On horseback through the Victorian Alps – Australian Drover style.
By: Jonathon Reynolds
I look ahead to the next rise. A horse and rider leading a packhorse is silhouetted, black against the grey sky. Below me the trail descends in a series of large steps, looking very small and narrow and not nearly big enough for a horse. Straight ahead looking between the twitching ears of my horse I watch as the rider in front of me coaxes her horse down the “staircase”. Now it is my turn. I can feel the muscles in my horse bunch and then he jumps, yes jumps, down from step to step and soon I rein up beside the riders in front of me. I twist in my saddle to watch the other riders and their horses descend the steep trail. Soon we are all down and ride along our trail into the welcome greenery of the forest.
This is the last day of a five day horse trip through the Bogong Mountain area with Bogong Horse Adventures. We have had perfect weather every day except for today when the clouds descended and cut us off from the rest of the world. Just half an hour go I could barely see the horse in front on me and now we are just under the clouds, a greyish white ceiling a few feet above our heads. We ride out of the trees again into a broad saddle between two smaller peaks and the clouds lift giving a glimpse of the valley floor far below on one side and an endless row of blue hills fading into the distance on the other side. Yavul – an Israeli working on this trip – crosses in front of me leading a packhorse. The mane of his horse and the packhorse are blown back in the wind and behind him the mountains descend in a series of crumpled blue/brown ridges. As the mist descends again I think back over the past week.
The week began early Monday morning, packing up bedrolls (swags in Australian), packing saddle bags and finally getting to know our horses. All the group arrived before 7:30 in the morning and we ate a large breakfast together. I struggled to remember all the names and finally gave up figuring that I would have all week to learn them.
The first thing I noticed when climbing into the saddle was the lack of a real pommel and horn and then there were two little wings sticking out of the saddle just in front of where my thighs rested. Not quite a western saddle and not quite an English saddle the Australian drover saddle is very comfortable and superbly suited to work and riding in the mountains. Since the cattlemen here used long whips instead of ropes there is no need for a horn.
Our group had a large number of packhorses – 7 in all – to carry all the cooking gear and food as well as horse grain and extra tents and tarps. I was amazed at how old fashioned and just plain old some of the gear was. I come from a background of having the lightest most compact high tech gear possible and some of this gear would not have been out of place a hundred years ago.
Now, looking back over the week I realise that this is part of the appeal of this trip. It is like stepping back in time to an era where Gortex and high tech fabrics had not been invented yet and if it rained you just got a little wet. This being said I had my high tech fabric jacket with me because I have been wet enough to know that wet is not romantic at all, it is just really, really cold!
The high country here in the state of Victoria, Australia is home to a hundred year old tradition of cattle ranching which is just now starting to change. It is a young history and like all young traditions the followers are very passionate about every part of the tradition and lifestyle. A few years ago a huge wildfire swept through this area and most of the high plains where the cattle men took their cattle for summer feed was completely burned off. The high plains have now been closed to cattle for the next couple of years to let the land recover and there is some debate over whether the cattle should be allowed back into the high country at all.
From the very first day most of the country we rode through had been completely burned over. I have many memories of a file of horses and riders winding up through a forest of tall poles, black at the base and silver at the top rising from a vibrant green meadow reaching for a brilliant blue sky. The land which had been so devastated by the fire it is starkly beautiful, its very bones exposed to the strong Australian sunshine.
Our route followed a long twisty line looped over the landscape like a tangled rope. Up down and around we flirted with the peak of Mount Bogon until the last day when we rode right into the clouds and over the summit. In the last day we went from the highest point right back to the farm in the valley floor we had started from five days earlier. I now know everyone’s names and much about them since we have now shared the experience of riding through the high country at the peak of summer. There are few ways of getting to know people better than riding and camping with them through rugged mountains. The shared experience brought us together and created a group out of a number of distinct individuals.
For More Information:
Bogong Horseback Adventures
PO Box 230
Mt Beauty, Victoria,
Phone: (03) 5754 4849