About Our Backgrounds
(Approximately a 4 minute read)
The story begins with our beginnings: One of us growing up in rural Australia, the other in a small town in Switzerland, our individual life paths leading us toward a meeting in Colorado, USA.
This post also tells of our Natural Horsemanship path and our surprising decision to step off it, at the outset of a new journey towards real and green.
Growing up and working in Northern Australia
As a child, I loved the bush. Fragrant wet season grasses towering above my head, dusty animal trails, secret waterholes hidden in rocky gorges.
I grew up in the outer suburbs of Darwin, the tiny capital of the Northern Territory of Australia. (It was tiny then; it's a lot bigger now.)
My favorite childhood memories are of camping trips with my Dad, and falling in love with the bush – the great, dusty outback where a person could both loose themselves, and also find themselves.
Rustling, rich smelling grasses towering over my head after the tropical wet season rains, dusty animal trails, secret waterholes hidden deep in rocky gorges. Places of life and wonder and ancient, comforting peacefulness.
Besides those camping trips, my parents gave me two other lifelong gifts: a love of reading, and a chance to be with horses.
From about the age of 8 horses were part of my life, along with the setting I was lucky enough to enjoy them in: wide open spaces under enormous tropical skies, blackened bush after a fire, green wet season flushes of growth, black mud and rustling white bark in the paperbark swamps, empty red dirt roads and narrow bush trails alive with mother nature's whispered stories.
These were the parts of my life that were always right, that always worked and made sense.
In my late teens and early twenties, I moved to outback Queensland and worked with horses and cattle on large, remote cattle stations.
I had grown up in small-town suburbia, but I had never been as comfortable there as I found I was when I got far away from the last little sign post. Working in the vast outback, endless hours of mustering and moving cattle on horseback with only the voices of the bush for company, felt like coming home to me.
During those early years when my life revolved around horses and cattle, I became a student of Parelli Natural Horsemanship.
This is a program that teaches people to approach horsemanship with a deep appreciation for the horse’s perspective, and also with a strong commitment to their own personal development – with the goal of becoming a better partner and more effective leader for their horse.
It’s a recipe for success that produces extraordinary results in the horsemanship world, both for professional horse trainers and competitors, and for amateur horse lovers.
Natural horsemanship was to become first my obsession and then also my profession, for the next two decades.
In 1999 I left the wide-open spaces of Australia's dusty, beloved outback to go to America, to deepen my study of natural horsemanship at the source – the Parelli Campus in beautiful Colorado.
Permaculture - combining deep fascination & respect for nature with an ethic of responsibility and fairness.
Early in my natural horsemanship journey, I had also come across Permaculture.
To me, Permaculture seemed to be the gardening and farming equivalent of what I was learning in my horsemanship studies – an approach to growing food and other useful things that combines deep fascination and respect for the natural order of things, along with taking personal responsibility for our own results and circumstances.
The Permaculture seed was planted in my mind, but it would take a long time to germinate.
For the time being horsemanship held my attention, and that was just as well: I had a lot of growing up to do and I needed horses to help me grow.
It would be nearly 20 years before my attention would turn back to Permaculture, and it would be parenthood that would nudge me back in that direction.
Meanwhile, in a little village in Switzerland…
Alain, meantime, grew up in a little village in Switzerland.
He always wanted to be a farmer, but growing up in Switzerland where farming land is tightly held and is often handed down within a family, he opted instead for an Engineering Degree.
During his school years, Alain worked hard at a rigorous study routine (while far away across the world I was skipping school to listen to the wind’s stories, and riding ponies in the endless bush).
After finishing school, Alain kept working hard at an even more rigorous study routine (while I was learning free-range cattle husbandry).
Soon after Alain completed his degree, a desire to travel led him to learn to speak English at a school in Canada, and then to travel in Canada and the US, and on towards our eventual meeting in Colorado.
A meeting in Colorado
A chance meeting and a twist of fate took Alain to the Parelli International Study Center in Colorado in the spring of 1997.
He was still there when I came in the summer of 1999.
I was a newly minted Parelli Instructor; Alain by then was a full time Intern with Pat Parelli.
With zero horsey background before he came to Parelli, Alain may be the only person in the world who can say he learned everything he knows about horses, directly from Pat Parelli himself.
At the end of the 1999 season in Colorado, Alain and I went our separate ways – me back to Australia to build my new Parelli Instructing business; him to France to establish and manage a new Parelli Center there.
A year later, our paths crossed again when our horsemanship studies brought us both to a Parelli Instructor training course in Australia. After that, we began the process of re-arranging our lives so that we could be together.
For the next 7 years, Alain and I traveled in America, Europe, England and Australia, teaching Parelli Natural Horsemanship and continuing with our own study of horsemanship and personal development.
It’s impossible to put into a few words the immense personal growth that this lifestyle gifted us with – growth that I needed badly and have been grateful for every day since.
But, I didn’t feel at home. I’ve since come to understand why my early years in the bush felt so right: I need a strong connection to a natural place, in order to feel at home. Endless airports and urban equine facilities and new faces every few days were unnerving and draining for me.
Parenthood shakes things up
Our early parenting years were a time of upheaval and transition.
In late 2007 our daughter was born in Australia, and in 2008 we settled down for a few years at the Parelli Headquarters in Colorado.
Alain moved into a corporate role, managing first the Parelli US Tour, and later their world-wide Events and Sales, and I stopped teaching entirely, to stay at home full time with our daughter.
As all parents know, the arrival of children can shake things up quite a bit. During our early years of parenting, change and transition—often painful transition—was the dominant theme of our lives.
Alain's new role with Parelli now involved far more traveling, and I found myself alone for long periods with our baby daughter.
Far from home and without a social support network, first-time motherhood and extreme sleep deprivation brought me face to face with aspects of myself that I had successfully avoided until then. It was a time of intense and painful personal growth that far exceeded anything that horses, people, and travel had ever presented me with.
This was also a time of intense searching and questioning on a broader scale for both Alain and I, during which our world view evolved in dramatic ways.
The outcome of it all was that we made the wrenching decision to step off the path of horsemanship, and take a new direction.
In the next post in this Series, Expanding Awareness, I'll share the details of the broader search for meaning that led to the decision to leave the natural horsemanship industry that we had thought we would stay in forever.