When it comes to power posing, why stop with humans? Some people are using power posing ideas to help animals. One of the most unusual e‑mails I received was from a horse trainer named Kathy, who had been working for years on a project that “encourages horses to find intrinsically motivating behaviors as a means to both physical and mental rehab.” Kathy wrote:
Your TED talk helped put so many things into place, and so I tried a little experiment with one of [my horses]. This horse has always been at the bottom of the herd hierarchy, despite being physically bigger, fitter, stronger than the rest. He is introverted and would not engage in play with the other horses, and never wanted to show off, even in play. Yet he is becoming quite athletic and is very talented.
So, having thought about your work, I devised an exercise that would cause him to physically “act” like a badass (by chasing something as a predator would, trying to strike or attack it, which is what horses do in play or when flirting). It was wildly successful beyond any expectation I had. Within three days, he was acting out those same movements in the pasture and trying to initiate rowdy play with the others.
In a follow‑up e-mail a few months later, Kathy wrote:
Vafi had been dismissed by almost everyone in our community [of Icelandic horse enthusiasts and trainers] as being “just a family horse,” certainly not the kind of horse that belongs in the highest levels of competition, where you find only the most talented, fit, and, above all, proud horses.
Last weekend was our annual spring Icelandic horse show. I entered Vafi in the most advanced class, where the current number-one-ranked horse and rider team in the world was competing, along with nine others.
You know where this is going.
We shocked everyone by making it into the finals, where it was five horses — Vafi and four others, who are all qualified for the world championships in Berlin. It was quite a sight, and dozens of people were wondering what magic/voodoo turned Vafi into such a different horse.
And about a year after that, when she began working with a new horse, Draumur, Kathy wrote:
The world championship tryouts for Icelandic horses is happening in ten weeks, and I’m taking both my horses to the qualifying. Everyone in the equine world would have thought that absolutely impossible just a few years ago. Meanwhile both Vafi and Draumur have taken the power pose, act-like‑a‑badass [approach] to new levels. So far, the benefits have not even begun to plateau — [the horses] just keep getting more motivated and much more fit and strong. You started something that is taking on a life of its own in the horse world.
In a way, this is the most convincing anecdotal evidence of all — nobody told Vafi or Draumur or any of the other horses what power posing was supposed to do. Kathy and I discovered that trainers have been getting their horses to power pose for a long time — for more than two thousand years, in fact:
Let the horse be taught … to hold his head high and arch his neck. … By training him to adopt the very airs and graces which he naturally assumes when showing off to best advantage, you have … a splendid and showy animal, the joy of all beholders. … Under the pleasurable sense of freedom … with stately bearing and legs pliantly moving he dashes forward in his pride, in every respect imitating the airs and graces of a horse approaching other horses.
— Xenophon (430–354 BCE)