Standing Ovation by Ovation Riding

This week’s honoree: Lead-Up International.

Photo by Faida Pereira

Every Friday, Horse Nation teams up with Ovation Riding to spotlight an individual or organization doing good work in the horse world. Today, we’re recognizing Lead-Up International, and spoke with the founder, Katie Cunningham, to learn more.

What is Lead-Up International’s mission statement and charity status?

Our mission statement is: To reduce violence in the community by forming peaceful leaders across the globe, through the embodied experience of “Join-Up®” and lessons learned from horses and from the equine herd.

Monty Roberts created Join-Up, a coherent set of principles using inherent communication methods of the horse and the herd.

How did Lead-Up International get started?

Lead-Up began through the framework of the Brooke Equine Welfare Charity. Brooke strives to improve the welfare of working equines across the developing world. Our team wanted to see whether we could improve equine welfare through shifts in attitude and behaviour of the horse owners and handlers towards non-violence. The results of our pilot program in 2012 were so encouraging that we decided to conduct scientific studies to measure the success of the program. Over time the program has been adapted to focus on vulnerable youth as we feel we can have even more impact working with this population.

Our main program is based in Antigua, Guatemala but we have recently launched in 8 additional countries including in California.

Can you tell us more about your programming and how it works?

Lead-Up partners with Non-Governmental Organisations who strive to improve the welfare of youth at risk (aged 15-24), improve gender equality and improve equine welfare. The participants are welcomed into a compassionate and non-judgmental environment, far removed from the violence, abuse, addiction and neglect they often experience at home. Lead-Up’s specific objectives are to see attitudinal and behavioural change resulting in the reduction of violence used to solve inter-personal conflicts (i.e. domestic violence, youth violence, and intra-familiar violence).

A Lead-Up workshop takes place over two full days, and includes a feedback session as well. Participants are taught to control body language, breathing, stress levels and emotions when interacting with horses. Horses are herd animals that seek leadership. Within minutes of a participant demonstrating calm and assertive leadership the horse willingly chooses his leadership and walks towards him: the moment of “Join-Up.” It’s a powerful and life-changing experience. These new skills are then related to adverse situations and relationships in the participants’ lives. Clinical psychologists are on hand at every step and further coaching and therapy is provided for the youth who need special attention. Core objectives include:

  • Improvement of participant’s emotional regulation
  • Development of peaceful leadership skills in each participant
  • Improvement of participant’s self-esteem

How are you funded?

We have received donations from individual donors and fundraising events. We are currently applying for institutional grants. We are an affiliate program of Join-Up International and we operate under their 501C3. However we’re in the process of registering independently. Donation information can be found on our web page. We have an on-going crowdfunding program through the Fundrazr Crowdfunding page.

What’s one thing you wish people knew about the work you are doing?

We believe that in order to break the cycle of violence, shifts in attitude and behaviour must come from within. In Lead-Up we create peaceful leaders through the discovery that violence is never the answer and that being peaceful is powerful. There’s nothing in this world that can help us to discover non-violence and to develop peaceful, authentic and composed leadership the way a horse can.

Photo by Mindy Grantham

We salute Lead-Up International for its good work in the horse world, and encourage readers who would like to learn more to visit the organization’s website and Facebook page for more information.

Many thanks thanks to Ovation Riding for their support of both Horse Nation and individuals and organizations that are doing good work in the horse world. If you know someone who deserves a Standing Ovation, we would love to recognize them in a future post. Email the name of the person or organization along with a message about the good work they do to [email protected]. Photos/videos are always welcome, and include a link to their website if applicable.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *