A Cheeky Dingo...Day 1

H4C ‘Stories from the Saddle’

I head out for my early morning horse ride before normal daily station routines begin; teaching my two youngest daughters via distance education whilst studying a diploma of agribusiness management, station cook, NT ICPA President duties, NRWC CRT duties, NTSDE Council chair duties, mustering, fencing, gardening, horse training, mother, jack of all trades-master of none...and my mind wanders back to that month when it was simple: get on my horse and ride up the track…

Join me as I reminisce; ‘Stories from the Saddle’ tells of our adventures during our 1,000km horse ride across Northern Territory, Raising Awareness for Bush Kids.

A Cheeky Dingo.

Hearing the horses trotting around their yard, I sat bolt upright in my swag…and smacked my head right into the roof of the truck!

My consciousness darted around until I remembered where I was, I rubbed my head as the sweet scent of horse feed filled my nostrils. 40 bales of Lucerne Hay lovingly given to us by the Klein Family of ‘Orange Creek Growers’ south of Alice Springs and bags stacked on bags of pollard and Eques Total donated by Laucke Feed Mills. A mountain of horse feed and Tash and I were perched up on top in our swags. I thought how lucky we were to have the support of these two wonderful businesses; it meant our horses wouldn’t lose any weight during our epic adventure.

It was our first night on the road; we’d travelled 30kms the day before and had made camp just on the Suplejack boundary. I’d been romanticising of sleeping under the stars for months, yet here I was cooped up inside my little truck. My body was feeling pretty good after our first day in the saddle, although my head was a bit tender now. The noise outside caught my attention again and I peered down through the little window to the horses chasing each other around the electric fence yard. If only they knew what they were in for over the coming month…they’d be saving their precious energy!

Tintin was determined to put Gypsy out through the fence. He was doing a great job of Campdrafting, blocking to the left then nipping Gypsy on the rump, pushing him back towards the truck and then chasing him around to the top of the yard again. I growled out through the little window in the effort to shift his attention and settle them down. It worked for about 5 minutes, just long enough for me to lie back down and close my eyes and then they started again. Arrrggg…I was going to have to maneuver my way out of my cave.

The day before was full on with last minute changes, a late departure meant we hadn’t left the station until about 11am. It was hard to gauge how fast we were travelling as we rode along. It was something we hadn’t really banked on and it continued to terrorise us over the whole trip. How far had we ridden and how much further do we need to go to reach lunch camp or night camp. I knew the horses could average 8kms an hour at the walk, but that didn’t take into account five minutes here to look at a pretty flower or ten minutes there to check out some awesome tracks in the red dust…time management my arch nemesis!

Earlier in the day I’d even trotted over a fat, healthy eastern brown snake, sunbaking right in our path. It was the middle of winter, yet there were snakes about, a sure sign we were in for a hot few weeks ahead. I was on top of him before I’d even realized with Tash yelling…’you just ran over a snake!’ It all happened pretty quickly and no one was hurt, thank goodness. The thought it could have ended very differently ensured I keep my eyes open for the rest of the ride. It could have been a proper lousy way to end our adventure before it had even begun with my horse bitten by a snake!

We were leisurely walking along and chatting when we saw a vehicle approaching. It was Norma and Dennis who’d come back in the ute to see how we were going. They were beginning to worry about us as we only had 2 hours before sunset. We’d only covered half the distance we needed to ride to reach camp. Luckily they were looking out for us until we found our grove; we stepped it up a gear and covered that second 15kms in record time, arriving at night camp just before dark.

Now I was squeezing and maneuvering my way down and out of the back of the truck when it dawned on me the very reason we were there in the first place. Oh Crap…that’s right we had a close encounter with a cheeky dingo last night!

We’d been sitting around the campfire gazing into the flames reminiscing about our day’s ride when we heard noises behind us in the darkness. As I spun around I could just make out the shape of a big, strong yellow dog standing only about 15 meters away from us in the moonlight. The horses were used to the station working dogs so they never took any notice of him at all, thank goodness. I wasn’t fussed on chasing after horses, who knew all too well which way was home at this point.

Between the campfire and Norma’s delicious smelling dinner of Suplejack minced beef and rice, I guess the dingo just couldn’t help himself. He padded a little closer while we all watched on, scenarios from stories I’d heard started to scroll through my mind and I was thinking we’d be terrorised by him all night, especially since he wasn’t in the least bit afraid of us. We growled at him and did our best to frighten him off. Dingoes are hugely territorial and I’m sure he was wondering what we were doing there, invading his territory. We could still hear him doing the rounds of our camp for hours after we last saw him. I think the most unnerving part though was when he fell silent and we didn’t hear him anymore. My overactive imagination made me feel very vulnerable…was he just sitting here ready to attack? The mind can play all kinds of tricks on you when you’re out of your comfort zone. It was a bit exciting but not really an enjoyable way to spend our first night on the road. Especially since all I wanted to do was fall asleep under the open sky blanketed by outback stars. We were lucky to have two brave men in our team; Rod and Dennis who made us all feel very safe.

So although I was still weary and my mind wondered to what that cheeky dingo was up to, the need to settle the horses and keep them safe was stronger. I scanned into the darkness as far as I could see around the camp, nothing…I couldn’t hear him either so I took a deep breath and climbed in through the electric fence. The horses stopped their naughty antics and came straight over to me, I instantly felt safer once I was amongst them. I’d put Tintin’s halter on and lead him back over to the truck where he spent the rest of the night tied up.

We never did see that same dingo again and after ‘Tintin the troublemaker’ was safely tied up, the other horses never moved again all night. I exercised some contortionist moves, safely maneuvering my way back into my swag and we all slept like a log for the rest of our very first night on the road!

As a footnote I never slept in the back of the truck again for the whole of the trip. I enjoyed the starry night sky and over the month got to experience the magic of a full cycle of the moon…and I got a lot braver with the wildlife and became accustomed to the nighttime noises.

Next...‘Stories from the Saddle’ tells about some of the incredible wildlife we encountered on day two and the even more amazing array of Desert Tracks we saw along the way.