My Secret Horse Dream
Even though I dreamed of a life with horses, there was a time when I thought it would never happen.
I am number 6 of 7 children in my family, growing up in the city. A couple of realizations when I was young, led me to believe that I should never want for anything too badly because I would never get it. I also believed I wasn’t really worth anybody’s valuable time since I was an average performer in the middle of some extraordinary performers and that if you didn’t have natural talent, then you would always be that way.
I kept my love for horses a secret and almost forgot it existed.
My first chance to ride regularly was through another girl, Sherry, who eventually became a dear friend. I would ride my bike for an hour and a half to get the chance to ride, bareback because my friend couldn’t afford a saddle. Through Sherry, horses came and went as we enjoyed just being with the horses and going places and doing things. I was bullied in school during this time, horses and my friendships helped me find strength. I have more good memories than bad during this time.
In my early teens, my parents recognized my enjoyment of horses wasn’t going away and in the interest of safety, they signed me up for one set of lessons at a barn where I learned to jump.
When I was in University, I found the chance to ride again by volunteering at a guiding horse rental business. I traded work for the chance to ride and had a lot of fun there.
After moving to Alberta for my career, I realized that I could pay $25 an hour to rent a horse or $20 an hour for lessons. I chose the lessons and learned more about jumping and a bit about dressage. Through these lessons, I met a co-worker’s wife, Kris, who became my dressage coach. She was very generous with her horse and would allow me to ride when she was unable to get to the barn. Kris taught me about the value of sharing a horse with others and when my children were babies, I would hire her daughter to hold my son while I rode.
Saving up to buy Cayenne
When my sons were old enough to handle themselves at the farm while I rode, I bought my first horse from Sue and Clay. I had saved up $100 a month for a year and paid $1200 for Cayenne.
I drove 50 minutes each way to ride for an hour while the children played, I was also working full time and supporting my boys in their activities. I usually got the chance to ride once or twice a week. It was during this time that I had my first exposure to horsemanship and saw Monty Roberts demonstrate his round pen techniques. I tried what I learned but then was quickly frustrated when I didn’t know what to do after “Join Up”. (Cayenne was later sold to a Parelli student who fit with him better than I did).
Sugar – A happy accident
Sue and Clay invited me to attend a horse auction where they hoped to purchase another horse with the money that they got from me for Cayenne. I tagged along for fun since I had never been to a horse auction before. This was a reputable PMU farm where, yes they collected the mare’s urine, but they also gave the horses a good life and were selective in their breeding. Sue found and purchased a nice registered filly and for fun, Clay handed me the bidding card to get a feel for an auction. The horses were going for around $1000 so I felt safe bidding to $300 and then stopping. As the last set of weanlings came out, Clay leaned over and pointing to one said “4 white feet that one is yours” I replied, “As if!” The bidding on that filly stopped exactly at $300, being new to auctions, I had no idea that everyone in attendance had figured me out and had picked a horse for me. As the auctioneer yelled “sold!” a lady in the stands looked directly at me and nodded, in the meantime, I was freaking out! It was hard to convince my husband that I needed a horse, let alone 2. When I went to inspect my purchase, I found the filly freaking out in a pen with the other worried weanlings. I said, “shhh, shhh, Sugar” and she got her name. On the way home, I called my husband and told him “I got the kids a horse”.
What do I do now??
Only knowing how to ride and nothing about training, I basically started teaching Sugar like a dog. I picked up a book on clicker training and that helped a bit. I was also getting all kinds of advice from various sources, sometimes helpful and sometimes not. When Sugar was 3, I moved her and Cayenne to a farm closer to my house and leased Cayenne to a friend so I could afford to keep both. It was here that I witnessed my first Liberty Circle Game and my jaw dropped to the ground. As I arrived home, I saw an ad in the newspaper about Parelli Natural Horsemanship coming to Calgary and I made sure I attended. I was very impressed!! I loved the idea of following a program and then testing what I had learned through the auditions. I knew that I needed to host an instructor since I didn’t own a trailer. I went to each instructor that I saw and asked them the same question and I based my choice on their answer. (*Don Halladay was in the back taking care of Casper so I never had the chance to talk to him)
Secret Instructor Dream
It was during these conversations that Larry Stewart said to me that I could be an instructor in the program. I had been teaching gymnastics for 30 years and knew I was a talented teacher so this appealed to me. (*I later found out that Larry said this to many people to convince them to commit to the program, LOL!) Nevertheless, the instructor seed was planted and I kept it to myself as a secret dream. I went home from this experience with the magic carrot stick and tried to do what I had remembered with lunge lines and a web halter. (It didn’t work) My workplace had an educational trust fund and I applied for funding to get the entire educational VHS pack with equipment. I was approved and passed the original Level One, 3 months later with 3 ½-year-old Sugar.
Don Halladay – My mentor, who opened the doors to real progression
I was really struggling with the original Level 2 and realized I needed to get help from an instructor. I had planned on Larry Stewart but his requirements for facility and student numbers were too difficult to fulfill. Larry suggested I contact a new 3 Star Instructor Don Halladay and he agreed to come to the Edmonton area. I got a contact list from Parelli and during my coffee breaks; I emailed and phoned every person on that list. Out of the hundreds of people, I got 9 students for the Level 2 clinic with Don Halladay. That was the beginning of a great mentorship and I hosted, participated and eventually assisted in over 50 clinics with Don Halladay over the next 16 years.
Don and Randee Halladay were a big part of my horsemanship development as well as fellow students such as Donna Bellerive. I learned to do things with a horse that I never imagined I would be able to do through the Parelli program. I also wrote and sent out a monthly newsletter that grew the community and through the Don Halladay clinics helped others to learn and develop as well. Our group connected and had fun playdays, competitions and trail rides. In 2011 I finally attended the Parelli Campus for my Fastrack Course, 2012 was my 1 Star and 2013 was my 2 Star course. I earned my Level 4 black string in 2013 just in time to keep my 2 Star status. I managed with Don and Randee’s help to achieve my secret dream of being an instructor while working full time as a Television News Video Editor and mother to 2 active boys.
It was very difficult for my horse Sugar, a dominant LBI, to get through the Level 4 requirements both mentally and physically. There were many times that I almost gave up. When I finally passed, Don phoned me up exclaiming, “Congratulations and you did it on Sugar!”
I knew if I wanted to advance I had better find another horse but I had also made a promise to Sugar that she was NOT FOR SALE! Once more, I had a limited budget.
Tyson – The horse that picked me
A 2 ½-year-old Arabian had arrived at the barn where I board, the owner, Dwight, was unable to be there and I received his young horse off the trailer. I felt sorry for the poor guy so I helped him gain some confidence in this new environment and introduced him to Sugar. He bonded with me and Sugar and Dwight was happy to allow me to bring him into the barn whenever I was out.
I played with him a little bit when I was finished my sessions with Sugar, we both enjoyed his company. Each time I would come to the barn after looking at another horse to purchase, Tyson would greet me at the gate as if to say, “Pick me!!” Sometimes he would even pose for me in the field to show how lovely he was. I kept saying to him, “Oh my Tyson, sorry, I need a bigger horse”. He was persistent and one day I noticed that his butt was only slightly lower than Sugar’s. When he was 3, Dwight was happy to have me to take over his care and when he was 3 ½, I bought him.
When I reflected later about my list of criteria for this new horse, I realized Tyson fulfilled everyone.
Transitions (that I secretly hoped for)
In 2017 I was unexpectedly retired from my Television career, I was very thankful that I had created a backup plan of being a Parelli instructor. I now found myself with the time to spend studying on the Parelli Campus but the money to fund the trip was difficult. I had forgotten that I had been putting money away every month in a savings account and when the final paperwork was finished from my job, I discovered the account with the money to fund the trip with Tyson. Since my true love was dressage and my lowest Level 4 score was in Finesse, I decided my limited time would be best served studying under Linda. As I applied, Pat decided that I would go to his barn first and then go with Linda. Thankfully, studying under Don Halladay and attending his many cow clinics set me up for success with my horsemanship at Pat’s barn but I yearned to grow under Linda.
After 2 months with Pat, I got my chance and spent the next 4 months with Linda. I learned more than I expected while I was in Florida but wanted to learn more. Unfortunately, my budget restrictions required that Tyson and I head home as planned.
The True Meaning of Feel and Tension Reduces Movement
When I arrived back from Florida, my teaching schedule was full of eager students. I worked very hard all summer and by the time winter arrived, Tyson and I were physically and mentally exhausted. I returned to yoga and weight lifting to strengthen my body and this turned out to be a great decision. After seeing so many Yoga students and teachers become injured, Lisa, the Yoga studio owner began developing and teaching a new style of movement which was based on her many years of studying Yoga and the science of Biotensegrity, she calls this Integral Movement. I was amazed as the classes started to free my body of pain and then create new habits of movement that were energizing and not depleting or pain-causing.
In the spring of 2019, I hosted a Linda Parelli Happy Horse Clinic in Alberta where our group was exposed to the 7 Games Goals. Linda’s “You should be…..circling, backing, etc.” statement changed my perspective and started me on the path towards a deeper feel and understanding with horses.
My body began to feel so good from studying Integral Movement that I asked Lisa about teaching as I could see the benefits for all Equestrians. The first step was to become a Yoga Instructor and I achieved that in the winter of 2019 and 2020.
As I was learning and developing myself as a yoga teacher and Integral Movement student, I saw so much that was also adding to my horsemanship. My horses were really happy with the new way I was holding myself in the saddle and the feel that I offered through the reins and ropes. I started to share with the students and they were able to see a change for themselves as well. I understood horsemanship concepts that I had learned before even more deeply such as; Allow, Connection, Energy, Being in the Moment, Focus, Feel, Timing, Balance, Tension and Depletion.
My Horses Have a Dream for Me…
The changes between Pat and Linda have pushed me toward a path that I was heading towards anyway. When I recalled the differences in the energy between the 2 barns in Florida when I was there, it was clear to me that I would leave behind my Parelli Professional designation and follow Linda.
…and the Student’s Dreams are My Dreams
I look forward to learning more from Linda and sharing with my students. I am proud to be an Instructor/Mentor with Happy Horse, Happy Life.