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So you think it would be fun for me to spend a weekend watching other people having fun with their horses? Really?? Yes, REALLY and let me tell you, from someone who is now a self- confessed serial auditor, I am well placed to let you in on my secret addiction.

Hi, I’m Carol and I live not far from the Australian Parelli Centre, south of Sydney. It’s a wonderful facility where Neil Pye, 5* Instructor and Sue Shoemark generously open their doors to students to participate in clinics, courses, play days and fun days throughout the year. The property, set on 25 acres, incorporates an Arena Grande, a huge sand round yard, a honeycomb and a tree studded playground with a dam where you can explore, play and splash around with your horse.

Some while ago, I found myself without a horse to take to clinics. To still be able to get my Parelli “fix”, I decided to attend a clinic as an auditor and after the first couple, I found myself hooked. So my first auditing experience looked liked this….

Students and horses arrive and are welcomed by the Centre’s staff. At 9am, armed with a cup of coffee and a home baked goodie (often brought by a student) everyone settles in with Neil and Sue in the classroom. Neil kicks off with a relaxed introductory chat and gives an overview and philosophy of the Parelli programme (no mean feat in under an hour!) and asks participants to share their stories. Many are similar to my own. I am humbled by their honesty and in awe of their commitment to stay ‘in horses’ when I hear about some of their hair raising experiences, rather than taking up a safer hobby like stamp collecting. Thank goodness they are now in the right place to start learning more about the nature of horses and to learn new skills.

After this session, I take my place on the bank overlooking the arena to watch as everyone brings their horses in. Here they get time to explore their new surroundings. It’s amazing how quickly most of them settle into the new environment and the horses usually cope pretty well too! Neil gives a bit of a talk and asks students to carry out some tasks with their horses.

Sitting on the sideline gives me the opportunity to observe other students with their horses and what they are doing. When I am in a clinic with my horse, all my focus is on what WE are doing so I rarely get the chance to look around at my classmates. Also I get the chance to take notes of the exercises Neil is asking everyone to do and what the key outcomes should be. Some of the main benefits I get from being an auditor are:

1. Seeing many different types of horses. How are they behaving – are they scared, distrustful, playful or unmotivated. I then challenge myself to imagine how I would be and what I would do with a horse like that on the other end of my rope.

2. Seeing how each student offers a task to their horse and how that horse responds or maybe reacts to that offer, or is it perceived as a demand or confusion? I see the horses watching every little thing us humans do. They are so smart. My heart goes out to the new students grappling with their sticks and ropes and trying to get them under control. It seems like only yesterday I too found my rope waiting, like an expectant boa constrictor, to wrap itself around my ankles, quickly followed by the Savvy string. I vow to practice my own equipment handling skills without my horse when I get home.

3. Having the opportunity to watch high level instructors such as Neil help both humans and horses understand that this foundational method can keep them safe and bring them so much joy in building a new level of communication and trust. As one student exclaimed excitedly one day, “this stuff really WORKS!

4. Watching Neil help a student with a horse and really noticing what he does. Where are he and the horse in time and space? Where are his body, energy and equipment in relation to the horse? What makes the difference? This is for me truly fascinating.

5. Being able to get some great ideas for different challenges to try out with my horse at home. Some of those isolation exercises are pretty tricky but boy, do they get your horse more interested in you. What so you only want me to put this foot one step where, he asks? Being able to bring some new ideas home with me has proved invaluable. I am now able to build on those individual tasks and combine them into a little sequence and even design some of my own!! Far more interesting for my horse. I now have a different filter when I interact with my horse and really try to work out how he sees me and how I need to be more aware of the messages I am sending him.

Back at the Centre, its day two and students have had a chance to process their thoughts and feelings overnight and ask any questions. Horses also have had time to digest the previous day’s experiences too. By the time everyone gets to the arena, they are looking much more relaxed, confident, competent and assured of what they are doing and why. It’s a wonderful sight.

If you get a chance, I hope you will take the opportunity to be an auditor and that, like me, you will find the experience rewarding, educational and inspirational and maybe even addictive. Watching students come back to the Centre over the years and watching their progress is truly uplifting.

Carol Lake NSW, Australia.