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 πŸ™‚ )and the glorious one to Margaret River  (That link again πŸ™‚ )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 πŸ™‚ _

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 πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

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.

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Getting to know one another….
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Around our amazing hearth
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with its amazing hot water system
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which kept us all happy
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and mesmerised
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While our 5 Star chefs prepared the MOST
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most AMAZING food
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With a little help from friends
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and a welcome board each day to remind us ‘where we were’
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Strangers were….
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now friends…..
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sharing and making….
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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.

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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 πŸ™‚ )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!

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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.

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Heights and edges
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the likes of which
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I don’t want to do
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…too often
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Spectacular as it was
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The real Man from Snowy River image
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Hells Pass

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As wobbly as this photo looks – so we sometimes felt riding up to this point πŸ™‚

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

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

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

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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.

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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!!!

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

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Another day – Another lesson

Life is full of surprises.ph-country_f8f492999cea1ed0c7a326c8c73c4e18

I mean, take saddles for example.

Yes, that’s what I said, saddles. They go onto the backs of horses.

Ever thought about them?   Well of course not, nor had I until last week.

Like chicken breasts from the supermarket, saddles, just ‘were’.   How many of us think about the size of the chickens that offer us these juicy large breasts – when I did, I baulked at the thought that they may be the size of dogs!!!!!

So why would we think about a saddle?   No reason of course since we don’t eat them, and most people don’t go near them in day to day life.

Except I am not not on of the ‘most people’ having decided well into my 60’s that I shall learn to ride.   Which means sitting in most instances on (in?) a saddle.   Still I gave it (the saddle, not the horse) little thought – it just Was.

Some saddles rubbed me in uncomfortable places, some buckles chaffed and left reminders long after the ride was over, but mostly they just came with the territory.

Until I changed my territory and went on a fabulous trail to the High Country (blog to follow: HiddenTrails,Globetrotting.com.au) where I met a Saddle Maker.   Not just ‘a saddle maker’ but Peter Horobin and his daughter Marlee who make saddles which are sent all over the world;  these are ‘bespoke’ saddles – think Kate Middleton Duchess of Cambridge and her bespoke dresses and you get the idea.

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note the chalk diagrams of the ever patient horse’s muscles
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More explanations about
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trees and things πŸ™‚

Peter was amazing, teaching us about the muscles and bones around the shoulder of the horse, how saddles impinge or don’t on their movement, how poor mounting (climbing into the saddle for my non riding friends the wrong way) can bend the tree.

Yup, its okay I also didn’t know what he was talking about and heard the voice of a rather dumb naive blonde (that would be me) ask what on earth he meant.   Turns out a tree isn’t what we were seeing all around us, but rather part of the saddle, a foundational part in fact.

And of course there was a next step – a visit to his shop/workshop/sanctuary/creative studio which I did today after my third only riding lesson put on the Mornington Peninsula.

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And what a wonderland of energy, passion, skill and hospitality.   The saddles – there are SO many different types, every one hand made, so many colours, so many uses, so many textures, it was like entering Aladdin’s cave, an abundance of smell, touch, leather, style and confidence.

I wished I had a horse so I could indulge myself with a saddle.

Instead I got to polish the saddle being shipped to Western Australia to Carla – a special new friend, with whom we rode in the High Country.

Envious I am of those that ordered saddles – they are getting works of art

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Polishing Carla’s Saddle
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except you cannot see our hands doing the work πŸ™‚
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Templates for every saddle – and don’t muddle them up!!!!!
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racing saddles – weighing almost nothing
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saddles and saddle and saddles
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colours and leathers and shapes
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Early blades to cut the leather
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Horobin legacy continues
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Peter ‘at work’
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when he is not driving from saddle to saddle

And I had NO idea that a saddle could be such a special, wonderful creation – I thought only quilts fell into that category – another lesson learnt.

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Measuring
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looking good

Photographs from the wonderful riders I shared a week with, and Peter Horobin Saddlery 

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!!!!

 

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And still these photos cannot describe the drop – go see the movie πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

 

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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.

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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!