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Tasmania by Horseback, Part Two

Published: 12/8/2012
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Editor's Note: Dr. Rebecca Gimenez is president of Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue, Inc. and recently traveled to Australia to teach, tour, and present at Equitana, the major horse expo of Australia.

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By Dr. Rebecca Gimenez

Read Part One

There were several steep connector trails that amazed me as the route looked as though it went straight up.
It did!
The grade was well over 35 percent and directly uphill from rocks and slick volcanic mud. But the horses were used to it and climbed solidly up and up. 
When I commented to Ray that the local trail developers could use a course in trail design to prevent erosion, he laughed. We were following a trail that the wallabies had developed through the ancient white gum trees on red volcanic soils over millions of years, he said. 
However, most of the trails are based on ATV and 4 wheel drive trails, these were far more sedate and followed the geography in a sane manner.
In between the trees in areas where it was very wet, where little trickles of water run down the hills, there are tree or man ferns – named appropriately as they are two meters to three meters tall, and the fronds might be two meters long – almost reminding you of a short palm tree except that it is most obviously a fern. 
Even the other native ferns (imagine similar to boston, bracken and ostrich fern species) appear to be on steroids – much taller than what we are used to in the USA. These are all ancient forms of plant life that DID live in the Jurassic period. Unlike the dinosaurs, they have managed to survive into modern times. They are, however, experiencing pressure from people who dig them up out of the wild and transplant them into suburban lawns and are currently listed as a “concern” species – requiring a permit to dig.  It was quite a special treat to observe them in their native place – unadorned by English tea roses as I had seen in town, but instead by the native vines, shrubs and baby trees all reaching unabashed for the light that streams down through the canopy.

Where trees had been blown down over the trail, we had to step or jump them, but most of the time they were too big so we went round to the side, bushwhacking through the Australian bracken ferns that are over a meter tall, acacias with a zillion thorns, and trees of all sizes. 
When we broke out from the thick forests at the top of the mountain, we could see in every direction all the way to the Bass Straight that divides Tasmania from the mainland.
The wind blowing over the steep hills has formed the shrubs and trees into grotesque miniatures that look like a mad topiarist was shaping them all along.
Today the wind was not cruel but glorious and carried the scent of wildflowers into our faces. 

At the very top, only the wallabies (and pest introduced species – rabbits) had been gorging themselves on the rich grasses. They have trimmed it efficiently into greens and roughs, as smooth as a golf course in some places.

We spent several minutes just sitting there on top of the mountain, allowing the horses to catch their breath and eat some grass. The view in every direction was just begging for a camera, but I knew that it would never be able to be captured in two dimensions. 
We began a steep descent through the imported gorse and blackberry bushes, winding our way between the rocks on a trail that seemed to have been cut into the mountain for our use. Quite amazing although it probably is based on an old cattle track.

At several points we trotted our horses along the flatter and wider trails, but Ray did not encourage anyone to “cowboy” their horses or go faster than they felt comfortable.  The horses were not deadheads, and that made it fun to be able to trot along and feel the horses’ excitement at the nice weather.  They probably would have liked to go faster, but the trails were a little too wet and tight.
As we rode, I was impressed by the professionalism of our guide, sharing what he knew of the plant and animal life around us, as well as the local geology and history.  When we finished the ride back at the top of the gravel road that he calls home, he removed the tack and looked for any evidence of rubs or injuries on each horse, then released them to pasture. 
What an excellent way to spend my extra day in Tasmania!

TRAVEL NOTES:  You can't fly directly to Tasmania. You have to fly into Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane, Australia for international customs check, then get to Tasmania by ship or plane. 
Get an international license for driving a car so that you can drive on the LEFT side of the road here. 
Tasmania is the smallest state in Australia –  an island directly south of Melbourne.  The weather is cool all year round since it is so close to Antarctica. (When you purchase an oilskin jacket or coat, you will know why they developed them.)  It's a highly agrarian society built on sheep, cattle, horses, mining and forestry. The largest cities are Launceston and Hobart on opposite sides of the state. The entire population is only a half million people - compare this to Sydney and environs, where over 7 million people live in the same area as big as Tasmania.
Check out Cradle Mountain Trailride Adventures

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12/10/2012 Rebecca
Thank you for reading - I really enjoyed this trip!

   
"While there are many things you can fake in life, pretending that you know horses when you don't isn't one of them" - Cooky McClung