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    and the glorious one to Margaret River  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 

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.

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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 …. 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 🙂

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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Melbourne’s Magic

This is an amazing city, that on an ordinary Friday I can stroll down Southbank for a quiet coffee and ‘me’ time, then attend a morning concert (Different Perspective) 

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and immediately thereafter go to the NGV (National Gallery of Victoria), recognised as a world class gallery filled with stunning works.   To say nothing about the wonderful water wall which is an attraction in itself Unknown

On this occasion Jackie and I went to browse the Triennial exhibition.IMG_5931

Which was an adventure into a fantasy land that had us lost and amused and bemused for several hours

until the lure of a late lunch (very late) was too strong to resist.

So we ambled down to the river and sat and munched and marvelled at our

magical Melbourne.

Crazy, Bizarre, Appealing, Enchanting:

Yayoi Kusama – not sure why, but we had fun

Dutch are collective, We Make Carpets

was AMAZING, pool noodles, washing sponges, felt strips

Random, crazy, quirky,

Hahan (I think) Javanese

We loved this giant carpet,

with mirrored ceiling

and people enjoying ‘the countryside’

Alexandra Kehayoglou (Argentina based)

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Someone buys them,

Works of art in their own way

Guo Pei (Chinese Born)

 

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Intriguing  – Ron Mueck

And one of the best parts:

Everywhere people engaged, absorbed, participating.

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As was our lunch

Friends in Strange Places

And there we were,

lost in the wonder of the amazing vistas,

the silence

and above all

the solitude.

Apart from a jackal, a springbok and a beetle

we had seen nothing and no one all day.

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 I happened to look ‘up’ the coast and where the dunes meet the sea

something didn’t ‘feel’ right.

Watching  carefully the something not quite right morphed into –

hang gliders.

Yup, in the middle of nowhere,

3 hang gliders weaving alongside the dunes, over the waves, towards us.

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We waved, They waved,

We marvelled and it turns out they did too (they had seen no one all day)

And being good hosts, we held out a beer,

more as a joke than anything else as they appeared

very committed to riding the thermals.

Young, agile and fit men (French or Belgium) that they were,

they were not about to turn down such an offer.

So without missing a beat they flew towards us, or at least one did,

landed or rather hovered just long enough to say ‘hi,

they have been flying for 5 hours and seen no one,

and thank  you for the beer’.

Then off again-

back on their adventure as we turned our back

and proceeded on ours.

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Our ‘visitor’
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Leaving us, beer in hand – the photo does no justice to the height we are at
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Away he went to join his friends

A Desert

The oldest desert in the world, so the scientists say, more than 500 million years old in fact.   The Namib (open space) is just that – so open it forces your heart to expand and your soul to lift and time to stand still.     So at times as we sat and absorbed the expanse, the silence, the colour, the feel, the vastness it felt as though time too, had stopped.

Was this where time began?

Or is these where time has ended?

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Sandwich Harbour
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This was once, a home
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Just because…..
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We were not alone – Springbok looking at us looking at him

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Space
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wherever we looked
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time to recapture
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or capture
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ever changing and always staying the same
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a moment in time
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so fortunate to see
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and he showed off happily
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There was huge
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effort involved
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in climbing
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the dunes
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whether old
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or young

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but the views rewarded us
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and of course we had to go down too….
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but who is complaining

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The never ending beauty of the dunes
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Difficult to assess the steepness of the dune as we drop down – with the engine switched off you hear the roar of the sand – as if from the bowels of the earth – AMAZING

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These rather ordinary videos will give you an idea of the scale of the place

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some welcome sustenance after the walks

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and this is what happens when you don’t time the tide correctly !!!!!

photos courtesy of the Powrie girls and Erika de Jäger

A Country…..

…in the south west corner of Africa.     Namibia gained independence only in 1990 South Africans have always felt a close affinity to what was previously called South West Africa with many of our young men spending time in the military in this part of the world.

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For much of my youth large parts of the country were ‘out of bounds’ because of the fighting ‘up north’ as we used to say.

Happily now, we are free to explore – and that is precisely what we did recently.

Well actually we only explored a little of the country – 10 days is not enough to do it justice.   Almost the size of South Africa, with a population of 2.5mill (S African has approx 60mill) it is a deliciously sparsely populated so that it is possible to ‘escape the madding crowd’ and absorb the light and air unhindered.

We began in Walvis Bay, with time spent on the water sharing our boat with friends

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The light and mood in the bay is extraordinary – enjoy20170807 - ET2_24

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The Salt Pans are also amazing – this salt pan currently supplies South Africa with 90% of it’s salt; concentrated salt from seawater with the aid of evaporation.    This salt pan also forms part of Southern Africa’s single most important coastal wetland for migratory birds.

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and when we thought we had seen such beauty nothing could compare, we visited Sandwich Harbour…… which deserves it’s own page.

(photos courtesy of the ‘Powrie girls’ and Erika De Jager)

Melbourne sparkles : even as we go back to 1630 : Shakespeare’s pop up globe 

While on a visit to London earlier in the year I found The Globe theatre closed. Surprise surprise – it turned up in Melbourne. Using meticulous research including sketches like this (Czech artist Hollar -1630) one of London, together with archeological reports on the dig of the first Globe these innovative (and brave) New Zealanders […]

While on a visit to London earlier in the year I found The Globe theatre closed.

Surprise surprise – it turned up in Melbourne.

Using meticulous research including sketches like this (Czech artist Hollar -1630) one of London, together with archeological reports on the dig of the first Globe these innovative (and brave) New Zealanders created this replica.

Their dream was to see Shakespeare’s work performed in its original space, to build the worlds first full scale temporary working replica of his theatre; fill it with a festival of his masterworks and share it with as many people as possible.

The theatre visible in this sketch of London 1630

And so it was that Claire and I went to see what the fuss was all about.  Aside from the fact that a walk through Melbourne’s stunning gardens to reach the theatre is a treat in itself, the Pop Up Globe is enchanting; the actors quite amazing, the energy exhausting and the desire to see another production strong.

Melbourne still sparkles ❤️❤️

ps. No fruit was thrown, but rain fell – all adding to the atmosphere – almost like being in England!!!!

 

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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 🙂 🙂 🙂

 

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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!

Contentment

It is difficult to put into words the sense of well being that is possible after a long day of physical adventure, a hot bath, a seat on the verandah – as opposed to a seat on a horse 🙂

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We are in the Howqua Valley, the river in front of me; the sound of its strong flow mingling with so many birds roosting for the night.   The sun is setting and the trees appear luminous as the last rays filter through them.   And the daffodils watch on as they clearly have done season after season.

Strange name Howqua, with equally strange possible origins, after a Chinese tea very popular during the 19th Century, after a Chinese surveyor of the area, (Ah Kin Wowqua);  a derivative of   Mount Howitt, where the river rises, and aqua; or if you prefer, after John “Howka” Hunter (1820–68), a pastoralist.  I am guessing any will do, but it is probably better known as the countryside where they filmed The Man From Snowy River.

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Which brings me back to the ride….  well almost back to the ride.   Firstly though, I must remind you that riding and taking photographs are almost mutually exclusive, and even more so when you are not riding alone and cannot just stop at will.    So most of the photographs we tried to take ended up in the ‘trash’ bin – you will need to engage your imagination if you mean to capture even a fraction of this adventure.

It’s all about ….

It’s all about the right horse, I was told by those who know best. And those who know best are, of course, those who ride all the time.
So why would I doubt them?
After all, they are regular riders who know horses well and are, I was told, the people one should ask for advice when embarking on a riding adventure.
Except, precisely Because they are riding fit and do so all the time, perhaps they are Not the people to ask?
What do I know? I set off to the gym confidently believing if I did the exercises (squats, sit ups etc) as prescribed, for a few months, I would be fine, as it all depended on having the right horse 😳
So there I was, with dire warnings from many friends about the madness of this adventure; the pain I was going to feel in unmentionable parts of my body, the risk I was taking, still ringing in my ears. My stomach slightly knotted as my brain tried to convince my body that those that Know, say I’ll be fine, it’s all about the right horse.
So I waited for Howard from African Horse Co to arrive at our meeting place, Farm 215. at the designated time of 10am having overlooked of course that the riding world runs to its own clock – dictated by where the horses wandered off to graze; how the old car felt that morning (riding in my limited – very limited experience seems synonymous with old cars – the cost of the one mode of transport dictating the cost of the other 😜), which saddle was where etc.
And then suddenly, after hanging around for an hour or so, there I was being handed ‘my horse’ – Luke
Far from sitting down and gently talking me through the week’s plan with words of encouragement ( the picture I had created in my head 😂) with a question/answer type session. Breyten advised; “Howard said hi”, and “up you get!” Which of course I couldn’t do without a step ladder 😂😂
Luke was a large animal – the largest of the three horses – and I was the smallest, or perhaps shortest is more accurate, rider. Somehow that didn’t seem quite fair 😩.
Since there was no ladder, I needed a leg up; and that was the case every time I wanted to mount him, for the entire week! Alas? I never did get to master the art of lifting one leg as high as my shoulder, putting it into the stirrup while balancing on the other and then swinging myself into the saddle, all on one elegant motion 😂
Nonetheless before I knew it I was on the back of a large horse and off down the road to, well I wasn’t quite sure where.
Reminding myself I needn’t worry – it’s all about the right horse.
And of course it is. All about the right horse.
And the legs, and the thighs, and the back and even the feet (6 hours in stirrups and you find parts of your foot you didn’t know existed 😳)
But it is about the horse. And Luke was the kindest, most gentle soul and within half an hour I knew he would not surprise me, well not much anyway. After all he did bolt when the bus greeted him, and we shot into the bushes when the bushbuck shot out of the bushes, but as bolts go, they were gentle ones, even for me, a beginner.
His back was broad and comfortable. His walk was steady if a bit slow. I asked him to trot and he did, not reluctantly nor in mad haste. It felt like he was indulging me: you want to trot, okay we can trot. Oh, you prefer a canter, no problem, I don’t mind cantering.

When we were galloping and I could hear Sparky galloping up behind me, I prepared for Luke to increase his pace. He didn’t, he stayed reliably steady. A ‘man’ beating to his own drum.
He never embarrassed me by moving when I was trying to mount or dismount him, something I was most grateful for 😃 He waited kindly, nuzzled me when I stood close, shared my sandwiches and even, dare I say it looked pleased to see me each morning.
And at the end of 5 glorious days of riding I agreed that it’s all about the right horse.
Perhaps Howard was right when he said. “If you had to chose a husband, you would want one like Luke.   Reliable, stable, predictable, trustworthy, safe”
Did hear a small voice somewhere whisper “and boring”.

I could not be sure.

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