When I was a horse-crazy little girl, I became obsessed with Australia. I imagined a vast land where brumbies roamed wild and koalas played in the gum trees. Dingoes lived in the woods. Kangaroos hopped around everywhere. I dreamed of the day I would go to this magical place that some called Oz.
Decades later, I had my chance. A project at work meant I’d be going to Queensland, Australia, for a week. I was so excited during the two months before my trip, I could barely sleep.
I knew that while I was in the Land Down Under, I’d have to go horseback riding. As it turned out, I had an opportunity to ride in two amazing places: south Brisbane in the country’s Scenic Rim Region, and the beaches of Moreton Bay, an inlet of the Coral Sea.
Here, I’ll give you a from-the-saddle report of my Aussie adventure. Plus, I’ll tell you a little bit about Aussie tack and apparel and give you a guide to Australian riding-vacation outfitters.
A couple of weeks before leaving on my trip, I tracked down a stable called Slickers Horse Riding in Brisbane, Queensland, and managed to convince a co-worker to go riding with me the day we arrived. I made a reservation for a two-hour ride.
After a 12-hour flight from Los Angeles to Brisbane, my co-worker and I drove straight to Slickers. After getting off the main highway, we traveled along a two-lane road that wound through a forest of eucalyptus trees and was dotted with “koala crossing” signs. We saw kangaroos grazing on the side of the road. I couldn’t believe I was really here.
The stable was right in the midst of all the lovely eucalyptus trees. A large, covered paddock housed rows of horses, all saddled up and ready to go. I was given a flea-bitten gray mare and a white riding helmet that looked like it was leftover from the 1970s. I felt silly, but I wasn’t alone. About 20 people were part of our group, and they had to wear them too.
I was thrilled to see I was going to be riding in an Australian stock saddle. What else? As soon as I mounted up, I could see how comfortable this ride was going to be.
The mare carried me along in a nose-to tail line as we rode through the trees. Not long into the ride, we stopped at a small lake and let the horses drink.
The landscape along the trail was green and rolling, which surprised me. I had the stereotypical image of Australia as being a flat, dry desert. I found out that it’s dry in the central part of the country, but not in the warm, wet eastern part.
The open terrain soon narrowed, and we were winding through rows of tightly packed gum trees. One of our young guides asked whether the more experienced riders wanted to canter. I was among several people who raised their hands, and we were escorted away from the other riders.
While the beginners took a slightly different route back to the stable at a walk, about six other riders and I went down the trail at a mad gallop. Not exactly what I call a canter! There was no way I could have stopped my horse even if I’d wanted to. Luckily, that Australian stock saddle was very secure.
As we neared the stable, the sun started to set, and that’s when the parrots came out. Flocks of pink and gray galahs and huge white cockatoos screeched and swooped around us as they prepared to roost for the night. Even a pair of red lorikeets landed on a tree nearby and watched as we rode past.
The Sunshine Coast
After working for a week in Brisbane, it was time to meet my horsy friends Maree and Warrick, whom I’d met on Facebook a few weeks prior to my trip. When Maree came to get me in my hotel, we hit it off instantly. We talked horses the whole way back to her home in Beachmere, on the Sunshine Coast, not far from Brisbane.
Beachmere is on Moreton Bay, an inlet of the Coral Sea. Our drive afforded me a view of the ocean; Maree told me I’d soon be riding there.
Maree introduced me to Nugget, the Quarter Horse gelding I’d be riding. (The irony that I’d be riding an American breed while on the other side of the world wasn’t lost on me.) Maree would be riding her part-Waler, Ruffy. Warrick would be riding his Spanish Mustang, Caz, and ponying Arrow, their Brumby/Spanish Mustang cross. Chuck, the dog, would be joining us, too.
I asked Maree about the endurance saddle she put on Nugget. It looked different from any other endurance saddle I’d seen. She explained it was a Mackinder, made by Australian saddlemaker Alan Mackinder. I would soon discover this saddle to be the most comfortable saddle I’d ever experienced.
It began drizzling as we started to ride out toward the beach. Maree asked me if I wanted to quit. I told her no way! I was determined to ride on the beach in Australia. It would take more than a little drizzle to stop me!
We rode through a pretty gum tree grove filled with lantana (a perennial flowering plant in the verbena family, Verbenaceae) growing wild on either side of the trail. When I voiced my admiration of the beautiful flowers, Maree was surprised. Australians consider it a weed. In Southern California, we buy the plant in nurseries for our yards.
Ten minutes into our ride through the grove, we came to an opening in the trees. And there it was — the beach. The drizzle had turned to a light rain by then, but I barely noticed it. All I could see were the beautiful waters of the Pacific. The sand was covered with a shallow layer of silver water reflecting the gray clouds above.
We followed the coastline as we rode, getting wetter and wetter as the rain came down. Maree was disappointed that the sun wasn’t shining because, she said, the water is usually so blue, creating a stunning view across the bay. I reassured her that it didn’t matter. I was in Australia. Riding a horse. On the beach. It couldn’t possibly be any better.
Audrey Pavia, an award-winning freelance writer based in Norco, California, is a competitive trail rider and member of the North American Trail Ride Conference. She’s the author of Trail Riding: A Complete Guide (Howell Book House imprint of Wiley; www.howellbookhouse.com).
In the Saddle
Mount Bundy Station
Equathon Horse Riding
Slicker’s Horse Riding
Four Oaks Farm
Rusty’s Riding Retreat
Tails of the Trail