The Man from Snowy River – horse riding getaway
When I think of Australia, I see images of The Great Barrier Reef, Uluru and Sydney’s Harbour Bridge but at the forefront is always the remarkable landscape that’s captured in movies such as the 1982 classic “The Man from Snowy River.”
Fortunately the featured backdrop to this famous feature film is only a three-hour drive north east of Melbourne.
Besides its charming disposition, which you can read about http://bit.ly/XL5p1q, Mansfield is also known for adventurous activities such as skiing, mountain biking or in my case a two-day horseback adventure with Watson’s Mountain Country Trail Rides.
So for the weekend it’s adios city slicker, hello cowgirl.
Arriving on Friday night, the town is mostly buzzing with skiers eyeing off the heights of Mount Buller. A quick stop at the Mansfield Hotel provides time for a hearty counter meal and a huddle around the warmth of the blazing fire before navigating a further twenty-minutes out to Howqua Valley Views.
Driving down an old dusty, pitch-black track as the phone reception gets weaker and Google maps drop off the radar I think of another Australian film “Wolf Creek” a scary tale about an outback murder. Let’s hope the tailing headlights are also part of our group.
Finally we stumble upon the old converted accommodation. The crackles of fire light up the rustic but spacious converted stable that has the capacity to lodge up to twenty-six people. It doesn’t take long for me to bunker down for the night.
The next morning we head to the stables, after a brief personality test I head into the paddock to meet ‘Mitch’ the unionist. A small horse with a healthy appetite and when it comes to eating he knows his rights. Stop him grazing and he protests with an angry stamp of his hoof. I know where he is coming from so I give the little fella as much as he can to eat.
It takes about half an hour to form a trusting connection with Mitch, now fondly known as ‘my little pony.’ In a slow and steady walking pace I keep to the horse’s rhythm, as its body sways from side to side, it’s almost meditative.
Slowly the scenery drifts by. The warm air is filled with the distinctive eucalyptus smell of gum trees and as the suns ray’s dance around the reflective dams as the pleasant sound of laughing kookaburras resonating through the lush green landscape. My lungs are filled to the brim with fresh air that once belonged to Victoria’s traditional cattlemen.
During the course of the weekend we pick up the pace from a walk to a trot. I have to admit trotting a lot harder than I thought it would be. Instead of rising and lowering with the pattern of Mitch’s movements I find myself clumsily bumping up and down. I’m glad when we break out into the easier, more thrilling pace of a canter. With my feet firmly locked into the stirrups and toes pushed down, I clench the muscles in my legs and send all my weight into my feet. As Mitch takes off huffing and puffing, gaining more and more momentum I relax into a smoother ride that gives me a complete sense of freedom but also a stronger connection with my horse.
River crossings prove to be a little challenge due to Mitch’s small stature I am forced to lift my legs as high as possible to avoid a drenching. Of course my horse seizes the moment to stop for a drink, after all he knows entitlements.
Stopping for lunch we spread out around the shed that was featured in a Masterchef episode but the highlight of the tour is stopping at what movie critics describe as the “terrible descent.” This is the spot where Tom Burlinson (Jim Craig) took a one-take shot, a full gallop down the cliff face.
For me it’s a steady, controlled manoeuvre to the top of the cliff for a photo opportunity. Holding on to the reins tightly I silently pray Mitch is not ready to showcase an award-winning stunt. It appears I have nothing to fear, the fresh country air is making of us both hungry and Mitch would prefer to be indulging in a pasture than leaping off cliff faces.
After about 9 hours in the saddle and discovering muscles I didn’t know existed I am exhausted and I can barely move as we head back to the bright city lights.
Waking up on Monday morning and slipping back into city heels, my tense muscles are aching but to have discovered this region on horseback is a pain that I’m happy to have.