H4C ‘Stories from the Saddle’
This month see’s me bouncing between Alice Springs and Darwin with NTICPA President and NTSDE Chair duties, three weeks in and I honestly can’t wait to get back home again!
Since I’ve been in town my 17yr old daughter who’s at home with other family, decided she’s breaking in a Brumby! Yep, she trapped one of the wild bush horses and is currently breaking it in... don’t know where she got the notion that would be a good idea!
Under the watchful eye of her Grandad Cookie, in a little over a week she’s taught this previously untouched colt (actually no-one has ever even laid eyes on him let alone touched him before she’d trapped him) to lead, pick up his feet and accept a saddle and bridle. He lets her lay on him and ride him bareback and under saddle. He trusts her with his heart, what an incredible bond!
Join me as I reminisce: ‘Stories from the Saddle’ tells of the adventures we had during our 1,000km horse ride across the Northern Territory, raising awareness for Bush Kids – Day 3.
Gypsy the Joker
The sky was an extensive blanket of stars which stretched right down to the horizon. Not a cloud in the sky and no light pollution for hundreds of kilometres. I lay in my swag, snuggled up in the blankets, looking up at was a spectacular display of paused, silver fireworks and wondered at the possibilities of what could be up there with so much space.
The Milky Way was so close it felt as if I could simply reach out and stir the narrow, cloudy, streak of stars sprawled from one horizon to the other. I also envisaged I was looking as constellations clusters...Cancer, Taurus, Gemini. I didn’t really have any idea, but I tagged them in the effort to satisfy my ego anyway and they will be forever known to me as such!
I curiously watched the satellites (what we call slow moving stars) crawl slowly across the night sky and also saw a couple of mystical shooting stars. The fascinating and incredible flashes of burning light speeding across the dark, night sky have always been fertile ground for my vast imagination. What were they really and where did it land if they do make it all the way to earth. When we were kids Mum would tell us when we saw a shooting star, a baby boy was being born somewhere in the world. An old wives’ tale, but still I wondered who might be welcoming a bouncing, baby, boy into their family as I lay there dreamily searching the night sky for other wonderment.
I was dog tired and after two days of being on the road, my body was still getting used to hours and hours in the saddle. I should have dropped off to sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow, but I couldn’t help but feel excited and very small looking up to the sky as the nights’ star show was in full dressed performance, seemingly, just for me.
Through until about midnight the sky was very dark, then in dramatic fashion, the very big moon made its grand entrance, throwing the world into twilight. I could see the horses as clear as day and surprisingly they were at it again. ‘Fair Dinkum are you kidding, who has the energy for this’ TinTin was herding the other three around and around, clearly the day’s work out wasn’t enough for this little workhorse, he needed night-time activity too. The little shepherd was keeping his flock together and on the move. I could see Dually was getting sick of this nightly ritual and at times would try to stand up for himself, but TinTin would nip him on the back legs and snap him back into line again.
I found my halter, caught TinTin and tied him up again for the second night in a row. The other three looked at me and breathed a sigh of relief as if to say thank goodness for that! As I walked back to my stretcher, which I’d strategically placed at the roped off gateway for ease of climbing through without being bitten by the electric tape, Dually, Boany and Gypsy followed. I climbed into bed with the three of them peering over the fence at me and a guilty TinTin feeling sorry for himself tied just metres away to the truck. I’m sure they thought it was morning already, with the moons brightness and now wanted breakfast.
The horses were quiet, and it didn’t take me long to fall back asleep. I woke up at 4am to let TinTin out of the naughty corner, worried that standing in the one spot for too long may cause his legs to cramp up with lactic acid after the long days ride. I gave them a slab of beautiful sweet lucerne hay to keep them quiet and then went back to my swag to get another couple of hours sleep.
I was sound asleep when a roaring ‘HAAAWWWWWW’ sound sliced through the crisp morning silence. Was I in the path of a road train? Was I on a steam liner out in the ocean...where on earth was I and what on earth was that noise? I woke with a start from the incredibly loud hornlike sound! Certainly, didn’t need an alarm clock this morning...I sat bolt-right up in bed. As I focused I saw a herd of wild donkey at the top end of the horses’ paddock. They’d come in to check out what this circus was all about and let out another very loud bray...or eeoring...or hee-hawing...I don’t really know what you call the sound a donkey makes. But it can most definitely be likened to that of a road train’s horn especially when it rips into the pristine morning silence. Everyone in camp was now wide awake!
We have a pet donkey and a couple of camels which run with the riding horses at home, (actually, I should say ‘had’ a pet donkey. At this point he's away from home becoming a rich and famous movie star, recently having a cameo role in Bryan Brown and Sam Neil’s new movie ‘Sweet Country’) So our pet donkey ran in the horsepaddock with the horses and to begin with they would absolutely freak out at the sight of him. Eventually they became used to his crazy little antics and hideous braying and they all became friends, even the camels. So, thank goodness on this morning the horses just stood and looked on as the little donkey herd curiously came in for a closer inspection. They didn’t panic or try to escape, taking the electric fence yard with them. They simply stood and looked back.
I think back to when they first saw our pet donkey at home and the weeks of commotion which took place as they slowly became accustomed to him and know for a fact, if the horses had never seen donkey’s before...we’d still be searching the desert for them now!
We fed and watered the horses, checked them for injuries, groomed them, rolled our swags, got dressed, ate breakfast, saddled up, packed our saddle bags and were on the road again by 8am. I was riding TinTin and leading Dually, Tash rode Bloany and led Gypsy. We had to get a few more kilometres under our belt today if we were to reach our ideal camp spot 20kms from Lajamanu tomorrow night. Waving goodbye to our amazing support crew, we trotted off knowing we’d see them all again in about 4/5 hours at lunch camp to water and feed the horses.
The day was sitting around a perfect 27*C with a nice breeze blowing from the East. Dually was full of cheeky antics and kept me entertained for hours as we rode along. I’d let his lead rope go and he’d wonder off to do his own thing for a bit then double pace to catch up with us again. All my horses have a very special place in my heart, all so very different, unique and wonderful! I was fortunate, I sent one a short video of one of his antics to my sister on social media, which thankfully meant a copy was saved when I lost the 1,500-odd photos and videos when my usb storage crashed.
We changed our riding horses at lunchtime, now I was riding Dually, and Tash was riding Gypsy. There was plenty of wildlife around, beautiful green, Ringed Neck Parrots, pink crested, Major Mitchell Cockatoo’s, Budgerigars, the birdlife was wonderful. We also saw the owners of some of the Desert Tracks, a dingo, a cat, a big, mean looking, brindle, scrub bull and another herd of donkeys including a couple of smaller yearlings. This didn’t appear to be the mob with the little foal, if it was, they’d hidden him very well because we never saw it with the other donkeys.
About 90kms from Suplejack heading north along the Lajamanu Road we came to ‘The Jump Up’. It was notorious for taking truckies heading south by surprise as the intensity of the incline tends to creep up on you. It guards it secret until it’s too late, not giving drivers enough warning to create the momentum to get to the top without dropping right back to first gear and literally crawling the last hundred metres to the top of the hill.
Coming up from the sound though was a completely different story. From our direction, heading north, you travel though seemingly flat, heavily scrubby country and then suddenly it breaks away down onto low plateau country. At the top of the ‘The Jump Up’ you feel like you’re on top of the world!
We would have spent an hour at the top, taking photo’s...positioning the horses in just the right place so I could get all four of their heads in the shot with the breathtaking scenery of the countryside in the background. The photos were amazing… but sadly they only live on in our imaginations.
We rode down the steep decline to about 3kms from the bottom of ‘The Jump Up’ where I knew of a little sandy bottom, rock hole where there I was hoping they’d still be water from the previous wet season. When my children were little, we’d pull up on our way home from Katherine and let them swim in the almost magical waterhole bordered by majestic ghost gums, standing guard around the edges.
As we rode up, I was glad to see there was still some water in it. The horses were thirsty, and we were in the hottest part of the day. As we got closer we could see the water was a bit discoloured, but not bad enough to phase them, they were keen to get in and have a drink.
We were nearing the end of our third day on the road, this meant our water drums were all but empty. Dennis and Aunty Marg would have to either drive onto Lajamanu, or backtrack to Suplejack to fill them again. There was one other option...we’d heard about a roadside bore which had been put in as a safety measure for travellers who’d broken down on the road. Fully equipped with a stainless-steel hand pump, Rod and Dennis were keen to try it out. It was close and convenient...but certainly wasn’t the easiest option for them! It was quite a work out and hard yakka, but they successfully filled all three, 200ltr drums from that little stainless-steel hand pump. It took 900pumps to fill one drum! What an effort...who need’s weights and a gym for an arm and core workout...certainly not these blokes, give them a hand driven bore pump in the middle of the desert any day!
Back at the waterhole you’d have thought the horses hadn’t see water in months…they marched straight to the middle and drank, splashed and played. There wasn’t a lot of room with all four horses splashing and creating a spar effect, there was water going everywhere, it was a welcome relief to the afternoon heat. Tash was looking a bit nervous, thinking back to the morning before when Gypsy desperately wanted to lay down.
It was a mission to ensure we didn’t our gear wet as water splashed around. Two-way, satellite phone, mobile phone camera…they were all living dangerously! I looked over at Tash with Gypsy going to town, we laughed and frantically rearranged our gear into waterproof areas of the saddlebags. Tash had literally just handed me the sat phone as water crazy Gypsy ‘plonked’ himself straight down into the water, not giving a second thought to where he landed. He didn’t have a care in the world right now and certainly wasn’t taking any chances at being told he wasn’t allowed to have a swim today.
Down in the water and on his side Gypsy immediately began to submerse his head under the water splashing it back and forward as though scratching his neck on the bottom of the waterhole. Tash was becoming a little panicked as she’d caught her foot under the saddle as he went down and now he had pinned her in position during his ungraceful entry into the water. To make matters worse Gypsy was now clumsily laying right under TinTin’s hind quarters, almost rolling Tash under his stomach. The horses were so preoccupied with splashing and having fun they didn’t even worry about the mad scramble going on from Tash as she used TinTin’s hindquarters to leverage herself out from under the oblivious Gypsy, who was still splashing around on his side in the water.
As it turned out everything and everyone was ok. In hindsight it could have been a lot worse, lucky TinTin never panicked while Tash was scrambling to get out from under Gypsy, and lucky she never hurt her leg when he laid down on her. Tash was soaked through and her ankle was a bit tender as she stood there in the water letting Gypsy finish his little bath. When he finally stood up, water cascaded from the saddlebags and he looked like a drowned rat, but we were all fine and much cooler. Tash and I had the giggles up by this stage and the last 6kms of the day was over before we knew it.
Rod had set up a very welcomed shower set up for us, Norma had cooked a beautiful feed of rissoles and mash and Dennis and Marg had an amazing fire, stoked and blaring to warm up beside as the evening chill fell upon camp. We cracked a beer and replayed the scenario over and over in excited laughter as we all sat around the campfire retelling the day’s events.
Gypsy certainly got the last laugh on this day but for the next 28, he was under full surveillance whenever we went anywhere near a waterhole...
Next… ‘Stories from the Saddle’ tells about our adventures from day 4 and how it came to be that our beloved Aunty Marg needs New Shoes.