Sunday, November 16, 2008

Riding bareback in the Coral Sea

Me on Morgan on Myall Beach, Cape Tribulation

Years ago I woke from a dream about riding horses in the surf, suffused with a sense of joy and bliss and peace and pleasure that carried into my waking state. This seemed surprising, since I didn't really associate either the ocean or horses with those feelings. But it was a powerful dream and over the years since I have used it many times as a visualisation to represent self love and self nurturing.

So a couple of weeks ago, when I was walking along the beach and saw a group of people taking their horses into the ocean, I recognised the scene from my imagination. I had been thinking for a while that I might like to do the Cape Tribulation Horse Rides, but all the excuses I've ever used for never riding* had been keeping me from taking the opportunity this year. But when I casually asked Juliette if she would she like to go horseriding during her visit here, she instantly and enthusiastically agreed so I was committed. I kept busy 'til then so that I wouldn't have to think about all the things that scare me about riding, and suddenly it was time to get on a horse.

The horse riding groups don't usually swim in the sea, so I assumed that was a special treat kept for experienced riders only, and that as a total novice my horse would just be walking tamely along the beach for photo opportunities as most rides seem to do. But when Steve picked us up to take us to the horses, he said there were only three of us going on the trek and that we would be going in the water!

I think the knowledge that I would soon be in the sea with the horses was so enticing that I forgot to pay much attention to my old fears, and instead summoned all the theoretical knowledge gleaned from reading KM Peyton novels to try to ride as well as I could. I was even comfortable enough to actually get impatient with the slow walk to the beach, at least until we tried trotting and I discovered how painful that can be, bouncing up and down on a hard saddle.

Morgan after his dip in the sea.

Finally, on a ribbon of silver sand between the azure sea and the jade-green rainforest, it was time to strip the humans down to our bathers, and the horses down to their halters. First we led the horses into the warm water where they pawed at the water and Morgan immediately lay down and had a roll in the shallows. It was a little scarey to have my bare feet so close to his big hooves under the stirred-up sandy water, especially as once Morgan had his roll, he clearly felt that one dip was enough and kept trying to go back onto the shore. I had to be very firm, and tug him hard to follow the other horses into deeper water.

When the water was deep enough we climbed onto our horse's bare backs which is considerably less secure than riding on a saddle, and more so, I suspect, when your bare legs and the horse's back are both slippery wet! But I was less scared in the water than I had been on land, since I figured the water would cushion a fall. Of course I didn't fall off though, I just squeezed my legs (consequential inner thigh pain is still making stair climbs a challenge) and held on tight to Morgan's mane as we walked into deeper water.

I had to work hard to encourage him to go deep enough to start swimming as some of the other, more enthusiastic, horses were doing and as I have dreamed for so many years. We got pretty deep but he couldn't be persuaded to swim. Even so, it was a dream of 'joy and bliss and peace and pleasure' come true.

Back on dry land, I discovered that Morgan's most notable personality trait is that he has to lead all the other horses off the beach. Steve and Sarah said it was 'his five minutes of fame', and indeed as soon as he was allowed to, he set off with sure purpose, heading south towards the mangroves. It was the only part of the ride where we weren't following the other horses and I shared in the pride and pleasure he clearly felt as we walked tall along the sand.

Once we were back on the trail I had to be quite firm with him about not bending down to eat grass. He was very enthusiastic at every chance to canter, taking off earlier than the other horses ahead of us. Cantering caused me to giggle with terror which I tried to disguise as enthusiastic yee-ha's, which probably only egged Morgan on to greater speed. But by the last canter Iwas starting to believe I wouldn't fall off immanently, the hysterical laughter wasn't bubbling up spontaneously and my yee-ha's were of unambivalent delight.

We followed winding trails through paddocks and rainforest, glimpsing gorgeous sea views and crossing creeks. Near the end of the ride we stopped for afternoon tea and a (people-only) swim in Myall Creek. I felt both safe and challenged, and enjoyed a new (tall) perspective on some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.

I have to endorse the other comments I've heard from many visitors, some of whom have ridden horses all over the world, that the Cape Tribulation horse riding experience is outstanding. Those twenty minutes with Morgan in the Coral Sea stands out as one of the greatest highlights of my six months at Cape Tribulation (along with snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef).

The grin of a woman holding onto the male who has just made her dream come true

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* I was once, briefly and unmemorably, on a horse about 30 years ago, so for the purposes of this post, let me write as though I've never ridden before, because that's certainly how it felt.

3 comments:

PG said...

oh how utterly lovely! You are my little bit of tonic from the wet English winter, and now I know you have snorkled in the GBR I am having to stop myself turning faintly green with envy.

Carol said...

Meliors, I do admire your ability to have a go at everything. What a lovely story about taking the horses into the sea. As I have a very longstanding problem with horses I don't think I could have done that. I hope there's going to be a book at the end of all this adventuring.

E said...

I'm soooo jealous!!