Feed on

horse-on-hill2On Friday, 27 September 2013 people from around Australia began to gather in the small town of Tallangatta on the banks of the state of Victoria’s Lake Hume. Some brought horses with them, while others did not. What they all had in common though was that they could look their horses in the eye and say, ‘I am on your side’. So the inaugural Corroboree Equus got under way and up to 22 humans got together to celebrate and share a new way of being with horses, listening to and learning from each other and their equines rather than any outside, self-proclaimed guru. And magic was created.


Waterfall Creek

Before we attended the corroboree, Vicki and I were privileged to be the guests of two of its three organisers, Glenn Wilson and Kelly Bick, at their lovely home and guesthouse situated on a 150-acre piece of paradise at Waterfall Creek in the beautiful Tallangatta Valley. As some of our regular readers may know, Kelly and Glenn have frequently left comments on this blog and it is through this that we made their acquaintance first online and later in the flesh. Their comments led us to believe that they are very special people. Their presence confirmed that this is indeed the case.

Andrew and Sonnet at Waterfall Creek

Andrew and Sonnet at Waterfall Creek

I was privileged to spend two hours on my own with their herd of 13 horses, meditating on the natural beauty in which we found ourselves until several equines arrived at my side and were later joined or replaced by others. Often there is one that finds a way into your heart. This time it was a lovely little chestnut mare called Sonnet. Hesitant initially, she held herself slightly back as she viewed the reception which I accorded to her more forward grazing mate. Once reassured, she edged forward to hold her head by my side before gently nuzzling my proffered knuckles, and so began an hour of shared meditation, snuggles and scratches.

The herd at Waterfall Creek. What a life!

Part of the herd at Waterfall Creek. What a life!


While Sonnet captured my affections, it was a regal Australian standard bred that held me in awe. Although clearly old and slow, the horse was fit, filled out and healthy at an age that commanded my respect: 40!

Ben, an Australian standard bred gelding at 40. Awesome!

Ben, an Australian standard bred gelding at 40. Awesome!


Inaugural Corroboree Equus

The inaugural Corroboree Equus on the banks of Lake Hume

The inaugural Corroboree Equus in Tallangatta

Even before it got under way, Corroboree Equus was exceptional for a number of important reasons. First of all, no fee was payable, as anyone who felt that they were on the horse’s side was entitled to attend free of charge. All one was required to do was to assume responsibility for one’s own accommodation and food. Camping and kitchen facilities were available on-site for a nominal fee. Secondly, the programme was not structured around presentations given by publicly acknowledged gurus. Instead, the participants were responsible for their own content, with invitations extended to anyone to make a contribution, and many did. Thirdly, a multiplicity of disciplines were represented, meditation, Tai Chi, liberty training, equine-facilitated learning, positive reinforcement, friendship training and so forth. Fourthly, although there was a programme for the first few days of the corroboree, it is was not written in stone and could be changed, if and how the attendees required. They were the ones in control. Finally, all ages were represented, including mothers and their children.

The Equine-facilitated Learning presentation

The Equine-facilitated Learning presentation

The humans were joined by a variety of horses including three from Kelly and Glenn’s Waterfall Creek, two horses belonging to their fellow organiser, Suzanne, a domesticated brumby – the name given to a feral horse in Australia – loved and cared for by a young girl in her early teens called Clare, and a mare owned by a friend of her mother, Linda. These horses featured in sessions covering meditation, liberty training, equine facilitated learning and positive reinforcement. Unfortunately, the horses were not allowed to share a field as a herd, as some of their owners felt that this might lead to an unsafe situation.


Becoming the kind of human…

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I would be giving a presentation at the corroboree entitled Becoming the Kind of Human a Horse Seeks to be With. In a post of the same name (Part 1) I presented our readers with a summary of some of the points that I was planning to raise during that presentation and requested feedback. Some of you contributed ideas, for which I am grateful and thank you accordingly. One of the points that some of you made was that horses in captivity do not have the freedom of choice available to their kind in the wild. Interestingly, in the course of my presentation at the corroboree, people felt that horses suffer constraints on their freedom of choice both in captivity and in the wild, even though they do differ somewhat.

Andrew on Becoming the Kind of Human a Horse Seeks to Be With

Andrew on Becoming the Kind of Human a Horse Seeks to Be With

As mentioned in my previous post on the subject, my presentation was to cover the things that we do together with our horses in the course of which we become a friend to them, the things we give them in our role as their protector and guide, and the qualities that we develop in ourselves in the absence of which those ‘things’ may not be achievable and the horse may decline to seek the human. Rather than present everyone with a list of those qualities as I saw them, I endeavoured to get them to identify them by viewing slow-motion excerpts from videos featuring Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling, in which the latter’s posture, position and facial expression are clearly visible as he interacts with certain horses, establishing a clearly discernible close relationship with them. Based on those excerpts my audience was asked to list the qualities that they saw in Hempfling which enabled him to attract the various horses to him and to establish a connection with them. The qualities which they listed covered an entire sheet of butcher’s paper and then some. In essence, they largely coincided with my own summary, which is as follows:

  • contentment, relaxation and inner strength;
  • trustworthiness and reliability;
  • a capacity for empathy and empowerment;
  • clarity and the ability to communicate;
  • awareness, focus and intent;
  • authenticity and intuition: presence in the here and now.

It would appear that these are the qualities that Hempfling possesses when interacting with some horses which enable him to become the kind of human those horses seek to be with. By extension they are also the qualities which we would need to develop within ourselves, if we wish to do the same.


Friendship training

The following day Vicki gave a presentation on Chuck Mintzlaff’s friendship training, a type of structured liberty training which eschews the use of any gadget, gizmo or anything resembling same, and which occurs in as large a space as possible, preferably without any fencing. Speaking from the heart, her every word based in practice with Anaïs, Vicki’s words rang with the sincerity that draws others in and the immediacy that prompts their active participation.

Vicki on liberty and Friendship Training

Vicki on liberty and Friendship Training

One of the things that really blew me away about the corroboree was the role that this blog has played in initiating my participation in it and introducing me to its participants. I have already mentioned that it is through this blog that I met two of Corroboree Equus’ three organisers. What I have not mentioned is that the majority of people whom I met during the corroboree were familiar with this blog. Some had even discovered the corroboree through the blog. One of those was a 17-year-old girl called Seaghdha from New South Wales, who spontaneously contributed to Vicki’s presentation by telling everyone her story and that of her brumby, Clancy.


Another brumby

Describing herself as a ‘bushie’ at heart, Seaghdha narrated the story of her brumby, who had been trapped by the National Parks department about two years ago. Because of his unique colour – ‘taffy sorrel, the rest of his mob are blacks and bays’ –  the dairy farmer millionaire who was interested in the brumby suggested that the department was not to send ‘that taffy’ to the meat works, for he noted that the creature could be of some value. It was to Seaghdha, who became the proud owner of a two-year old brumby gelding for a price representing its slaughter value.

Seaghdha's brumby, Clancy - breathtakingly gorgeous

Seaghdha’s brumby, Clancy – breathtakingly gorgeous

Clancy was Seaghdha’s first ‘very own’ pony (14.1 hands or a little under 1.45 metres), although she had been riding on and off for many years and had also helped her neighbours exercise and feed their horses, and do other things with them. One of the places where she worked had two resident horses and was the venue of her ‘first (and only) run-in’ with Parelli’s natural horsemanship. As she says, it did not ‘click’ with either her or the horse.


Breaking in

Soon after this, Seaghdha and her mother, Steph, met a ‘horse whisperer’ in the south of the state, while they were travelling. He offered to teach Seaghdha to be a horse trainer. Mother and daughter promptly made plans to move south to be close to him, and did so. It was this ‘horse whisperer’ who found Clancy for Seaghdha and who broke the brumby in, literally, even going so far as to tie the horse’s hind leg up at night during the process, according to Steph. Six weeks into the brumby’s training, Clancy bucked Seaghdha off while riding in the field after being lefty behind the others with whom they were enjoying a canter in the saddle. Nevertheless, Seaghdha concedes that it was also quite likely that Clancy bucked her off due to a sore back, an irritating bit, or something which startled him.

As Seaghdha explains, Kevin, the trainer then took on the brumby to ‘make him behave’, riding him quite harshly, while the girl was required to ride her mentor’s ‘monstrous, spooky cow horse’. After losing a stirrup (which gave her ‘an enormous groin bruise) and landing on a very green cowpat-covered rock, Seaghdha finally returned to sit (painfully) astride her own pony.



Unfortunately, this did not mark the end of Clancy’s troubles or those of his mistress. When they arrived back at the yard, Kevin decided that it was time for Clancy to learn how to be washed. What followed is best described by Seaghdha:

Clancy did not like the idea of water out of a snaky thing, or perhaps it was because he was so hot; it could have been any number of reasons, but the outcome was that he reacted. Not violently at first, but enough to start a ‘battle of wits’. Like a lot of others here have shared, he didn’t mind being gently asked,(or occasionally told), but being made to was definitely out of the question(and still is!) The end of the sad matter is that Kevin lost his temper and began kicking poor Clancy.(and then later blamed me for ‘being too gentle on ‘that killer horse’. Give ME a break! I’d just been seriously injured from a fall!) When I told Mum she immediately went and told Kevin that if he did that again we would leave. Well! They argued for well over an hour (while I shivered in the Very Rich cow muck and ached from the bruises).

The short of that is we eventually got Clancy home after about 2 months (of going nearly EVERY day to let him out of his tiny yard to eat some green grass.) we finally got him home. By now he was pretty much wild, and I was definitely scared of handling him because he was (understandably) malicious. Because of his previously very strict handling as soon as I started working with him (in as gentle a way as I knew) he became even more headstrong and unruly because he knew no bounds. I wasn’t prepared to use a whip on him, and I couldn’t ‘smack’ him because he’d immediately turn and threaten me with his rump. We were in BIG trouble!


Friendship training again

A solution was required sooner rather than later but where to find it?. Steph did some research and found Chuck Mintzlaff through EAGALA (Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Equine Assisted Learning). Although her mother was very excited about this, Seaghdha threw cold water on the idea, because it seemed ‘too simple’ and ‘hippie-like’. Steph held her ground and showed her daughter videos featuring Chuck Mintzlaff. As Seaghdha puts it, ‘Well! I was straightaway caught!’

And what was the outcome? Well, let us allow Seaghdha to explain it in her own words:

We’ve been doing friendship training for nearly two years now. (I wonder if we hold the record for longest ‘conditioning period’. [This pre-training period involves a human sharing food with their horse. Normally this takes about 30 days. In Clancy’s case more than a year was required to re-establish trust between the brumby and his owner following the disaster with the ‘horse whisperer’.] We began FTX’s on 19 February this year. He is now a different horse! He loves to play games like ‘barrel racing’ (I hope if he really gets to love it we could compete at the local rodeo someday…) and ‘going on an adventure’ (getting into the float [‘trailer’ to those outside Australia]). We learnt to do that by getting used to walking on a piece of ply on the ground first, and then the ramp, and finally(!) into the float (and then with the tailgate up). We haven’t actually ‘gone’ anywhere yet though. We’re afraid the whole thing might rattle to pieces…

Clancy is now quite proficient at ‘Walk the Clock’ [standing still]. When we play ‘barrels’, he ‘stands’ at the start until I ask him to ‘come’ either halfway or to ‘first barrel’. The only place he won’t stand when we’re playing this is at the last barrel. He loves to jump straight into a canter and head back to the start regardless! We’re working on this. (We’ve only been playing this game a few days.) Overall he loves being a ‘trick pony’ (especially if there’s green grass involved). Because of the lush spring grass at the moment (with the danger of him foundering a few weeks ago) he’s ‘locked up’, but in a fairly large (nearly grass-free) yard (big enough to get a few runs in each day) with a shed and a willow tree (and I visit him for hours each day).


Seeing is believing

A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words. How much more a video? Here is one featuring Seaghdha and her brumby, Clancy. It was filmed in the morning during which Vicki gave her presentation on friendship training at the corroboree. When you watch it, you would do well to be aware that Clancy is a three-year-old brumby, a feral horse who once roamed wild in the snowy mountains of Australia, and who viciously rejected all human advances after being abused by a ‘horse whisperer’, until a teenage girl gave him unconditional love and care.


Message from Michael Bevilacqua

Shortly before the Corroboree Equus was scheduled to get underway, Michael Bevilacqua completed what has been billed as his final international seminar in Saint-Sauveur, Quebec, Canada. A record 28 people attended, considerably more than the 16 who were there with Vicki and myself last year. Michael is acutely aware of the growing movement around the world involving an increasing number of people who seek to be with horses in a way which is beneficial for both the horse and the human, and is a source of inspiration and guidance to many of those humans.

Michael Bevilacqua has sent this video message to those who attended the Corroboree Equus in Australia. Because this message arrived late, he has graciously consented to me publishing it on our blog.


Corroboree Equus: the future

The inaugural Corroboree Equus has proved to be such a success, that it has been decided to hold another next year. Whether the venue will again be Tallangatta remains to be seen. Whatever the case, if you are someone who can look a horse in the eye and say ‘I am on your side’ and you would like to get together with likeminded people to share ideas, experiences and the pleasure of each other’s company in Australia, you will want to write down the dates for the next corroboree in your diary or business schedule: Friday 26th September 2014 to Tuesday 30th September 2014.

Who knows, perhaps Vicki and I will see you there.


Spontaneous interaction between horse and human during the Corroboree Equus

Spontaneous interaction between horse and human during the Corroboree Equus



7 Responses to “Becoming the Kind of Human a Horse Seeks to be With: Part 2”

  1. Gary Whinn says:

    Dear Andrew and Vicki,
    I have been looking forward to this update from your trip down under and your joy and enthusiasm for the Corroboree Equus comes shining through – especially in that photograph of you and Sonnet Andrew! I did not realize that you had actively studied Friendship Training Vicki and I for one would be really interested to read a “blog version” of your presentation if that is possible? I have done a lot of “wondering” and reading up about Chuck Mintzlaff and FT and it would be great to hear an impartial view from somebody who has first hand experience. The event clearly left everybody feeling empowered and spiritually uplifted and I thank you for sharing it here on the blog. Must admit to being just a tiny bit envious of all that wonderful sunshine and clear blue skies. A very apt backdrop to such a positive gathering of like minded hearts and minds. Enjoy the rest of your trip.
    Kind Regards

    • Andrew says:

      Dear Gary

      Yes, the inaugural Corroboree Equus truly left everyone feeling empowered and spiritually uplifted, and the wonderful sunshine and clear blue skies certainly helped.

      I will try and persuade Vicki to write a post on Friendship Training. However, I do not rate my chances very high, as hers is a very private journey.

      Best wishes from New Zealand.

      Be well!

  2. Re:Clancy – breathtakingly gorgeous: INDEED!

  3. Dear Andrew and Vicky – so nice to read about your and everybody else’s experiences – aaahhh and what beautiful countryside and all this space for the horses – how about a Corroboree Equus here in Europe, Andrew – would/could Spain not be THE place??!! And sun!!

    Take care and be well

    • Andrew says:

      Dear Geerteke

      A Corroboree Equus in Europe sounds fantastic. Spain could indeed be the place … but should it?

      We shall see.

      Be well!

  4. Frances Boreland says:

    Thank you for the post and especially for the description of Friendship Training. I am doing the program myself with my gelding Jerry and though I have ‘met’ many people on the ‘web’ who are using it, would love the opportunity to meet someone in person. Wish I could have been down there.

    🙂 Gary Whinn, I have found FT incredibly helpful, my gelding and I understand each other much better these days. Our situation wasn’t as difficult as Seaghdha and Clancy’s sounds to have been, but he was getting difficult and I was getting scared of him, and things are completely different these days.

    • Andrew says:

      Dear Frances

      Pity that you could not make it to the inaugural Corroboree Equus. Not to worry though, there will be another one next year.

      In the meantime, if you would like to catch up with someone in Australia in person who is doing Friendship Training, why don’t you post a request to this effect in the Friendship Training forum. If you do not have access to that forum (although you should, if you are doing the programme), please email Vicki at the email address on the About page of this blog. She will be able to help you gain access.

      Be well!