B Studio Project: An intersection of hybrid thinking, horses, citizenship and innovation

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The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. F. Scott Fitzgerald

When we took our B Studio participants to Being with Horses and Healing with Horses, it was because we wanted participants to see a hybrid organization in action. Being with Horses is the for-profit arm of Healing with Horses. The idea is simple. Being with Horses provides riders with a trail riding experience, and the organization uses that money to fund their work with differently abled persons. Their work with differently abled person happens under the umbrella Healing with Horses, while their social purpose business operates under Being with Horses.

It has been our tradition to end the last day of our B Studio with a field trip. We had planned to visit Healing with Horses and a cocoa estate in Roxborough, Tobago. The rain however had different plans for us. We only made it to Healing with Horses, but the trip was well worth it.

This small horse sanctuary is really a holding space for regenerating, healing and growth. The space is held by the husband and wife couple Veronika Danzer-La Fortune and Lennon La Fortune. They are Co-Founders and Co- Directors of the space. While we where there, Lennon held the off stage space, and Veronika held the on stage space. We spent a wonderful morning with Veronika as she guided us through their sanctuary and introduced us to the horses.

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What we understood was that the for profit arm (Being with Horses) guides riders on a tour of the Wetland & Mangroves along Buccoo Bay. Admittedly, although rightfully refered to it as Wetland and Mangrove, I would never describe it using these words. Wetlands and Mangroves do not evoke the image of a path that is tucked slight away from a pristine white beach with a wonderful backdrop of blue Caribbean water.

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After completing the trail ride through the “Wetland and Mangrove”, the experience is then followed by a swim along the shores of the beach. The organization practices what they call `natural Horse-manship´.  Horses are ridden without a saddle and they use bite less bridles. Horse are never whipped and are treated humanely. These majestic animals are ridden with great esteem.

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Without knowing it, Veronika touched on many of the themes present throughout our workshops. For example, Veronika referenced how Mustangs live in the wild. At Being and Healing with Horses they try to ensure that their horses live similar to the way the would live if they were a wild herd of horses. Their `natural Horse-manship´ approach emphasizes riding in partnership with the horse and not being in control of the horse. The horse chooses the rider and you both negotiate how the ride is going to go. It is a relationship or conversation with the horse.

This philosophy connected deeply with the B Studio project. Every day we asked one big question. One of the questions we asked was, what does it mean to be human? The approach taken by Being and Healing with Horses echoed many of the conclusions participants came to as they grappled with the question of what it meant to be human.

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In another example, Veronika told a beautiful story of how she once had to work with a group of blind participants. To prepare, their entire team blindfolded themselves as they worked with horses. They wanted to know what it was like to be blind while interacting with horses. This technique of putting yourself in the user’s shoes is know as an empathetic approach to understanding users or clients. This empathetic approach to working with participants echoed another major theme of the programme – Human Centred Design or Design Thinking.

Design Thinking is a mindset or an approach to problem solving that begins with the end user in mind. Veronika gave an example of how she uses an empathetic approach to working with horses and clients.

Another thing that really stood out for us was that many, if not all, of their horses are rescued animals. Much of their work focuses on rebuilding the character and strength of horses that have been ill-treated. These horses then work with differently abled young people to help them develop their own strengths, character and sense of purpose. This full circle approach seems to imply that Being and Healing with Horses looks at the entire system and the interconnected parts. This mirrors a third pillar of the B Studio Project – Systems Thinking.

System Thinking is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than snapshots. System thinkers see the world as being deeply interconnected.

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Finally, Veronika touched on another pillar of the B Studio Project – Integrative Thinking. Integrative Thinking refers to the idea that when given the choice of two undesirable options, successful innovators often create a hybrid or new model that takes advantage of the best aspects of these undesirable options. These hybrids often create a new model that steers the innovators away from accepting either of the undesirable options. Veronika and Lennon are no different. They have taken the desirable components of a for profit model and a non profit model to develop their own hybrid approach to creating an ecosystem of wellness.

It was the perfect outing for our field trip.

So despite things not going as we planned, Healing and Being with Horses proved to be the perfect place for the last day of a studio on innovation and citizenship. Veronika and Lennon’s approach to building community, communicating with the horses, their hybrid model and their naturalistic approach, are exactly the kind of innovation our world needs.

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The B Studio Project really enjoyed our experience with Healing and Being with Horses. We definitely recommend that others explore this powerful organizations based in Buccoo Bay, Tobago. When you visit Veronika and Lennon La Fortune you immediately get the sense that these two are holding space for a community that is not only human centric, but animal and nature informed or inspired. These two are tilling the soil of change in a little village in Tobago.

They are humbly taking their wisdom from a herd of once neglected horses.