I ended up teaching and I liked it very much. Without any formal training I learned to teach by teaching. At first it was really hard because there is a lot to learn about matching the right horse to the right rider. And that’s when I didn’t have a lot of horses to choose from. Back then the kids would just come for a while and then quit. They wouldn’t stay with me – probably because I didn’t know how to make it fun. I found tips and watched other trainers at horse shows, and when I would go to show my own horses, I learned also. I learned from doing, trial and error, and by watching others, and that’s how it started. So I didn’t go to school to become a teacher. But I love it.
A common thread I see in my search for #LeadershipFlow is the love for their career that each person talks about. Whether it is a grade school teacher, a marathon race director, a minister, or a horse riding instructor, the love of doing what they do drives them. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the godfather of Flow talks about the autotelic (Greek auto=self, and telos=goal) nature of Flow being to do the task simply for the love of the task.
Croft: When did you start feeling like, okay, this is the path I should be on?
Kim: By my second year after college I was very excited about teaching my lessons and having my students go to shows instead of me. I was happy watching my kids grow and learn how to ride and to accomplish their goals.
Croft: What I am hearing is that the teaching piece is now more of what you love? The horses are part of that, but it’s more the teaching that continues to inspire you?
Kim: Yes, watching the kids make that bond and connection with their horse is huge for me. It means more to me than doing it myself, though I still love to ride – I just don’t have the time!
Croft: What would you be doing if you were not doing this? Could you imagine doing anything else?
Kim: I think to myself that anything but this would have been a very boring life. I would not have enjoyed managing some restaurant, which I was thinking I would do. I don’t know why I always thought that’s what I wanted – but I am glad I stuck with horses and found teaching.
Croft: What is your leadership challenge with yourself?
Kim: If I’m having a bad day, I have to be careful not to take my anger and frustration out on the horse. For instance, I have a horse that won’t circle because she is just so used to riding the rail. But that is her job, and I have to remember that’s my fault for training her that way. I give her all the little riders because she is so honest and trustworthy. I can’t get let myself act frustrated towards the horse because then the rider feels that I am frustrated with them. I have to remember to watch that.
Another place that’s a challenge in running a small business is asking the people around you to do things to help you out. I can’t expect them to read my mind, and maybe they can’t see right away how something should be done. When I have someone who works with me for a long time, they know what’s going on. But I have to learn how to better train everyone, and that is something I am working on. I am teaching my team to know when a horse needs to come back to the barn, and to be very sensitive to when a rider – or anyone – needs help. It’s hard for me to delegate, I have to trust people with decisions and that’s hard.
Croft: What is your vision for Foxfield Arabians?
Kim: I have to keep in mind that everybody has different goals and some people don’t even know what their goals are because they don’t see what the end result could be. I have people coming in and wanting to become National Champion riders at a young age. And so we have worked to take girls to the level they want. But at times kids have financial or horse limitations and I want to at least find a goal for each rider that they can accomplish. Like your duaghter Sophie’s goal is to jump. And we are working towards that and now we have the horse to make that happen. Horse changes can be difficult too; we have to get her to trust a new horse.
Croft: So then when you look at your vision five years, ten years from now, what would it look like? What do you see this evolving into?
Kim: Not much difference. I want to keep the same amount of clients, keep everybody going and rotating through, doing what they want to do. Sometimes people go to college nearby and they keep their horses, keep up their riding and showing and everything. I have a girl away at college who still comes back on breaks and rides.
Croft: Let’s talk a little bit about culture and capacity. So what is the culture of Foxfield Arabians? Is it what you want it to be?
Kim: I want it family friendly – and no cliques. I don’t like people being disrespectful to each other. Who cares if somebody is a better rider than another person? It’s often just the length of time they’ve been riding. I had one rider in the barn once and after about 6 months I was contemplating, how do I ask this person to leave? I strive so hard for that unfriendly element not to be there because I grew up at a barn that had something like that going on. You felt like if you didn’t have this certain horse you couldn’t be over in this clique on this side of the barn, and you couldn’t ride with them. I don’t want that. I want everyone to learn and to enjoy the horse and to get that connection. Because every horse is different, every rider is different. Everybody has different goals.
What I really enjoy about my daughter learning to ride with Kim goes way beyond the great things she is learning to do as a rider. I see the self-confidence, the growth and maturity happening in my daughter Sophie, and I see the influence that Kim has on her. Kim is a role model for my daughter in so many ways. Sophie will remember the lessons she is learning from Kim in many aspects of her life. Thanks so much Kim!
Croft: Talk to me about the connection between the rider and horse.
Kim: That is so special. And that’s what we call a balance seat. It’s the connection with your horse. You strive to sit there with just hip and your bottom bones on the horse and your hands still, and your elbows flexed and loose like a rubber band. You just move your chin to the right, and your horse is supposed to move to the right. You move your chin to the left your horse should move to the left. And it’s that horse feeling your hips on his back. The horses learn it by repetition, a lot of repetition. The same with stopping your horse, you need just a slight movement. When you get that feeling you’re just floating, when you’re trotting or when you can ask your horse to do a flying lead change one step after another, after another. It sends chills up your bones. You are not conscious of it, you’re just going, it’s like the horse can see the future.
#LeadershipFlow shows up when a leader taps the flow of those around them, and that is what Kim Frederick does when she shares her love of riding with others. As a parent, I am so thankful she is my daughter’s teacher.