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Art by Clark Miller.
Art by Clark Miller.

Why the Long Face, Founder? The New Executive Coach Has Four Legs and a Mane

Silicon Valley founders turn to equine therapy for assistance during trying times.

Jan. 6, 2023 11:00 AM PST

Last year, Eurie Kim, a managing partner at Forerunner Ventures, took some of her portfolio founders on a field trip. They were going to spend the day at the Golden Gate Dairy Stables, a ranch in Marin County traversed by scenic trails with pristine views of the Northern California coastline. But Kim and the startup founders weren’t there for the views. They were there for Judith Forrest’s horses.

Forrest, a startup consultant and executive coach, works with founders to find their leadership style, improve decision-making and study the nuances of communication. Sometimes this work involves horseplay. Shortly after arriving at the ranch, Forrest invited the founders to gaze upon a herd of horses, who were grazing lazily on an open field.

One of the founders pointed to a stocky Icelandic breed, which appeared to be lost in thought. The founder worried that something was wrong—shouldn’t the horse be doing something? Forrest considered that observation an opportunity for self-reflection. Was the founder overly fixated on staying busy, at the expense of conserving energy? What did the Icelandic horse reflect about her leadership? “We deal with what shows up,” Forrest told me recently. “It's often these tiny moments that can have an immense impact.”

Kim’s group wasn’t the first of its kind to visit the stables. Forrester has also served clients from Andreessen Horowitz and Redpoint Ventures, and has hosted off-sites for tech companies like Cisco and Zoom. Equine therapy—or equine-assisted learning, as the workshops are often called—has gained traction among startup founders and CEOs seeking greater self-reflection. “It’s not like Mr. Ed,” said Kim. “They’re not telling you: ‘Fire your CTO!’” But in subtle ways, she said, horses can reveal internal issues that, if left unchecked, could lead to a miserable founder, or even a startup’s implosion.

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