Trails and Tribulations

In September, I started a new job at a trail riding stable in Cape Tribulation!

Cape Tribulation is about 3 hours north of Cairns and is home to not one, but two World Heritage-listed sites: the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. My new job including taking care of the horses and guiding trail rides. It was very similar to what I used to do in Jasper, Alberta – just instead of going through the mountains, we rode through rainforest and along tropical beaches.

Photo from my friend Sarah Curran.

I lived right on the property while I was there, in a rustic (and rusty) staff house. It was very basic but had three main advantages: I had a VERY short commute to work, plus lovely views out my front porch:

And – best of all – the horses would come up to visit me in the mornings! One horse, Basil, came every single morning that I was there.

Basil, likely wondering: “Do I smell oats?”

Initially, Basil tried to either knock over my bowl of oatmeal, spill my coffee, or eat my toast (smearing jam all over the table) each morning. Eventually I learned to appease him with carrots and apples, and we became good friends after that:

Basil and I taking a selfie.

At work, the stables were quite busy. The tourism sector in far north Queensland, oddly enough, is booming in some places. Queensland has had extremely low COVID cases (only 1206 in total), with their state borders closed throughout most of the year (I came in during a three-week window when the border opened in July). Life is relatively normal in Queensland right now, compared to almost everywhere else – people can still go out to restaurants, shops, tours, and so on, with little worry of COVID transmission (although there are of course COVID precautions everywhere, such as hand sanitisers and social distancing measures). A lot of Queenslanders have been holidaying up in the Cairns area, since they can’t go anywhere else. Lots of people who came on rides mentioned that they’d had a holiday booked for Bali, Europe, North America…. but it had to be cancelled due to COVID-19, so they went on holiday within Australia instead! Many of them commented that, though they lived in Australia, they had never been to the Cairns area before, or the Great Barrier Reef. I think a lot of us choose to explore other countries before we see our own, perhaps because different places are exotic and thus more exciting. Australia and Canada are similar, though, in that both have stunning scenery – their residents are truly lucky to live in such places!

So, despite COVID-19 putting a damper on the tourism industry everywhere, certain businesses within northern Queensland still seemed to be doing okay. Many of the businesses that relied on a high volume of clients were suffering, but some of the ones that could survive on smaller numbers were doing exceptionally well. The horse riding stable was one such business – the maximum number of riders they could take was twenty a day (ten on the morning ride, and ten on the afternoon ride), and they were almost constantly sold out while I was there.

Because of this busy-ness, the stable actually had acquired more horses to add to their herd (and this, actually, is why I got a job!). They needed somebody to start riding the new horses and get them used to going out on the ride, and make sure that they were all completely safe for guests to ride. In other words: I was a paid guinea pig!

The first horse I rode was a little chestnut mare named Becky; she used to be a polocrosse pony. One of the other guides had been riding her, and she was actually lovely to ride, she just had a bit too much energy and needed to settle down a bit:

Riding along the beach
Riding Becky along the beach. PC: Mekayla.

The second horse I rode was Tom. We did some groundwork and then I hopped on in the round yard (I was the first person at the stables to try riding him – we knew that he had been an ex-racehorse, but nothing else). He was so, so good and quickly became one of my favourites to ride.

Third up – I rode Tom’s best friend, a little bay horse named Jerry!

Tom and Jerry, hanging out together in a stall (Tom is the darker brown one).

Jerry was a little younger than Tom, and a little bit more reactive to things (for example, he was quite afraid of the ocean at first – a bit of a problem for a beach horse!). However, he was an absolute sweetheart, and soon enough had won my heart as well:

Tom & Jerry, being very good boys (standing still and waiting patiently) on the beach

I spent the first few weeks riding those three, and getting them going on the ride each day. Pretty soon, all three of them were taking guests out on the trail.

After that, one of my co-workers left for Finland, and I took over guiding at the front of the ride. Up front I normally rode a horse named Diamantina (Tina for short), who was very quirky and so much fun to ride!

Tina!

The trail ride we did was the same every day. We started at the stables, and then wove through the Daintree rainforest:

We would emerge onto Myall Beach and ride along the sand. If we had experienced riders, I would get to take them for a canter along the beach – which I absolutely loved!!

Big smiles after going for a run down the beach! PC: Sarah Curran.

Next we would splash through the water (tides permitting!) on the way back:

Guiding the ride through the water with Tina. PC: Sarah Curran.
Splashing through the water with Jerry

Then it was back through the rainforest, a few meadows, and finally the stables:

Tom in front of the stables. Mount Sorrow in the background.

A couple highlights of my time there included:

Mekayla, one of my friends from the road trip, came for a ride one day!

Mekayala, Flipper, & I

Seeing cassowaries on the trail!! They were definitely in the area, and we even saw them while riding a couple of times, but the birds seemed a bit casso-wary of the horses, and usually disappeared into the trees as soon as they sensed the horses nearby:

My lovely co-worker Vivien. She was such a highlight of my time in Cape Trib and is genuinely one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. She rode a horse named Admiral, who gets his name because he loves the ocean. Here he is, just before he tried to knock over my Hallowe’en pumpkins:

Another friend, Sarah Curran, came up for a few days. She and I worked together in Jasper last summer – it was so fun to see her and ride with her again!

Sarah & Basil (orange bridle), and Tina (green bridle) & I

I finished up work there at the end of November. It had been a great experience in many ways, and I had made some wonderful friends… many of them four-legged!

It was sad to say goodbye… but it was time for me to move on.

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