Episode 94: The 5 C’s of Leadership with Wild Horse Trainer Joe Misner

May 30, 2022


In today’s episode, I am joined by Joe Misner, a world-renowned wild horse trainer, for an incredibly powerful conversation. When I think of the entrepreneurial spirit, and leadership, there’s so much that mirrors how horses operate and how they go against the grain. If you are a leader in business, or if you’re looking to become one, you need this conversation. Joe’s curriculum that he uses for training his horses, all of his five C’s, are directly applicable to how we lead in business and even how we lead at home.

I am so proud of this conversation because I don’t think I have ever spoken to someone quite as humble and kind as Joe Meisner, a person who is making such a massive impact.


[3:45] The Four Cs of Good Leadership 

As of 2021, there were 86,000 wild horses running free in 10 western U.S. states.

These horses are on land that can only sustain about 27,000 wild horses based on the appropriate management level of the public land that they live on. So, right now they are currently 59,000 head of horses over. What do they do with overage? Well, in 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act was established by Congress to protect horses from actually being sold for dog food or food overseas and now those horses are rounded up. But, when the number of horses exceeds the appropriate management, they get put in a holding facility. The hope is that someone will adopt and train those horses.

But what most people don’t realize is that this animal literally is a wild animal. Each horse was born and bred in the wild and was able to survive all by itself without human interaction, and it looks to us like a predator. We have to show it to trust us. Once we gain their trust, we can train them but this can only be done if we understand where they’re coming from. This is what Joe has been doing for over two decades and according to him, these horses have taught him immensely.

He explains that if he wants to replace the horse’s herd, he needs to learn characteristics of being a good leader; characteristics that horses recognize as good leadership. According to Joe, there are five Cs that make a good leader: calm, competent, caring, clear and consistent at doing four other C’s.

[8:50]  Starting with Integrity 

The uniqueness of working with horses is that they are not audible. So, these five traits of good leadership have to be translated through body language, meaning that trainers have to be really self disciplined in how they display their emotions. 

Joe shares that old traditional method of training horses was definitely total domination. We all see leaders that dominate, dictate and control. These leaders are not clear, caring or consistent in the way they lead, but yet they’re still in a leadership position. For Joe, it’s all about teaching some integrity; he wants people to realize that they need to work on themselves first before they can lead a horse. A horse has to want to be with them, a horse has to allow them to use it. What motivates a follower to follow a good leader is the feeling that they are taken care of. The leader cares about their followers enough to help them to understand what they want them to do. And then they are rewarded for that. 

[12:07]  Trust and Self-control

Two things that are critical in training horses and in leadership, are trust and having self-control over your emotions. 

The beauty of a wild horse is that it comes with no human interaction, so it doesn’t have a preconceived idea of what humans are going to be doing with it or why. So, a trainer, a leader has to be able to stay calm, no matter the situation. When we’re in a relaxed state of mind, we’re teachable. If we encounter a problem, and we go into a fight-or-flight mode, where we’re either fighting the problem or trying to flee from it, we’re not teachable. If we can remain calm, the horse will want to stay by our side because it sees that no matter the circumstances, we’re not freaking out.  

Joe explains that you don’t have to get control over every emotion because there are things that trigger all of us, but you need to learn how to hold those emotions and only bring them out when needed. Competence doesn’t mean that you don’t make mistakes. Competence means that you have a plan, but if that plan is not working, you have to be ready to think outside that box. 

[16:00]  Being a Better You

A 10-year-old wild horse ran wild for 87,600 hours of its life without human interaction. Do you expect to train it in only two sessions? Where is the equal opportunity in that? 

The horse is going to react the way it reacts, the only way it knows how to react. So, in a do-or-die situation, we need to understand that each horse requires a different approach. Most leaders have their way of doing things and they expect everybody to follow along. They’re afraid to step out of our box and break with tradition and think a little more naturally and maybe have some empathy and compassion. Joe explains that most horse owners have a horse for their own pure pleasure. It’s not really about what they could do for that horse. It’s all about them.

This translates directly to when we’re leading our teams and we have that attitude of what’s in it for me. I hired you to do this job, so do the job and follow what I say because I’m a leader, instead of really pouring into those people. People are not going to care about you and your mission until they see that you care for them as a leader. The same goes for horses. The horse doesn’t care how much you know, it wants to know how much you care. This way, you’ll get more than you ever thought you could ever get with less work. 

For Joe, leadership is all about helping you to be a better you. He wants to utilize his experiences and his education and foster the idea that if you want to get better, you can get better simply by slowing down and working on yourself first.

[21:25] Empathy and Compassion

Joe also has programs that are serving people who have been incarcerated and giving them more purpose, possibility and growth by teaching them how they can train wild horses. 

For Joe, this was a fantastic opportunity to test his abilities as a horse trainer but also recognize the opportunity to be able to pour into somebody. He believes that similar to mustangs, these people keep doing the same thing that they’ve always done because they’ve never been shown that they actually can do things differently. So, with some help from his wife, Joe came up with a program to help these people and offer them a life-changing experience. It also helped him develop more empathy and compassion for people. 

Joe explains that the usual recidivism rate for people who went through educational programs while they were incarcerated is 85%, but for people who went through an equine assisted program it was between 15% to 5%. What’s the difference? Organic is the difference. That’s the key. There’s no formula that fits all. With these programs people are allowed the opportunity to grow and find out what they’re really made up of through nonverbal communication and through empathy and compassion. Those who came in and had compassion and were soft and learned how to deal with their horse were very successful. This allows them to see that they’re not a product of their past mistakes, that they can be taught and that they can do something and achieve something that some people can’t. It changes their mindset.

Joe’s final piece of advice is that if you feel like you’re coming up a brick wall, just stop, restart it and come out with a different angle. Try to remember that you’re the only one that can work on you. It’s not dependent on what people are teaching you. It’s not dependent on what book you read. It requires action on yourself. So, you have to figure out what’s important to you.

I hope today’s episode gave you some valuable insight on how to lead better, both in your business and in your home. And if this episode spoke to you, make sure to subscribe and leave us a review!

Make sure you subscribe because we have some amazing stuff coming your way that you don’t want to miss. Come connect with me on Instagram at @elizhartke! If there’s a topic, a question or a guest you want to hear on the show, just reach out and share that. We do this for you so the more you tell us, the more we can serve.


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