Judy Kurilo's life's work is training horses. Her horses' work is training corporate employees.Since she was 10 years old growing up in North Portland, Kurilo, 60, rode, trained, and competed with horses, eventually placing in various national competitions with her first horse, Calliope. What initially was a hobby to keep her occupied became a lifelong, near-spiritual infatuation.

"I always think I need to start lighting incense when I start talking down this road," she says.

Kurilo says the mental and emotional connections between humans and horses can be life-changing—even for people who spend their days trapped in cubicles.

Henry Cromett
Henry Cromett

At Deerpark Stables, her 56-acre ranch in the woods off Northwest Skyline Boulevard, Kurilo hosts corporate team-building workshops based on equine psychology. She begins the four-hour sessions by having trainees observe the horses interact with each other. Horses, Kurilo says, are exceptionally empathic, and can pick up subconscious cues from everything from posture to the "energy" a person radiates. So people have to be especially self-aware when tending to them.

"If you're a weak person, the horse isn't gonna listen to you, and if you're too strong, the horse is gonna run away," Kurilo says. "You have to find that balance in the middle, and it makes people work on themselves."

Then comes the hard part, as trainees try to catch a horse with a halter. (There has yet to be an injury, she points out.) Once a horse is caught and comfortable, guests use their most sensitive communication skills to lead the horse over a small hurdle—a task possible only by catering to a horse's innate sense of contact.

Henry Cromett
Henry Cromett

So far, Kurilo has had the opportunity to work with only a few groups from Adidas. But she's confident her training can help improve workplace collaboration, patience and camaraderie. If nothing else, it should help save money on therapy.

“Those horses, if you go around them enough, they just mind-map you,” she says. “They know exactly what you’re thinking.”