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This is an article I wrote at the invitation of my goddaughter Verena.  Verena is passionate about dog training and has recently graduated f...

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Love, language and leadership in action: The Parelli Demo and Games Day in Ottawa, ON supporting the Parelli Horsemanship Fund

May 29th, 2011 marked the day of my very first Parelli Horsemanship Fund fundraiser event, held in Ottawa. Structured as a day of inspiration and participation, I had originally planned on a small gathering of a couple of local instructors and students to partake in Parelli Games and a demo, as a way to raise money for the great causes supported by Parelli. I never suspected that the event would get as large and as complex as it did, and would exceed all my expectations in many ways. With the help of my local coordinator and dedicated student Kara-Lee Golota, we set out to plan and organize the event several months ago.
It is interesting to see how the universe responds when a couple of people pour their heart and soul into a project and allow it to take its own shape. I sent out an invitation to the Canadian instructors and within days, several responded positively. By D day, we had 7 Canadian Instructors participating, about half of the total team, including Fawn Anderson, Ron Pyne, Sandy Ruiter, Judy Griffiths, Jeanette Schevers, Kari Bowser and myself, all of which donated their time and travelled with their horses. What a testament to the spirit of Parelli and teammanship! We proudly wore our brand new Canadian Instructor Team jackets, which turned out to be handy on another very wet day.
The Thursday before the event, Kara and I were invited for an interview about the event that aired live on a local TV show, Day Time Ottawa. Our 6 minutes of fame! I had never been on TV, so this was a new and exciting experience for me, and I was amazed at how natural it felt. My biggest challenge was keeping it concise and to the point, 6 minutes is a short time to be talking about Parelli!
The facility we selected is a small but friendly and accommodating boarding barn close to downtown Ottawa. The location was ideal to attract participants and spectators, however, we soon realized we would be seriously stretching our space and resources as the numbers grew. The owners, Wilf and Connie Wight are not Parelli students, but love to see community events celebrating the horse. They worked extremely hard sprucing up their property, setting up a wonderful reception area in the hayloft above the barn, painting fences, organizing a superb home cooked lunch, mowing and laying down stone to level out all the laneways which had been seriously damaged by weeks of non stop rain. Their only reward was seeing happy faces and smiles enjoying a day of horsemanship, and an appreciation for their hard work.
Despite the rain that only let up in the late afternoon, 15 Parelli students turn up with their horses to take part in the afternoon tournament and over 80 spectators were in attendance. The morning was taken up by a fantastic demonstration by the instructors followed by a demonstration and explanation of the various game stations – on line, liberty and freestyle, which provided another opportunity to instructors to show off their partnerships with their horses.
One of my biggest challenges was picking out and setting up the Games stations in a way that would be fun and provocative while respecting the guidelines set out by Pat, the variety of levels of the students, the constraints in time and space and allowing for a smooth flow throughout the event. I opted for six games stations: 2 On Line, 2 Liberty and 2 Freestyle, and each task had two levels and two options. L1/L2 with a basic option and a bonus option for a higher level of difficulty, and L3/L4 with another two options. The tasks were timed as well, so it was not about getting them done no matter what, but about testing the student’s partnership with their horse and providing a learning opportunity. Students were set up in the morning to ensure that everyone understood the spirit of the games as well as to set the focus on fun and relationship first. The instructors were stewards at the games stations in the afternoon and did a wonderful job of setting the students up for success, being firm, fair and friendly, and allowing things to run smoothly and safely.
The day went by as a whirlwind for me. At 5 am, I was up washing my horses trying to get rid of the coat of black mud and saddling up Menina. By 7 am, the instructors started arriving with their horses and we had a breakfast briefing about the day’s activities and the demo format. By 8 am, some of the participants with horses starting showing up and we had to find them parking and a place to put their horses, and take care of their emotions as everyone was a bit right brain! 8:45 am, the sound system still was not set up and thanks to Karen Pyne who expertly stepped in to help put it together, as this is just not something that falls into my scope of Unconscious Competence yet! I spent the day presenting and announcing, taking care of my team’s needs and unforeseen details, making sure things were running smoothly, distributing drinks to the instructors at the stations, answering questions by the volunteer and instructor team and touching base with a few students and spectators along the way. At one point in the afternoon, I had to go get a hold of my horses after Menina cleverly decided to take down my portable pen when she ran out of grass and got bored. I must have walked 20 miles in 3 different pairs of boots as I kept needing to change to dry ones!
The experience was unique. The team work and synergy on the day was outstanding and palpable. The demo took place in a small arena and we had 8 horses together and 7 instructors who had never played together. The arena was quite small, so I decided to just sit on Menina and lead Easter on line while playing the role of MC to the crowd, focusing on my strengths and allowing more space for the other instructors to show off their horses. It turned out to be an excellent confidence builder for my two horses – Easter, my RBI, who has always had trouble with the high energy at demos, and Menina, my LBE, who gets quite dominant with so many new horses pushing into her bubble. While I concentrated on pointing out the cool things that were being shown, the Horsenalities and relating them to the 7 Games, I took the pressure off my horses who were able to settle in and relax, and by the end of the show we were walking around the obstacles and the other horses, squeezing near the crowd and speakers, pushing the ball, getting on the pedestal without any trouble. The demo went seamlessly and flowed nicely, everyone had fun and it looked like we had been doing this all our lives. A good example of how being humble can pay off for the team!
The same can be said about our volunteers, who took their responsibilities and ran with them with minimal direction and no complaints. They hustled and it all appeared to happen on its own. Thank you all for your hard work and dedication. And a special thanks to Sandy, Jeanette, Jennifer and Joanna who showed up the night before to help me measure and set up the six games stations! We got it done with a little bit of fun!
There were many, many last minute changes and decisions to make, and it was truly a test of rapport, respect, impulsion and flexion on the part of Kara and me! The parking field was too muddy, we did not have enough suitable pasture for guest horses, the sound needed adjustment, the allocation of awards and prizes required fine tuning, we had to located missing pieces of equipment for the games, the trailer used in the On Line station needed to be blocked and taped for safety, etc. Since we lacked the accommodations needed to host over 20 visiting horses, most of us had to keep our horses tied to or in our trailers for the day, which turned out to be an excellent exercise in developing a ‘bar broke’ and patient horse!
The afternoon ended with awards and a raffle, followed by a great Lebanese buffet dinner with a live blues band playing in the hayloft.
Late into the evening, the volunteers, Kara and I were still packing up and taking down tents that had been set up to cover the critical equipment and cleaning the stalls vacated by the guests. Once everyone had left, Kara and I finally sat down for a drink and debrief, and the next day we were still at it, cleaning up the rest of the site and totalling up the proceeds and the bills.
Truth, transparency and trust was the operating mode for the days before, during and after, as everyone went about communicating with each other in an honest and open way, allowing all inputs and warding off any conflicts that might arise from such a high adrenaline context. I really want to acknowledge the whole team for their emotional fitness throughout the event. It was wonderful to see how Parelli students and instructors truly modelled the way and were fine examples of what the program is all about.
In the spirit of never ending self-improvement, Kara-Lee and I debriefed the event and highlighted a few areas that could be improved for the next edition. The bulk of improvements revolved around facilities and the lack on an indoor arena, which was to be expected. For the next edition, I would consider finding a location better suited to this type of event. Music was another irritant; our sound volunteer was not unable to attend, which left me in charge of trying to cue up music while running around and tending to everything else – not ideal, but I was being the best me I could be for the day!
And last but not least, we kept it natural all the way, with a natural environment, recycling bins for cans and plastic, and a minimal environmental footprint!
When it was all over and done, we raised over $4600 before expenses, more than double our objective. The whole event was run with a shoestring budget, doing more with less. We begged and borrowed as much as we could, and were able to round up a number of sponsors to help with food costs, awards and prizes, advertising, t-shirts and other expenses. We had to make some tough choices – for example, in the interest of putting the relationship first, we opted to feed all volunteers (who worked so hard!) and instructors for free, which drove up the costs. We are happy to report that the Parelli Horsemanship Fund will be receiving a sizeable cheque amounting to over $2500 as a final tally.
Here are some of the comments we received at the end of the day, from horse lovers of all denominations:
«I had a wonderful time yesterday. The event was well organized. The hospitality of Wilf and Connie and the food were as good as it gets!!! It was great having an opportunity to see 7 instructors at different levels and getting to chat with some of them as well… Next time I'm bringing my girl Kobe to participate in the Games Day....YIPPEE!!!! Keep it Natural!!!»
«Just wanted to say thanks for all your hard work for this wonderful Parelli event! Dana and Hook thoroughly enjoyed their day! Looking forward to many more!» 
«I just got home from spending 5 hours watching the demo at friendly Acres with 4 of my friends. We all remarked on how calm the trainers, students and horses were. Everyone was having a great time and I wanted to thank you to for what I am sure amounted to lots and lots of work to organize.»  
At some point, someone suggested that we do this every weekend… well, I don’t think that will be happening, not with me at least, but we certainly have set up a solid model for future events which we can all build on. It was a wonderful example of putting principles to purpose and truly putting the Parelli Core Values into practice. 
For more information on the Parelli Horsemanship Fund, you can download the White Paper.


  1. It was definitely a great day!! Can the video of the TV show be viewed online? Do you have a direct link?


  2. Hi Keri-Lynn and thank you for participating. I looked for the video on the Rogers web site, it appears they have not published our segment, probably because it was a one-time event... I wish they did, my family wanted to see it too!

  3. Okay thanks! It would have been great to see, but I am sure you both did a fantastic job :)