- Diamond Cross Ranch is a 100-acre dude ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, owned by Grant and Jane Golliher.
- The ranch has worked with Fortune 500 companies like Google,Disney, and Toyota for corporate events that cost upwards of $US10,000 and feature horse whispering demonstrations by Grant Golliher.
- I recently visited the ranch and got a private horse whispering demonstration from Grant, and despite my initial scepticism and confusion about what horse whispering actually was, by the end of it, I did understand why it’s useful to business leaders.
- Horse whispering is a lesson in subtle communication, empathy, facing fears, and maintaining consistent boundaries, all of which can be applied to business and leadership.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Jackson Hole Valley in Wyoming is full of ranches. But not all ranches bring in Fortune 500 companies who pay upwards of $US10,000 to watch a cowboy tame a wild horse.
For more than 20 years, Jane and Grant Golliher of Diamond Cross Ranch in Moran, Wyoming, have been working with Fortune 500 companies like Google, Disney, and Toyota for corporate events that include evenings of ranch hospitality, dining – and horse whispering. These events, some of which take place at Diamond Cross Ranch and some elsewhere, start at $US10,000 and are tailored for each group based on priorities, objectives, size, time, and other factors, the Gollihers told me.
Just last year, they threw an album listening party for Kanye West and hosted Alibaba cofounder Jack Ma and his family. At first, the horse whispering demonstrations were purely for entertainment. But to the Gollihers’ surprise, attendees seemed to get much more out of the demonstrations than expected.
The clients started “telling us the message that they got,” Jane told Business Insider. “Grant would do the demonstrations and often people would begin crying …”
People started telling the Gollihers that lessons they’d learned from horse whispering are lessons that apply to business, leadership, and teamwork.
“I always said, it fits life. It’s not just about training a horse,” said Grant, who has been training horses professionally for 40 years.
On a recent trip to Jackson Hole, I visited Diamond Cross Ranch and got a private horse whispering demonstration from Grant. Here’s what it was like.
Diamond Cross Ranch is a 100-acre dude ranch in the scenic Jackson Hole valley in Wyoming.
The ranch, which is open from May to mid-October, sits about 6,900 feet above sea level and is home to about 15 horses and 75 cows that pasture there in the summertime.
Jane and Grant Golliher have run Diamond Cross Ranch together for more than 20 years.
Jane’s grandparents came to Jackson Hole from Switzerland as some of the area’s first homesteaders in 1912.
On my recent visit to Diamond Cross Ranch, we started out in the barn, which the couple built in 2004 after deciding to pursue corporate events.
The couple explained to me how their corporate events business had happened by accident.
It started about 22 years ago, when the Gollihers were asked to put on a private rodeo for Microsoft employees. After the successful event, they started hosting corporate events with Grant’s horse whispering demonstrations as part of the evening.
The horse whispering display was meant to be entertainment, but to the Gollihers’ surprise, people took away lessons from the experience that they felt could be applied to business, including subtle communication, honouring positive efforts, and maintaining consistent boundaries.
“I always said, it fits life. It’s not just about training a horse,” Grant said.
When Grant asked me if I wanted to see a horse whispering demonstration, I didn’t hesitate to say yes.
The demonstrations take place in a round arena set up on one side of the barn.
Four chairs were set in front of the arena.
Later in the demonstration, Grant would tell me that they use a round pen because it’s a “safe workplace” for the horse.
“There are no corners in it to trap the horse,” he said. “They don’t feel trapped. Horses are very claustrophobic. They need freedom. And they’re a prey animal, so prey animals run from predators. They run from what they’re afraid of.”
In fact, Grant said he encourages the horse to run if it’s afraid.
“We tell it, ‘if you’re afraid, move your feet. If you’re afraid, go ahead, run away,'” he said. “I just want to help direct where you’re going.”
The horse Grant was working with was a three-year-old mare whose owner had never gotten around to training her. After she was let into the arena, she stayed on the far side from where I sat and where Grant stood. She seemed nervous and skittish.
The horse didn’t have a name, but Grant suggested she should be called Blue Moon because she’s a blue roan and she has a crescent on her hindquarters.
Grant said he’d done one demonstration with this horse before, about a month ago, but before that she was “untouched; she was wild, had never been touched by human hands, never had a rope on her.”
A big part of working with horses is trying to understand how they feel, Grant said, “instead of just saying, ‘You’re just a tool. You’re just a horse, and I’m going to make you conform’ … and what they feel is absolute terror sometimes.”
Grant started out mounted on Freckles, a 25-year-old gelding. The first step was to make sure the mare was showing submission to Freckles, the dominant member of the ranch’s herd.
After the horse entered the arena, Grant pointed out that she was already submissive, keeping her head low and smelling Freckles.
“The reason for that is she’s been in this pen with him before, and that was like a month ago,” Grant said. “The beautiful thing about this philosophy is horses don’t forget it.”
For the first exercise with the horse, Grant laid down a rope on the ground that split the arena in half. His goal was to get the mare to stay on the “scary” side of the rope — the side closest to where I and two other people sat watching.
Grant said he wanted to teach the horse to face her fears and to honour a clear boundary.
To do this, he has everyone in the barn make as much noise as possible while the horse is on the “wrong” side of the rope – the side farthest from where I sat. Grant asks the audience to “whoop and holler,'” bang on the metal of the pen, and generally just be as noisy as they can.
“Noise is a pressure; it’s scary to a horse,” Grant said.
While Grant vigorously waved a bright orange flag, the rest of us in the barn helped by making a huge racket when the horse was on the other side of the rope, then immediately falling silent when she stepped over to the right side.
The concept is to “make the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy,” Grant said.
After only a minute or two of this, the mare stayed on the right side of the rope.
Once the horse had learned to stay on the right side of the rope, it was time for Grant to have his first physical contact with her.
Grant doesn’t like to be the first to initiate contact with the horse.
“I like them to make first contact, just like a dog,” he said. “[My hands] are claws, so the claws are down. My body language is soft. My shoulders are cocked this way; I’m not confrontive [sic]. I’m soft. I have a cocked knee here, and I’m relaxed.”
Grant then dropped to his knees in front of the horse.
It’s a very vulnerable position for a human, Grant said.
“As a predator, this horse, now, it could wheel and kick, bite, strike,” he said. “It could do anything. But it won’t, because it has the freedom to get away and it’s already yielded and dropped its head and submitted.”
Grant then turned his face up to the horse.
“I like a horse to make the first sniff, and then I’ll just breathe in her nose,” he said.
Horses won’t exchange air with one another until they have established trust, Grant said.
“And I’ve noticed, over 40, 50 years of working with horses, that the horses that are slaves, that have been forced, they won’t breathe your air,” he said. “They don’t trust you. They’re just a slave. They will work for you because they have to, not because they want to. And this is a different relationship.”
Slowly, Grant stood up and reached out to stroke the horse with the back of his hand. Then he started scratching a particular spot on her chest where bugs tend to bite this time of year and the horses can’t reach to scratch it.
“Now I don’t know if she’ll take this as something good yet,” Grant said. “Sometimes they will get offended and fight you. I’ll watch her eye because she could turn and bite me so quickly. I’ll watch her expression. And this mare, the first time I worked with her, she wanted to bite me. She got aggravated.”
But it was quickly apparent that the mare was enjoying it. She bobbed her head around, appearing the most relaxed she’d been since setting foot into the pen.
“I’m going to make friends with this horse, and she won’t forget me,” Grant said.
Grant continued to pet the mare, and I was amazed at how relaxed the horse already seemed with him, as she had been skittish and evasive not too many minutes ago.
“I spend some time with this horse before I go to training, just letting it know that being here with me is a good thing,” Grant said. “Because I’m going to get on its back, and it’s never been ridden before. So I want it to know that the same guy that’s on its back was a good guy down here.”
For no reason I could see, the mare suddenly got spooked and ran to the other side of the arena. Immediately, we went back to yelling and making noise while Grant waved the flag — applying pressure, as he calls it.
After a few seconds, the mare came back to the right side of the rope, and we stopped the noise.
“See, she forgot,” Grant said. “We didn’t go, ‘Aw, I don’t want to discipline it now.’ No, we immediately went into consequence for a wrong choice, rewards for a good choice. But still, the freedom to choose.”
Grant approached the mare with a halter, which I was sceptical he’d be able to put on after that.
But before he tried putting on the halter, Grant scratched the same spot where the bugs had bitten her.
“When I go to catch my horse, I’m gonna do something it likes,” he said. “And it doesn’t take more than a few seconds. But I’m not just going to grab it, put the halter on, and go right to work, because first impression’s real important.”
And then, to my surprise, he slipped the halter onto her head with no problem at all.
There were some tense parts of the demonstration, when it seemed the mare was not going to do what Grant wanted her to do.
At moments, the horse resisted and even seemed like she might bite Grant.
But he persisted in giving consistent, firm instruction until the horse understood what she wanted him to do and did it. And then he repeated it – again and again – until she was doing it flawlessly.
“I did not give up in the struggle,” Grant said. “When she was saying, ‘I don’t understand. I don’t know,’ I just kept helping her, setting it up for her to succeed until she found it, and then went ‘Good.’ Release the pressure immediately.”
One of Grant’s favourite mantras can apply to business and relationships as well as horse training: “Slow to take, quick to give.”
Grant then brought out an orange tarp, first letting the mare smell it to make sure it wasn’t anything scary.
He slowly laid it over her shoulders, eventually spreading it out over her whole back to get her used to having something there.
“It can be kind of scary, this tarp,” Grant said. “This is how I get them ready to be saddled. I did this with her one time, and I can see she retains pretty well, because she didn’t forget it.”
Grant took it a step further by getting up on a bucket and leaning onto the horse’s back to get her accustomed to having weight on her back.
“She’s going to feel a live animal on her back,” Grant said. “When you think about what that feels like to a horse, that’s why they buck. They’re terrified. They think the predator’s on their back.”
Even after everything I’d seen, I was surprised the horse didn’t spook or move away as he leaned on her.
Eventually, Grant had his entire upper body lying on the horse’s back, even pushing himself up onto his tippy toes.
It was a far cry from the horse flinching away from his touch less than an hour earlier.
Grant likes reciting poetry during his demonstrations. He recited two poems for me, including one called “The Man in the Glass” by Dale Wimbrow.
One stanza of the poem goes:
“For it isn’t your father, or mother, or wife Whose judgment upon you must pass The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life Is the one staring back from the glass.”
The horse stood calmly next to Grant as he recited the poems.
For the ranch’s corporate events, Grant has started to evolve the horse whispering process from a demonstration to more of a collaboration.
“We have moved on from just the demonstration to hands-on stuff, where we actually have them work with the horses,” he told me. “And then we get them on a horse, we take them on a cattle drive and we have them work cattle together, because it’s a team-building thing. You have a leader, but the leader can’t do any more than the team does.”
By the end of the demonstration, which took a little over an hour, it seemed that if Grant would have continued working with the horse for another hour or so, he would be riding her.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised by the subtlety of something called “horse whispering,” but I was blown away by Grant’s understated yet somehow ultra-effective communication with the horse.
He was compassionate and gentle, yet firm and disciplined. He guided the horse with the slightest motions, sounds, and pressure. At one point, Grant told me that he had been working with horses for so long that he could anticipate almost every single reaction to his own actions when training them, and that was evident throughout the demonstration.
It also became clear to me why companies like Toyota and Google will pay upwards of $US10,000 for their employees to see these demonstrations. The lessons of subtle yet effective communication, empathy, setting clear boundaries, and honouring the smallest efforts are as applicable to business – and life in general – as they are to training a horse.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.