Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A birthday ride

View Whian Whian ride in a larger map

As a special treat, John and I took the Monday off and we went for a trail ride at Whian Whian State forest (click on the - or + on the interactive map above to zoom in or out). So, early Monday morning, we hitched the float to the Hilux, chose our best trail horses (gelding Gandhi and mare Saturn), and gave them a special lucerne feed. As our horses are not shod but go barefoot most of the time, we put their trail riding boots on. These boots are a great alternative to metal shoes and in my opinion far better for our horses' overall metal and physical health. My mare admittedly does not have good ground manners, but she lifts her feet to have these boots put on!

I must confess I get a bit tense about putting horses on the float. It can go wrong and having half a ton of horse go mad in the float is not good for them, or the float. Similarly, having the same half ton of horse rush backwards out of the float and over the top of any human is not good for *them*, either. But these two stepped on as good as gold (especially Gandhi, he's such a well-mannered gent).

We set off, and after about half an hour arrived at Fox Rd quarry where we parked the Hilux and float, offloaded the calm (!! hurrah! Calmer than I was, defninitely!) horses and saddled up.

The track was damp but not wet underfoot, unshod booted hooves clopping soft on the earth. The weather was cool and dry, and looking up I could see the dappled gum trees against a pure blue sky. Not long after leaving Fox Rd we entered the state forest conservation area (a home-made painted sign explaining "no throughfare for cars to Whian Whian, horse riders and walkers welcomed!"). We followed Baldwin's road, a rough track surrounded by bush. Next to the track we saw a sleepy carpet python soaking up the warmth of a spot of sunshine; and not much further on a brown snake slithered quietly into the bushes (Gandhi told John in his equine way "It's dangerous, I'm not going near that one..."). Around a bend we encountered a pair of tethered goats, which Gandhi observed with aplomb but nearly made Saturn's eyes pop out of her head, as she came to a stock standstill, and uttered disbelieving snorts as she stood there and shook from head to hoof. Goodness knows what went on in her head. I gather she's never seen a goat before. She went past them on tiptoes, quivering and snorting, with tail bunched in horror, as the goats observed her with their strange eyes.

We continued along looking for a side track called Condong Falls Road, but we couldn't find it (must have passed it in during one of our wild and exhilarating canters) and ended up on a slightly wider track called Telephone Road (from there we planned to follow Boulder's Road but couldn't find that either ... ). Telephone Rd is a lovely track, quite steeply undulating but with some good spots for gallops. This brought us to Minyon Drive which is open for 4WD car traffic. We stopped briefly at Minyon Grass picnic area where the National Park guys were doing some sterling work repairing verges. We offered the horses a drink at the creek but they declined (oh well, as they say ...). This was the furthest point of the ride and by then we'd travelled about 6km of steep going.

To wind our way back to Fox Rd we had to reach the higher ground and find Quondong FireTrail. The option we chose was to find Yakki Break, a very indistinct track which went straight up the mountainside. The track rapidly became steeper and the horses surged and grappled for footing, their sides heaving. As the path became steeper I wound my left hand in Saturn's long mane, and wrapped my right arm around her neck, slick with sweat, my thighs gripping her sides as I leaned as far forward as I could to help her balance. They're so strong and marvellous, our horses, and they will go anywhere for us, bless their courageous hearts. At the top we let them stand for a while, letting them blow, while their hammering hearts calmed down.

We found Quondong Fire trail pretty easily and followed it slowly down the mountainside. At Quondong Falls it became very steep and rocky, and the horses picked their way with much care. Just before the causeway where the creek flowed rapidly over the track and down the waterfall, the path was very steep and Saturn lost her footing, slithering onto her haunches. I opted to step off, as I didn't fancy falling under the horse if she went fully down (and possibly over the waterfall, which would not have been a good ending to the ride). John stayed aboard the more sensible Gandhi (as he said later, Gandhi has four good legs and John only has one so that seemed the best option! Makes sense!!). Much clatter and stumbling and with my arm nearly wrenched out of its socket we reached the other side, where I climbed tremblingly aboard a thoroughly excited Saturn (we get a bit tense, she and I sometimes. Never mind, we've both got courageous hearts and we're game). John said 'well done' and I could see he was proud of us so that was good :-D

The rest of the track was gorgeous, with tree ferns and rainforest surrounding us. The track wound steeply down, the horses well back on their haunches and their ears pricked forwards. This brought us to the lovely Quirk's Fire Trail, again densely rainforested, and then back on to the earthern Baldwin Road.

Of course this meant going past the goats again, which Saturn thought was Totally, Like, Creepy ... I praised her muchly for her courage.

This brought us quietly back to the Fox Rd quarry where the horses were happy to see the float. They were still very wet and sweaty so we walked them in the gentle sun until they were much drier. Then we loaded them onto the float and took them home for a big meal, a wash and a grooming. Then we set them free in their paddock where they blissfully sank to the ground for a lovely roll and a catch-up with their friends.

Thanks Guys: Gandhi, Saturn and John, for a lovely ride.

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