Horsing around across Australia
“What are you doing here? Seems a bit strange to me,” the Akubra-wearing farmer said, sniffing as he frowned at my friendly horse who had come over to check for treats. “A normal person wouldn’t do this.”
It was early morning along the banks of the Mitta Mitta River next to the Omeo Highway in Victoria, and I had been on the road almost four weeks. I’d set out from near the mouth of the Snowy River and was fresh out of the High Country heading west, hoping to make it to Margaret River in Western Australia with my two horses.
Most people are curious when they meet us on the road, and this farmer was the only person I’d met so far who seemed unimpressed by the notion of trans-continental horse travel. But, I’m kind of thankful to him, because his question forced me to articulate WHY I would want to ride across Australia on horseback. The reasons seem pretty obvious to me, but often baffle the people I meet and chat with along the way.
Riding from the east coast of Australia to the west isn’t an easy journey, no matter your means of transport, and choosing to travel with horses is not a super fast way to progress, but I honestly can’t think of better travel companions for a 4000km, nine-month journey. I have always wanted to cross a continent on horseback, and with sections of the Bicentennial National Trail closed due to drought, I thought well, why not cross a desert then? I’ve always loved travelling, and I feel more at home on some kind of expedition, sleeping in a tent and embracing the mild discomforts and often indeterminable rewards of life on the road.
So far, we are about 1500km and nearly three months into this particular expedition. And by “us”, I mean myself and my two horses, Mr Richard, 17 years, and Micky, 3. I think I often confuse people when I use the royal we, but this is definitely a team effort, and I often feel like my boys do all the work and I’m just an on-board GPS system in charge of logistics and finance.
Horse travel has its own particular set of challenges and rewards. Worrying about my horses’ welfare takes up much of my time, keeping them fed and watered and secure at night often requires a bit of creativity, but in return I get to spend so much quality time with them, learning their funny little foibles and being thoroughly entertained – because horses are nothing if not a crack-up! Whether it’s riding into a supermarket parking lot and getting many curious stares, or chasing hoof prints through the frosty grass of an orange orchard under the light of a full moon when the horses have somehow escaped at 3am, horse life keeps you on your toes.
I guess at the end of the day, that’s one of the main reasons I’m out here: just to embrace the privilege of this opportunity, to share such experiences with my horses and connect to the country I am travelling through at a far more fundamental level than one can when travelling in a car.
Whether or not this is something a normal person would do… well, I really can’t say!
You can follow Stef’s journey here.