Leaders learn to connect

A UNIQUE program combining her passion for horses and for helping people improve their leadership skills has earned Melissa Duniam this year’s Rural Women’s Award.

Mrs Duniam, one of four finalists in the state awards, said she was surprised to win.

Leading Rein is a business Mrs Duniam set up after seeing a need for programs to help people develop skills for self- improvement and growth.

“For me it’s a about developing leadership and communication and relationships,” she said.

“I team with my horses to run programs and workshops. When I say leaders, that can
be teams and businesses and organisations, but generally the scope I have is for anyone who wants to move forward in life.”

Mrs Duniam helps to run a dairy-farming enterprise with her husband, Richard, and said that experience showed there was a need for this type of training and skill development.

“Just listening to the conversations, I could tell this wasn’t just something we experienced growing our business,” she said.

“It’s the team environment that’s the pinnacle and the real

Rural Women’s award winner Melissa Duniam at her Milabena farm, where she runs her business. Picture: KAROLIN MACGREGOR

value and strength in your business. Sometimes that can be challenging if you’ve just rolled into a leadership role.”

Through more conversations with other industries she realised a lack of leadership training was a big issue.

After becoming certified in equine-assisted learning, Mrs Duniam wanted to use her new skills to assist businesses.

She now runs non-riding programs that can be customised for organisations or individual needs.

By using horses, Mrs Duniam said the programs got people out of a classroom and into an environment that promotes self-reflection and growth, where the emphasis is not always on verbal communication.

Mrs Duniam said this helped people who may be less outspoken find other effective ways to lead a team.

The workshops involve a small group of people who are able to connect with the horses and become part of a team.

“It’s really personal too, because people take away something individually from the relationship they establish with the horse,” she said.

While Mrs Duniam became involved with horses later in life, she has followed in the footsteps of her grandfather who was a talented horseman.

“I remember watching him training horses in the round yard and he was always very gentle and empathetic. I didn’t

realise it at the time but that was a type of leadership.”

Many workshop participants have not been involved with horses previously.

“It is designed for non-horse people. For people who haven’t experienced horses before, to experience them in this format is just mind blowing and gives them a chance to look at things from a bigger perspective.”

She said the horses naturally assessed people’s body language and energy, providing a platform for discussion.

“When someone starts to get worried, horses will give us feedback so we can have a conversation around that.

“What does it look like, how do we feel and how do we move through that, so everyone feels safe, humans and

horses. So, it harnesses that relationship building and the developing together through communication.”

Mrs Duniam said taking people into an outdoor environment also had benefits.

“They get dirty and it really helps us to highlight the value of living on the farm.”

As part of the award, Mrs Duniam will receive $15,000 which she plans to use to help promote the workshops.

She said she would also use some of the funding to help with her personal development and to expand her skill base.

The workshops are held
at the Duniams’ property at Milabena that includes a large indoor equestrian centre.