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  • Fiona Darling

My Horsemanship Story

Updated: Jan 30

For those interested in reading about where my love of horses began and grew.


Fiona Darling: My Horsemanship Story

My name is Fiona Darling and I would like to share my horsemanship story with you as inspired by memorable moments captured in the photos included in the photo gallery.

After 23 years as a Parelli Professional and a 4 Star Senior Instructor I am so happy to now be one of Linda Parelli’s first Happy Horse Instructors.

An Animal Lover Born with the Horse Gene

As an animal lover I have had a passion to have horses in my life all my life that I can remember.

The middle of 5 children I was the only one born with the horse gene. Where this gene came from I am unsure as no one in my family, to my knowledge, has had anything to do with horses other than the odd experience with a riding school horse.


Dreaming of One Day Having Horses In My Life

Photo 1

The first real horse experience stamped into my memory was when sitting on my older sister’s friend’s horse Star one day when she came riding past our home in Vermont, then an outer suburb of Melbourne. Yes I remember the horse’s name but not the girl’s name.


In searching through childhood photos I came across this painting done apparently when I was 4yrs and 10mths of age.

Photo 2

Our home was on a T intersection as a country lane with paddocks either side down one way and suburbia in the other two directions. When very young I liked to go out walking with our family dog Mr Chips who we called Chips or Chippy. He was an Irish setter crossed with a boxer but more looking like a black Labrador. One day he and I went out unbeknown to my parents and were gone so long the police were called and went out looking for me. I returned home disgruntled with Chippy sitting beside me on the police cars front seat not to be separated from me. My guess is that I was out and about looking for horses down the country lane.

Photo 3

A few houses down from us lived a girl who had a rocking horse. A dappled grey with real horse hair in a flowing mane and tail, a red saddle and stirrups. I loved going to her place and riding her rocking horse, she would suggest other things for us to do but I know I just wanted to ride her rocking horse.


Photo 4

Knowing my love of horses my Mother painted a picture of a mare and her foal. What colour did I request, palomino was a favourite at that time.


Photo 5

We went on the best holiday I could imagine, a farm stay near Bright in northern country Victoria. The farm had horses, I was in heaven wanting to spend as much time as possible with the horses.

No OH&S in those days!


When I was 10 years old we had moved to Canterbury, a suburb close in to the city of Melbourne, so a horse in my life was less likely. I loved watching TV shows such as Mr Ed the Talking Horse and National Velvet with a young Elizabeth Taylor as Velvet, Mickey Rooney as Mi and her horse Pie. The music played at the start of the show would bring me running into the living room to watch.

I kept a scrap book of Australian racehorses with Gunsynd one of my favourites.

I decided the design for my racing silks!


I so wished for a horse of my own and one year, I cannot remember whether at Christmas or my birthday, as these days are only 11 days apart, I became very excited when getting all these hints that perhaps my wish would be coming true, the clues I was getting could not be denied. The day arrived and Mum gave me the present from herself and Dad, a rectangular box. I opened it to find the model of a horse to make up. Disappointment masked with a thankyou although Mum could read my lowered enthusiasm. I made up the model glueing the pieces together ensuring that the mane and tail fitted in properly. I placed the stickers on the model horse’s rump and painted over in white paint then pulling the stickers off when the paint had dried. There he was, quite a striking model horse a black appaloosa with a white blanket. I enjoyed looking at him and brushing his mane and tail with the small brush that came in the box.

Photos 6, 7 & 8

Fast forward to 2019 and my Friesian Knabstrupper cross filly Gramayre Honey Bear is now a member of my personal herd.


The Start of My Horse Life

A friend I met at secondary school as a 12 year old told me of how she would go to Windermere Riding School in Ferntree Gully each Saturday morning. I was able to convince my mother that this would be great to do. Lucky for me with my Mum taking the time to drive myself and sometimes my younger brother and sister out to Windermere for our Saturday morning rides. Friday nights were the best, filled with the expectation that the following morning would bring. Saturday nights the worst because it would be another week until I would be with the horses again. The schoolmaster would come out with his clip board with who would be riding which horse.

Photo 9

My first view of the riding school on arriving each Saturday morning.

I loved to ride a grey gelding called Scally, my brother a chestnut called Seymour and not in this picture my sister a paint called Adam. A black gelding called Puzzle or another grey called HeyHo would be my other riding partners.

Photo 10

I have no memory of how many years we visited that riding school but it is where I learnt the rudiments of riding and how to cause my idea to become my horse’s idea. I felt good about my relationship with Scally a horse that had to be encouraged to see why he should bother to go unless it was out on the trail. When not riding him I would see others getting frustrated when he would park himself under a tree ignoring anything they would do to try to get him moving again.

I worked hard at school and did my best to please my parents in the hope that they would one day buy a horse for me. I have since discovered through questioning young people attending my clinics with their horses that constant nagging proved to be a more successful strategy!


A Childhood Dream Becomes a Reality

I went to a saddlery shop and bought myself a red tartan halter and lead rope. I kept it in a desk cupboard in my bedroom and would get it out to look at it thinking one day I would have a horse to wear it!

In my 3rd year of studying Zoology at University I had saved up enough to buy and care for my first horse a black/brown Thoroughbred gelding called Willow Lane. He was a bargain coming with a saddle, bridle, boots and a rug!

Photo 11

Willow with his red tartan halter on

Photos 12 & 13

I was very lucky in my purchase as Willow was a fantastic first horse for me to have giving me many hours of fun trail riding, flat work and jumping lessons with the other young people at the agistment property. He was terrific with traffic on the roads we rode around Warrandyte and then later Lysterfield.

I loved being in the horse scene spending time with Willow every afternoon

Photos 14 & 15

Willow and I at the Berwick Agricultural Show he won Pleasure hack.


For Willow’s upkeep I had an afternoon job cleaning at a local girl’s school. On completing my Science Degree majoring in Zoology at Monash University I then accepted the role of Laboratory Technician at that same school. I enjoyed helping the students with their experimental studies and so decided to do a Diploma of Education. My career then led me down the pathway of secondary school teaching.

It was serenity for me at the end of a school day to go and ride Willow in the bush around Lysterfield Lake especially after rain when the smell of the eucalyptus trees would be in the air.

Photos 16 & 17

While away overseas sadly my Willow passed away from colic I was devastated to read the letter from my Mother explaining what had happened to him.


The Other Personal Horses I have Shared my Horse Life with:

Kes On my return from overseas I saved up to buy a 2 yr old grey Hannoverian mare I called Adlerweiss, after her father Adlerstein owned by the Fryer family. The regular name I had for her was Kes, after the book titled Kes about a boy and the wild eagle in his life. Prior to purchase Kes had 3 or 4 rides on her, she taught me a lot about the needs of a young horse just starting out under saddle. She was a wonderful horse who I had in my life until she was just shy of 33 yrs of age.

Photos 18 & 19

I took her to the Royal Melbourne Show to gain a red ribbon in her led warmblood class as a 3 yr old.

I trained with her up to Medium Level of dressage competing regularly in the Dressage club competitions around Melbourne. I had to skip Elementary level as I was unable to achieve any form of collection with a snaffle bit! I knew this wasn’t as it should be but I was keen to keep progressing.

Photos 20, 21 & 22

Kes when young at a Preliminary moving on to Novice and on to Medium Level Dressage competitions


Over this time my husband Rob and I took on the management of an agistment property in Keysborough, a green belt area SE of Melbourne. It was fantastic for me to now live on the property with my horse.


Disillusioned and having lost motivation I retired Kes at 10 years of age from dressage with my heart and desire for competition lost knowing that Kes was unhappy with the rigorous training sessions involved. As I had progressed through the dressage levels and more athleticism was required from our partnership in the training sessions with 1 then 2 then 3 dressage lessons I was taking each week psychology was lacking and a lot of pushing was involved. Kes had discovered that the only time she gained relief while being ridden was when she stretched out to wee. I would have people tell me during warmup sessions at dressage competitions “Your horse needs to have a wee.” My reply would be “No she doesn’t!” The final straw for me had been when my Instructor , a well known competitor in the Victorian dressage scene at the time, mounted Kes with 2 dressage whips. Kes just stood there with both whips being used at the one time. This was not what I wanted for my Kes.


Maddie What next for Kes was to become a broodmare. She had her first foal a chestnut turning grey filly by Thoroughbred stallion Chandra Mahal, son of Malcolm Barns’s stallion Hawa Mahal. I called this filly Mahalaweiss with Maddie as her regular name.

Photos 23, 24 & 25


Tim While Kes was in foal with Maddie I purchased a beautiful moving but unconfident Thoroughbred I called Tim. He had kicked the previous owner badly in the stomach while being cornered in a yard to have a treatment. I learnt a lot from Tim on how to help a horse with safety issues to become calmer, smarter and braver. I started to take him to some lower level dressage competitions to get him out and about. For one particular competition the grounds used were the Yarra Valley Racecourse. I learnt how incredible a horse’s memory is with Tim being so on edge and full of worry at this particular venue that I had to scratch from the event before getting out of the warmup area. Tim was remembering his days as a racehorse at this venue.

Photos 26, 27 & 28


Rudi After 5 years running the agistment property Rob and I moved to our own 20 acre property in Nar Nar Goon North. Over our time there we improved the property planting many trees, fixing old and building new post and rail fencing to run as a horse spelling property. It was here that Kes’s second foal Rudi was born, three years after foaling Maddie. Rudi was the result of having Kes put in foal via AI to a Dutch Warmblood stallion called Figaro, a grey Rudi was the result who grew to be a 17+hh gentle giant.

Photos 289 30 & 31


Discovering all that Natural Horsemanship has to Offer

My first taste of all that the Parelli program and Natural Horsemanship has to offer came when I attended my first Partnership course in September 1995 with Maddie, my newly started young mare thinking that this would be a good outing for her.

Photos 32 & 33

Maddie as a youngster One of my first rides on Maddie

WOW! This course opened up a whole new world of learning based on life from a horse's perspective and it was organised in such a way that I felt empowered in the process to further develop my skills set with the support available. I was so excited by the possibilities that lay ahead! At this course it was advised to me by the Course Instructor that the best way to make progress through the Parelli levels program was to start with your easiest horse. With this in mind I decided it would be best to bring Kes out of the paddock, after 5 years as a brood mare, to be my first horse to take through the Levels.


Starting My Life as a Parelli Professional…

With Kes I attended Pat Parelli’s Level 2 course held at the Equestrian Centre in Werribee. Pat was riding his horse Rhythm and Linda had her two horses Siren and Regalo with her. After the course there was a presentation for the newly graduated Student Instructors. It was on reflection after this that I was excited to see a way to incorporate my love of being involved with people in a learning environment, the study of animal behaviour and my childhood dream of having a career with horses.

In 1997 we moved to Cootamundra NSW for Rob’s work. My dear Kes enabled me to progress through the levels such that in July 1997 I travelled to USA to study at the Colorado International Study Centre, the second year of its running. I headed back to Australia as a student Instructor. This was an exciting time for me as I began to live my dream career!

Photos 34, 35 & 36

Entrance to ISC Pagosa Springs Maggie my lease horse Linda presenting me with my

Student Instructor Certificate

Photos 37, 38 & 39

With my two girls Kes and Maddie Bridleless riding with Kes Building interest in Natural Horsemanship


….23 Years as a Parelli Professional in a Nutshell!

Not long after this Pat and Linda returned to Australia. I travelled with my husband Rob and Kes up to Cunungra near the NSW Qld border where Pat held a memorable Level 3 course with each session being recorded for possible use in the future.

Halcyon Days of Parelli In Braidwood

Soon after was the annual Instructor camp held at the wonderful Gwinn’s property Braidwood NSW which in those days was the Mecca for Parelli in Australia with Instructors gathering from all around the country and New Zealand, travelling when possible with their horses. Pat’s horse Rhythm would be there and in later years Pat’s super horse Magic would travel from Tasmania each year with Phillip Nye until being flown to USA to be with Pat.

By the time Pat and Linda returned to Braidwood the following year in Nov 1998 I had my baby boy Stuart born in July. Rob and Stuart stayed in Braidwood with me travelling back and forth each day to attend Pat’s course with Kes as well as the following Instructor days.

Photos 40 & 41

Braidwood with a Cherokee Bridle Australian & New Zealand Instructor with Pat Parelli Braidwood

Annie I loved attending the Parelli events at Braidwood over those earlier years from 1997 to 2003.

One year in order to do a Colt start course with Pat at Braidwood I had to find an unstarted horse to take. This is when Annie came into my life. I put an advertisement in the local paper which was answered by a lady with a 4 yr old unstarted mare. A chestnut Anglo Arab QH cross with a big white blaze and 4 flashy white legs. Annie has always had lots of try and I have loved having her in my life. She has been a great horse to take to demonstrations as a great example of the partnership that can be achieved through natural horsemanship and the Parelli Levels program. She is doing well now at 24yrs of age and partly retired.

Photos 42 & 43

Bridleless demonstration with Annie Liberty demonstration with Annie both at Henty Field Days

The Return of Pat and Linda Parelli to Australia

Photos 44 & 45

Australian Savvy Demo team in Sydney with Pat and Linda Parelli

Photos 46, 47, 48 & 49

Various other events with my partner Annie

Seven Keys Property Development Illabo NSW

At the end of 2009 we moved into our 70 acre property Seven Keys Illabo. Originally as a cropping paddock we developed the property to have the facilities to welcome students to study and progress in their horsemanship through the levels.

With 23 years as a Parelli Professional I became a 3 Star Instructor in 2003 and a 4 Star Senior Instructor in 2013 coaching people through the Levels originally from 1 to 3 and then revamped from 1 to 4 in all four savvys. This has provided me with a diverse and thorough understanding of what it takes to achieve an ever more meaningful and dependable partnership with a horse.

My Travels as a Parelli Professional

Over my time as a Parelli Professional I have travelled to the USA 10 times studying with Pat and Linda at both the Colorado and Florida campuses in a commitment to never ending self-improvement keeping up to date with the latest innovations and developments in the Parelli Program.

Since 2011 Linda Parelli has been my mentor attending her Masterclasses in Florida, Colorado and in Australia. Her passionate involvement in the evolution of the Parelli program has played an integral part for many students in bridging the gap in their understanding and success from On Line to Liberty in the ground skills and from Freestyle to Finesse riding.

Photos 50 & 51

Salty and I A special time in my life on Zen with Linda on Hot Jazz

Both pictures taken in Florida celebrating my 20 years as a Parelli Instructor and learning with Linda.

Photos 52 & 53

Savvy Summit Colorado on an Atwood Ranch horse On Bandit doing a Quadrille for Walter Zettl during a Masterclass with Linda Parelli Colorado


As a Parelli Professional I have taught both adult and youth courses at the Parelli centre in Wilton NSW, been on the Demo team both at Colorado and at Australian Parelli tour events, attended all Equitana Australia events assisting on the Parelli booth and organised Tournaments in preparation for the Grand Final held with Pat and Linda Parelli one year during a Melbourne Equitana.

Photos 54 & 55

A Tournament heat in the Yarra Valley near Melbourne Presentation time


I have had many wonderful opportunities to travel around Australia as far north as Darwin and Pine Creek with nearby Kakadu in NT, Kununurra by the absolutely huge Lake Argyle and gateway to the Kimberleys in WA, Cairns by the Great Barrier Reef in Qld and south to Riddells Creek and the Mornington Peninsula around Melbourne Vic - to name a few with many fabulous places and people in between!

It has also been wonderful to have the opportunity to tour the UK with my family onboard one of the two Parelli campervans teaching weekend clinics around England, Wales and Scotland.

Photo 56

At an annual camp I held in Kyneton Victoria

Photo 57

A Youth clinic I held in a series at the Local Showgrounds in Illabo NSW. My son Stuart I in his Where is Wally? Shirt with his pony Buzz in the foreground on the left.

I have been very fortunate to spend time teaching courses in places not visited by many Australians but deeply embedded in our Australian psyche such as Monkira Station a cattle station just under 1 million acres on the Diamantina River in outback Qld.

Photo 58

The Monkira Mob horsemanship sessions for the Ringers at Monkira Station Qld


Over the years I have loved meeting so many students all with their own inspiring stories of their life journeys to tell and enthusiastic to learn and progress in their horsemanship.


Personal Horses Now in my Life:

Taci With Annie now semi retired I have 3 other horses I am developing in my personal herd. Black Horse Manor Anastacia I call Taci, an Andalusian QH paint cross who went to a Parelli event with Pat and Linda at the Sydney International Equestrian Centre for a colt start demonstration and now my main riding partner.

Photos 59 & 60


Maggie A younger half sister Black Horse Manor Magdelena, called Maggie a full Andalusian.

Photos 61 & 62


Honey Bear and Gramayere Honey Bear already introduced above.

Reflections of my Success as a Coach

With the formula for success being Talent, Skills, Try and Luck (with Luck being spelt w.o.r.k and where preparation meets opportunity) I can say that what I have lacked in talent has been made up for in try. When things come naturally it is harder to explain the how to others. I am fortunate to have insights into the why and the how in teaching horsemanship to others with empathy and patience through my own learning experiences.

With my son Stuart now 22, I understand well the challenges faced by many students I meet in juggling family life, career and personal horsemanship. I am dedicated to creating opportunities for both children and adults to learn more about their horses and themselves in their progress through the Happy Horse Happy Life curriculum. It is important to me that students can strive for their horsemanship dreams and goals by having accessibility to lessons, workshops, weekend clinics and multi-day intensive study modules, also remote learning options with video coaching, virtual learning experiences and virtual live lessons all available to choose from when face to face lesson sessions are not possible or practical.

Seven Keys Property Development Carlsruhe Vic Now at our 40 acre property "Seven Keys” in Carlsruhe between Woodend and Kyneton in the Macedon Ranges region of Victoria and easily accessible being just 7km off the Calder Hwy and just 1 hour north of the city centre of Melbourne. I share my home with my husband Rob and son Stuart along with my special 4 horses (Annie, Taci, Maggie and Honey Bear), 1 dog (Missy - a Kelpie x Border Collie), guinea fowl, several sheep including a poddy Rue and the various Australian wildlife that live around our property.


At “Seven Keys” I have set up 2 play paddocks, one with undulating terrain, obstacles, a 20m metal round yard and a honey comb, the other with a fenced 60 x 30 m all weather sand arena, marked out Question Box and Cloverleaf Patterns and 6 spacious and safely fenced guest horse yards. More Than a New Chapter In My Life: Now as a Happy Horse Instructor as part of Linda Parelli's Happy Horse Happy Life Community To educate, challenge, inspire, encourage and support are key to the coaching style I have to offer with my 23 years as an experienced Senior Parelli Instructor and now as a Happy Horse Instructor with Linda Parelli in supporting people to have the dream relationship with their horse for a Happy Horse and a Happy Horse Life whether for sport, work or recreational horse pursuits.

In closing my thanks go to the students it has been my privilege to teach so far. The enthusiasm and dedication of students I teach is my inspiration to be the best Instructor I can be! I look forward to meeting up with you and your horse at future learning opportunities both around Australia and at my home base of “Seven Keys”.

Photo 63

A special time for me with the dedicated Morton family and their horses all happily riding bridleless at Glen Malam’s property in Bywong near Canberra.

For more about myself , my horses, my property, what I have to offer with upcoming events and other learning and support options also to become a member of Linda Parelli’s Happy Horse Happy Life HHHL community via my referral please visit my website sevenkeyshorsemanship.com.au

My very best to you

Fiona


Mobile : 0429031395

Email: sevenkeys@bigpond.com


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