Hidden Trails……

For those who don’t ‘have the bug’ this blog may be a bore.   I know most of my friends think I am a little crazy and there is no doubt that my father would have something to say about the absurdity of a 60+ woman starting to ride horses when it hasn’t been part of her life up to now.
But then of course, one of the marks of a madman (or woman) is that they march to their own drum and don’t ‘toe the line’.   So here I am, riding, more or less efficiently and thoroughly enjoying every moment.

So after the tentative Cape Trail Day zero – Farm 215     (that’s a link you can click 🙂 )and the glorious one to Margaret River  (That link again 🙂 )I ventured out into the High Country, Victoria – almost down the road from where I live and did a 6 day trail there.   Thanks again to www.globetrotting.com.au and www.hiddentrails.com.au  (You get the picture – links 🙂 _

It was AMAZING – so to my non riding friends who think I am crazy, I apologise, but blog I must and to my crazy friends, well you will get the madness 🙂 🙂 🙂

16 of us met up in Mansfield for dinner the evening before our Big Ride.    5 of us ‘were single’ and knew no one prior to that dinner, the others were couples/friends.   Again riding brought together people from all corners of our country, our neighbours (New Zealand) and across the Pacific, from the USA.  By the end of day 1, we were one big happy family gathered around a huge fire, sharing stories, drinks, laughter, memories, food and the marvel of our surrounds.

IMG_5594
Getting to know one another….
IMG_1731
Around our amazing hearth
IMG_5537
with its amazing hot water system
IMG_5556
which kept us all happy
IMG_5593
and mesmerised
19238442_1856944080991355_1606487513_o
While our 5 Star chefs prepared the MOST
IMG_5610
most AMAZING food
IMG_5605
With a little help from friends
IMG_1723
and a welcome board each day to remind us ‘where we were’
28342703_1856944464324650_445900562_o
Strangers were….
IMG_1773
now friends…..
IMG_1771
sharing and making….
IMG_5541
new memories

For 6 days we traversed the High Country as it is generally known.   From Mount Stirling, Craig’s Hut, Lovicks Hut, Mt Mandala, miles and miles and miles.

IMG_5571

This country is stunning, the gum trees like ghosts with so many stories to tell, curled and misshapen from heavy snow, miles and miles of rolling hills as far as the eye can see where almost no man has been, reminding me of British Columbia, steep edges with the Howqua river below. The Low Country with forests, koalas, birds, insects, flowers and so many river crossings we lost count.

There is no doubt that  It’s all about …. (yup, you got it – a link 🙂 )the horse and once again I won the jackpot with Audrey.   Yup, as in Hepburn, although she was neither slim, nor elegant but very large and quite heavy.   But a lady nonetheless with an appetite that defies description – she tried to eat at every opportunity and for a day or so it was a battle of wills between her and I as to who was going to get their way.   We compromised a great deal!!!!

But these horses are remarkable, faithful, strong, willing and so so kind.   All of us were constantly grateful for their stamina and sure-footedness as we climbed up and down the MOST awesome hills (some would say mountains!) – and while it is difficult to take photographs and ride at the same time, we do have some and I will let them ‘do the talking’.

We wandered through the terrain used for the film “The Man from Snowy River” based on a poem by Banjo Patterson and relived a moment or two.

With a kiss at the ‘kissing tree’ as we called it, where Craig and Jessie from the movie are believed to have ‘spent time together’.

This kiss marked 44 years of marriage – a celebration worth most definitely a kiss!

28695790_10157167939709746_2049140167_o

28459646_10155529517159773_394268957_o

And as each day took us up to the top of the world, or down to a beautiful valley, we drew closer through our shared experience and gratitude to the Hidden Trails crew who worked tirelessly to make this one of the most remarkable weeks of our lives.

Whether it was the amazing food, or the incredible work involved in caring for our horses, feeding, shoeing, washing, saddling, unsaddling, corralling, the transferring of our camps, the attention when one of us didn’t feel well, and most importantly, keeping our drinks colds!!!!!   It was a trip of a lifetime.

28460641_10156228324947560_1913206501_o
Heights and edges
28696121_10157167946639746_2039189737_o
the likes of which
IMG_5536
I don’t want to do
28407903_10204400039996776_379107526_o-2
…too often
28685541_1871274449558318_5397022475848667342_n
Spectacular as it was
28407312_10156228325687560_1203204991_o
The real Man from Snowy River image
28503747_10156228327817560_163047238_o
Hells Pass

IMG_1817

IMG_1827
As wobbly as this photo looks – so we sometimes felt riding up to this point 🙂

And of course for every up, there is a down – debates constantly about which is more challenging!!!!!

IMG_5531
It was Something to conquer
IMG_5609
and both riders and horses
IMG_5580
were grateful to be back ‘home’
IMG_5516
scattered as we were in our swags under a sky alive with a million stars

Having been well cared for;  fed. watered and doctored.

28408114_10155529506619773_954945105_o

28500416_10155529506649773_1039663473_o

28460098_10155529506659773_440159808_o

28461671_10155529505944773_181888962_o

There were days of glorious views, river crossings, trees so tall I felt I was in a cathedral of some kind, birds calling, skies so blue and fresh, faint sounds of riders behind or front, the glorious silence of riding companionably, along with your thoughts,  the creaking of the saddle and sound of their feet on the ground somehow at one with the earth.   Old huts, with stories to each, a koala in a tree.   Hidden trails indeed.

IMG_1837

28460480_10155530819764773_1473691693_o

28461155_10155530819594773_1980998499_o

IMG_1840

28499804_10155529498164773_1593108523_o.jpg

IMG_5550

IMG_1847

IMG_1849

IMG_5549

IMG_1729

IMG_1715

IMG_1832

IMG_5599

IMG_5600

IMG_5655

IMG_1842

and in case  you have not had enough : some more images and even a stunning video thanks to Rachel Meek of our epic climb to Mt Magdala!!!

28408190_10155529522534773_615909426_o

28408071_10204399935514164_1903315017_o

28342885_10155529499794773_1969954053_o

28417979_10155529502524773_270583643_o

28407843_10155529522529773_1467856830_o

28418387_10155529531854773_2034383208_o

28461167_10210321842952089_2038192151_o

And thanks to all my now friends, from this amazing adventure for your wonderful photographs.

28417880_10155529505704773_1266674860_o

28407218_1856942924324804_662583677_o

IMG_5673

28407478_10204400041916824_2022172603_o

28342753_10204400038276733_2114502779_o

 

IMG_6006

Day 2

If anyone snored, no one heard – we all slept warmly and long.

And our second day dawned bright and sunny.   Full of optimism about the weather I forgot for just a while that we live in Victoria where the weather changes every 20 minutes.

We wandered down to the horses, wandering how our bodies would feel as we climbed ‘aboard’ after such a long day yesterday in the saddles which were definitely ‘not custom made’ as the others usually use.

But we were fine, and up and riding in quick smart time.

Which was just as well as Rhumba was ready to rhumba, forward, sideways, anyway but quickly and for the first 1o minutes I had my hands full.

Today we were riding up and up and up past farmlands, a fabulous school camp with kids having so much fun I was tempted to stop and join them on their flying fox.  Past cattle, with heads down against the wind, almost level with a Wedge Tailed Eagle which seemed suspended in the sky as it flew into the very strong wind.   And still up and up.

To the place where that famous shot was taken,

“where even Clancy took a pull,

It well might make the boldest hold their breath,……

But the man from Snowy River let the pony have his head,

And he swing his stockwhip round and gave a cheer,

And he raced him down the mountain like a torrent down its bed,

While the others stood and watched in very fear”  (banjo patterson)

And I must say, it was a fearful place.   None of us were game to ride to the edge, but rather relied on Michael leading our horses to ‘the spot’.   I could not look down, in fact I could not breathe in case Rhumba should think I wanted her to move.   I held her head up, just in case and thankfully swung round after ‘the photoshoot’ to safer ground!!!!

 

img_2603

img_2582

And still these photos cannot describe the drop – go see the movie 🙂 🙂 🙂

 

img_2602

The weather did not invite lingering and we hurried down with a steady drizzle and wind reminding us why these hills are known as ‘the Alps’.    I had a very large oilskin which made me wonder if I would ‘take off’ when cantering as it turned me into, according to the others, a phantom rider, but kept me warm and dry in this winter weather.

And so we rode home, as we had all the way in single file, Wendy and Michael at the back talking, we couldn’t hear what they were saying, but there was a companionable constant hum of their voices reaching us when the wind was still.   And the three of us absorbed in our own worlds. The kookaburras called along the way, bellbirds sang, a wedge tail eagle alongside the road ate from a carcass, kangaroos loping across the fields every which way; standing up in the strange posture to watch us and then bouncing off.  Sheep littered the lower hills looking for all the world as though hundreds of white tissues had escaped from a tissue box and landed haphazardly round the field.   The eucalyptus forests with trees reminding me for some reason of cathedrals – Huge, imposing, reaching for the sky.  The barren hills which were pine forests, now looking forlorn and empty of any life.   And the green green hills so full of energy and promise of new life.   Wattle in flower was everywhere, a bright yellow which when the sun caught it seemed to shimmer with a promise of abundance not yet here.

img_2589

And so to a lovely lunch to farewell new friends, and another adventure.

And not a moment too soon.

The drive home alone was in pouring rain, so heavy that reaching the speed limit was not possible, never mind exceeding it!!!!

My musings over the two days included gratitude that I was now in my little old car; it’s 4 wheels, a steering wheel and heater rather than my new friend, Rhumba, her 4 legs, reins and an oil skin.

Oh and did I tell you?

The Howqua River was one of just thirteen locations worldwide featured on the fly fishing documentary television series A River Somewhere.[8] 

That bit of trivia for my fishing friends – best come visit!

Day One

The most amazing porridge and coffee (Mansfield Coffee Merchants) 

set me up for the drive to the stables – about 30 minutes out of Mansfield.

There is, at least for me, always a few nerves involved in arriving somewhere alone on another adventure.   Will I be riding alone, and if not, who will I be riding with.

And so the ‘settling in period’ as I  jostle around the ‘edges’ to determine where in the pecking order I fit – a little, as I discovered like the horses themselves as they get chosen for the trail.

I arrived at the stables to find I was not riding alone.   Sitting comfortably and beautifully attired were a ‘couple’ – mother and daughter to be precise.   Or even more precise, Wendy and Danny.   My antennae and nerves on high alert I realised these were riders with a capital R, every fibre of their brand name gear confirmed that to me.  Almost certainly  their antennae were out as they realised this was a rider with a capital B (for beginner), as every fibre of my gear (aka Aldi & Kmart) confirmed.   I have no doubt their hearts sank at the thought of a novice holding them back.

But they were so gracious and at no point did they allow me to feel incompetent.   So grateful.

That out of the way, the next thing is to ‘navigate’ around the horses.  Which one leads, who snaps, who lingers, and let me tell you, they most certainly do have a pecking order as Danny and I discovered throughout the 2 days as our two jostled with each other.

And then there’s the saddles, apparently I was riding on a stock saddle, long stirrups, legs down, stand up when cantering, hang on the mane, lean forward so if she swings in the bush (as she did a few times) you ready to swing with her and not off her 🙂 🙂  and so it went on.   Finding bones and muscles in strange parts of my body, I settled onto the new horse, in a new saddle surrounded by Victorian Alpine countryside.

img_2542
img_2575
img_2543

My stock horse, Rhumba made me think on many occasions that she should be called Rumble (as in the jungle – think Mohammad Ali); nipping whenever she felt like it, putting her ears well back and warning me and Danny that any closer was a no go, deciding to trot at the most random moments, for the most random reasons and for all that, lovely to canter.    Danny had a busy time keeping her little one in line – and her years of riding experience came to the fore.

The ride was interesting with very steep climbs and even steeper declines – although I know that cannot Really be possible :).   The ground was often very muddy and the inclines such that  much of the day our eyes were down keeping a watch on our horses feet.   They slipped and slid but thankfully everyone kept their balance.   Well most of the time that is.

The countryside was breathtaking and we stopped for a photoshoot.

img_2598

We also stopped for lunch alongside the river at an old miners hut.   Which was fortunate and lovely because as we started our fire and made some hot tea, it began to rain and we were warm and snug.   By the time we were ready to ride again, the rain had moved on.

We needed to cross the river a few times and it was  surprisingly full and fast flowing.   Four of us were across when Michael’s horse (Michael being our host) lost its footing and it and he went for a swim in very cold water.    Thankfully neither was seriously hurt and we could all laugh about it once we were sure there were no major injuries.   One learns early on that there are no egos in riding – mishaps can and do happen to any and everyone if you spend long enough on or around horses.

img_2596

Truth be told, even in those tranquil riding moments when you can be lulled into a semi comatose state, your horse remains its own being with a will and strength quite independent of yourself! So I’m realising it pays always to be vigilant.

Rhumba jumped a creek and chose to land on my foot as opposed to the ground, (I wasn’t on her back at the time – just in case you wondering)   Wendy’s horse lifted her head suddenly and cracked Wendy very hard on hers (She wasn’t on her back at the time either!), ever so grateful she was wearing her helmet; Michael’s horse had a swim and so did Michael (he Was on her back at the time!)

As you can ‘see’ a lovely day one, with many hours in the saddle.   A good meal and time now for bed.

%d bloggers like this: