Hiring & Horses: What Do They Have in Common?

A Conversation with Jerry Davis, Recruiter

I had the opportunity to conduct a blog interview with Jerry Davis, recruiter for Adventist Health System, for our health care and hiring blog series, and he shared important lessons the equine world taught him about recruiting.

Chad Harrington
2 March 2016

He probably didn’t know it at the beginning, but the equine world would make him a better recruiter. But that’s exactly what happened when he took ownership of Jake the horse, aa 18-time, race-winning Thoroughbred.


Jerry Davis is a recruiter in the Adventist Health System. He never had a discussion with his horse, like he may have with Mr. Ed, the talking horse of the 1960s, but his interactions with Jake taught him essential lessons about people and about recruiting.

My purpose here is to share those with you, so that you, too, can learn the beautiful, bona fide wisdom he learned from the equine world. The only difference is you don’t have to saddle up to read this blog. 

The context for recruitment

To give you a little context, Davis had 130 open positions with Adventist Medical Center at the time of our interview earlier this year.

I asked him, “What’s your main goal as a recruiter for Adventist Medical Center?”

He said, “to make sure we’re hiring the right people.” 

Specifically, he wants to make sure the people are not only skilled employees, but they adhere to the unique mission and values of Adventist Medical Center, which separates them from other area hospitals.

So what does the equine world have to do with recruiting?

Finding the right people has to do with:

  1. Horses don’t lie, but people might
  2. Learning body language takes time
  3. Trust your instincts and your team

These three lessons are important in the equine world and the recruiting world, albeit in different ways. 


1. Horses don’t lie, but people do

Jerry Davis: “The thing that’s amazing about the equine world is that horses don’t lie. They are a very straight up animal. If you’re paying attention to them, they will tell you how they feel and whether they want you to go away or whether they’re ready to embrace what you have to contribute to the partnership with a horse. 

“I think that is a major part of it right there. So much about recruitment is listening to a person’s story and understanding where they’re coming from, because we all have stories—as far as I see it. Whether a person is striving toward excellence or if they’re just fluffing around. Part of the equine world (for me, anyway) helps me identify when people are truly being genuine, whether that’s over the phone or even in person. Understanding being real, being genuine I think is so much a part of working with horses and I think that’s very true of working with people, as well.”

My takeaway: I appreciated the insight that so much about recruitment is listening to their story and listening to:

  • Where they’re coming from
  • Whether or not they’re fluffing and
  • Whether or not they’re being genuine

2. Learning to read body language takes time

JD: “The body language of a horse is very clear after you’ve had a chance to really watch and study it. It takes time to acquire that. It’s basically spending time and seeing that horse, and being acquainted with the horse. What do they look like when they’re relaxed, when they’re full of energy, and all of the range of emotions in between.

“It’s their ears, where they have their head positioned, how aligned is their spine—the whole horse is a communication mechanism really. Are they facing you, is their back to you, or are they turned sideways—it’s all communication.”

My takeaway: Studying the body language of people takes time and intentionality, but it’s a skill that recruiters must acquire over time in order to hire well. 

3. Trusting your instincts is important

JD: “Going out to the stable is kind of like going to an oasis of time and place where time stands still, where your senses are heightened. When you’re in tune with the horse, they are focused on two primary things: 

  • They don’t want to be alone
  • They’re naturally claustrophobic, so they don’t want to be in tight spaces

“But when they trust you to go in a horse trailer, which is claustrophobic to them, there are a lot of dynamics that are happening—Do I trust this person or do I trust my own instincts? Which is stronger? 

The importance of trusting your instincts and your team

“The value really comes into play revolving around that spirit of trust: Trusting your instincts and trusting the people around you, and being able to measure the two against each other.”

“When I’m talking with a potential candidate, there’s a fair amount of checking with your gut, if you will:

  • How do you feel about this person?
  • Is there something that your radar is setting off?

"You have to look at that from both directions of trusting your instincts.

“I think the horse world heightens those instincts, strengthens those instincts.”

My takeaway: Just like a horse trusts their instincts about people, recruiters must trust their instincts about people. This comes with time and experience; it’s not automatic—it requires an intentional decision. This is important for the individual and for the team when making hiring decisions. 

Adventist Health System Profile

Jerry Davis is a recruiter for Adventist Medical Center in Portland, Oregon, which is part of the Adventist Health System:

  • 10 states
  • 44 award-winning facilities
  • Nearly 77,000 employees
  • Serve more than 4.7 million patients annually

On detecting lies, body language, and learning to trust

Recruiters are tempted to trust situations and candidates at face value, when their instincts may be telling them something beyond what the eye can see. Learning how to pick up on lies, detect body language, and trust your instincts enough to act on them is important in the equine world, and it's important in hiring.

What’s at stake is both the integrity of the recruiter and of the organization. We can all learn something from the world of equine here, whether it’s an encouragement to keep on trusting the instincts we’ve developed, or to pay more attention to the daily decisions we make and strengthen our instincts.


Chad Harrington is the Content Director at Relode, the human-powered job posting. He writes on all things hiring. Contact him through email. Follow Relode on Twitter for all blogs and company updates