Adapted from my Presentation to the 2017 FEDERAL ICPA CONFERENCE…
‘Horses for Courses’ Ride for Bush Kids
31 days in the saddle,
1,000kms from home at Suplejack to Darwin.
4 Horses Dually, TinTin, Gypsy and Bloany,
Support Crew, Tash and I...and we all made it in one piece.
Now I just have to set the behind the scene a little…rewind the story back again! You’ve heard of how Tash and I went to primary school and pony club together in Clermont, Central Queensland for a couple of years over 30 years ago…so now to fill in a few more blanks…when I was 8yrs old Tash and her family moved south to Dalby leaving me to inherit her ‘spirited’ little pinto mare ‘Sultana’! Well she rendering me unconscious at one point and gave me the run around numerous times before realising I was one of the good guys....and as we’ve said before, that was the last time we saw or heard of each other until last year (2016) when Tash sent me a friend request through social media.
I remember sitting at the kitchen table yelling across the room to Mum who was in the office...’Mum, do you know a Natuccia Franklin? She’s just sent me a Facebook friend request and I’m not sure I know who she is…we don’t have any mutual friends and I don’t recognise her profile photo...hang on she’s messaging me, she said her name was Natuccia Walker???...Tash Walker??? Ahhh...Yes I remember!’ We messaged for a while, I found out she’d smashed her leg up when she crashed her dirt bike, giving herself quite a lot of spare time to fill while in the healing process. She said she’d kinda kept up to date through mutual friends and always wanted to come out to Suplejack for a visit. I half-jokingly said ‘Well Cambo’s heading into town to pick up hay, so if you get to Alice tomorrow you can hitch a ride back out to the station with him in the Truck’ I never thought for a second she would actually book the flights and make the trip out the next day. Actually my initial question was ‘ok...so who did you kill and who are you running away from?’
The idea for ‘Horses for Courses’ came about from a blend of conversations Tash and I had from my Grandad Savages Droving days to my brother Rob’s Tanami Walk, Tasha’s own horse ride to Melbourne a few years prior and my ever existent dream to simply ride my horse all-day everyday!
On the 17th of June, 2017 we rode out through the front gates of Suplejack and our epic adventure began.
We were blessed to have a wonderful support crew, family friends Rod & Norma and Aunty Marg & Dennis who made it their daily duty to look after us. They ensured we ate properly and camp was set up and packed up every day. This allowed us to put all our effort into the horses, my primary focus was on making sure they were well fed, watered and remained sound.
My youngest daughter Kiralee joined us halfway through the ride which enabled us to change our game plan a bit. Up until that point we were riding one horse and leading the second which ment all four horses had physically walked all 450kms without a days rest during those first two weeks. Having Kiralee on board to care for the two spare horses essentially meant we could spell two horses by trucking them to lunch camp and then ride those two fresh horses each afternoon. We were incredibly lucky to have such an amazing and committed crew supporting us.
One day while we were still leading our second horses we were trotting along the road, the day was beginning to get stinking hot, around 37 degrees. We’d travelled about 23kms and still had a good 17kms to go for the day. The horses as well as ourselves were all very tired and looking forward to pulling up for a rest at camp that night. I remember just trotting along dreaming of a shower when I became aware of the silence behind me, usually I could hear the sound of Tash and the other two horses ‘clippity-clopping’ along just behind. I pulled up and turned around to see...nothing...! No sign of Tash or the horses anywhere! I strained to see back to the corner about a kilometre back...nothing! I walked over to the shade of a tree and thought, ‘any moment now, they’ll come around that corner’. I waited and waited and the more time which passed the more realistic the stories forming in my head became. However would I tell her mother I’d lost her!
‘Did she pull up to go to the toilet and the horses bolted on her, or worse still did she get bitten by a snake?’ I knew I’d better go back and find her, even though now I was backtracking. We still had at least three and a half hours riding to go before we reached our camp for the night and now I was headed back in the wrong direction! I started at a walk, then I started to trot as the scenario’s in my head becoming more and more outlandish! ‘OMG what if she’s laying out there somewhere bleeding to death? I kept trotting, reaching the corner, rounding it and looking back up the long straight...still nothing...!
I was really beginning to panic when something caught my eye way out through the scrub. I saw Tash trying desperately to catch Bloany, he’d pulled out of her hands and decided that he’d had quite enough for one day and every time she’d get close to him, he’d canter off and pull up just out of reach and stand there again. It was a game of catch which Tash was failing at miserably! It’s kinda safe to say the relationship between Bloany and Tash continued to spiral downhill from there!
You learn a lot about yourself when you’re out there for over a month. You learn a lot about people and human nature in general. Every night for over a month I rolled my swag out right beside the horses and slept under what seamed like our own personal star show. There are some incredible things happening up there at night!
I believe as mothers we have an innate ability to tune into certain chosen happenings whilst sound asleep. My theory was to tune into the horses, giving me a much better chance of waking up in the morning and still having the 4 horses in the yard. The prospect of waking up to a flat fence and no horses kept me very diligent to my nightly duties. We had many night-time visits from all kinds of wildlife…dingo’s, donkeys, cats, pigs, and wild horses but thankfully we didn’t lose our own horses once!
I woke up a few nights to all four horses hanging over the fence looking down at me in my swag stretcher as if to say...mums still there everything’s ok!
Another time I woke up and did a quick scan over the top of my pillow where I could see the entire top wire of the yard but no outline of the horses...I sat bolt upright to discover that all four horses were laying flat-out on the ground, no they weren’t sick...they were sleeping! Yes horses can sleep standing up but if they feel safe (and they’ve just travelled 40km’s that day) they much prefer to lay flat out on the ground to sleep, they snore and they even dream!
You become very close to your horses when you’re living with them 24 hours a day and quickly become familiar with what noises are normal and which ones aren’t. I was woken in the dead of night twice to TinTin laying out flat and whinnying in his sleep...yes horses do dream! Gypsy snored when asleep every single night...!
I found I quickly developed an acute sixth sense, an unspoken knowing when things weren’t quite right. I also believe horses are extremely good judges of character and have an amazing ability to know what you’re feeling often before you can identify it yourself. Horses are so powerful and so incredibly strong yet willing to put their life in your hands if they trust you...even when you’re asking them to swim through a croc infested creek.
We averaged between 30 and 40 kilometres each day and had only two rest days for the entire duration of the ride. The horses suffered at times from a number of ailments including colic, stone bruising and swollen fetlocks, girth gall, grass seed infections, insect reactions, sore backs, greasy heal cracks, colds and general lethargy.
We had the wonderful company of fellow riders who kept us entertained with their antics along the way and overwhelming Community Support from amazing people. Stations and Roadhouses who fed and housed us, businesses who donated horse feed, family and friends who donated groceries, sponsorship donations, in-kind donations, social media comments...the list of support went on and every interaction touched our hearts immensely. People are Amazing!
This journey was one of enlightenment and growth but more importantly it’s one of story telling and raising awareness...through the Horses for Courses Ride for Bush Kids we were able to educate people of the paradox’s our rural and remote children face growing up in the bush. We also told stories of the incredible work ICPA does to ensure the future of our next generation, we believe by investing in our kids growing up in the bush then we're investing in the future of Agriculture and Outback Australia.
The adventures of our epic trek reached audiences through the media with newspapers, radio stations and nationwide television all helping to share the stories coming out of the Bush. Interestingly the momentum hasn’t really slowed. Along with the amazing awareness we created for Rural and Remote education we also held a fundraising dinner and along with sponsorships and I’m very proud to announce we’ve raised just over $13k for NT ICPA.
I’d like to leave you with some hot, sweaty, dirty, dusty, equine based, saddle bought insight...
Everyday get up and just do the thing, be proactive, don’t give up, keeping taking the next step forward because eventually you’ll reach your goal.
Just do the thing! Get outside your Comfort Zone...because after all That’s where the Magic Is!