Well, finally made it to Tasmania back in March after many indecisive weeks of saying ‘I have no idea’ when asked, ‘What are your upcoming travels plans?’
It’s just that I loved Melbourne so much it became hard to think about saying goodbye, especially after I became so settled in Fitzroy, with a great group of friends, a good job, a fantastic place to live, a great social life. I had it all.
My inability to stay in one place whilst travelling soon prevailed as I knew it would, it was only a matter of time. To quell the feeling I needed to visit more of the country and so off I went to sunny Tassie.
I had arranged to do some volunteering at Horse Riding Tasmania for the majority of time I was there. The vague plan was to work with the horses for a couple of weeks (rent free) so I could then use the money I had saved to find a travel buddy and see the beautiful sights.
Needless to say, it didn’t exactly go according to plan.
Sharon, the owner of HRT let me know that she couldn’t pick me up until the following day. No problem, I’ll get a hostel. I made a last minute booking and met Alex there, a larger than life (personality wise!) American girl in her late twenties. I was exhausted from the journey and also because I had been out until 6am that morning causing mischief! Despite this, I agreed to ‘go for a quick burger’ which turned into several alcoholic beverages, meeting 2 male Americans and 2 male Aussies, two cheeky bars, a trip to another hostel and rolling into bed at 3am. I was beyond amused.
The following day Sharon and Shane picked me up with their float in tow and we left for the middle of nowhere. It took us an hour to get there and most of that was spent on a dirt road leading up to the riding stables. I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting but when Shane said in the car, ‘It’s as rough as nails out there’, I knew I was in for a bit of a rocky ride. The ‘house’, a term I use loosely, was a 2 bedroom caravan type set-up with an uber small kitchen and bathroom. Everything is off grid, so luke warm showers once a week, if it’s yellow let it mellow in the loo and a hot cup of tea once a day. The yard encompassed a small round pen, 15 conjoining ‘stalls’ for the horses (basically a segregated box sectioned off by electric fence) and a few shipping containers where the helpers stay.
And that was it. This was my home for the next 3 weeks.
I remember thinking I was glad I am a) a chilled out person b) up for a new experience and c) had a bit of knowledge roughing it outside in a work environment before.
I was there to work but the deal was only for around 4 hours a day as that would be enough to cover myself for my food and accommodation. In reality it ended up being a whole lot more than that. I didn’t mind too much to start because I was glad to be kept busy; there wasn’t exactly much to do around the place if you weren’t otherwise working. Duties involved, poo-picking, feeding, turning the ponies out, rugging, grooming, tacking if there was a ride and riding if there was a trail ride.
All pretty simple right?
Unfortunately Sharon is the type of person to make life more complicated than it needs to be in my opinion. She winds people up without even noticing she’s doing so and thinks she’s always right. We’ve all come across her before. Instead of asking, ‘Would you mind putting Willow’s saddle on?’ her sentence structure would be, ‘Is there a reason why Willow’s saddle isn’t on?’. Now this formulation of words makes me feel a whole heap of things, small, inferior, inadequate, angry, and it starts to grate massively when you get it constantly.
I kept reminding myself that I was there to work only 4 hours a day but that only infuriated me more. 4 hours work is roughly $80 somewhere else and there was no way my food and accommodation accounted to that, let alone the 12 hours work a day I had been doing.
General Daily Routine:
Up for 8am
Feed til 9.30 (it takes that long)
Either turn horses out or tack up for a ride
Tack up for arvo ride/help with Sharon’s horse solutions text
Put hay out
Turn horses out
Crawl into Bed
Another incident occurred where Sharon complained to me that she went into town that day and could have popped into the feed shop except I didn’t let her know the feeds were running low. EXCUSE ME, isn’t it HER responsibility to ask me? Or perhaps even to check herself before she went out? Rather than rely on little old me who’s busy scurrying around. I said sorry like the kind-hearted person I am and she walked away saying, ‘it’s going to be another week before I can go again’. The cheek!
It’s sad that backpackers are still exploited so heavily. I feel like a different breed of person when I come up against people who are that belligerent. I know Sharon has many years of experience living and working with helpers. She must get some really rude people as well as people who can’t speak a word of English. I still don’t think that it is okay to talk to them like they’re idiotic though?
Another thing I noticed was that health and safety was so over the top for Sharon. She obviously has to abide by a certain number of rules in order to maintain her business, plus the fact that Aussies do not get free healthcare out here so if someone falls off, Sharon is likely to get sued. I felt like this fact alone dictated a lot of what fun could be had at the stables.
To add to this, Sharon and Shane’s relationship was always in turmoil and I felt like the middle man a lot of the time, with both of them turning to me for an ear. They’re both over 50 years old and should clearly know better but seemed to thrive off the drama that was taking over their lives, even though they would profusely complain about it. I noticed that they were so wrapped up in their own bubble, they little interest in asking about mine; about what I had been up to, where I came from, what my interests were. They didn’t want to know, they simply wanted someone to work.
Despite my research into finding a travel mate for the rest of my time in Tassie, I did not have any luck so spent the whole three weeks working at the stables. I didn’t actually mind too much seeing as I was able to save a lot of money but it does mean that I have a longing to go back to Tasmania and see everything I missed.
It wasn’t all bad though. I had some fun times on that farm, dramatically increased by the arrival of another helper in the form of a friendly French guy named Will. We didn’t work much together as he wasn’t very ‘horsey’ but we ate meals together and shared lots of laughs. Sharon took us wombat watching after dinner for a few nights and we had barbeques with their friends.
Just before I was due to leave Sharon took me out on a beach ride to say thank you for all my hard work which I was happy about. I was on my trusty steed, Maximilian and Sharon was on her horse Forrest Gump. Both of them have a lot of thoroughbred in them and I knew from cantering them on trail rides how fast they could be but nothing prepared me for what was about to happen…
The day didn’t actually begin well because as soon as we arrived I realised I had managed to forget Max’s bridle and vaguely attempted to suggest that I could ride him in a head collar. Even I knew that was out of the question considering how strong he was. Luckily, we dug out an old rusty bridle from the float that actually fit Max’s head and we were off on our way.
The boys were used to the track and were very well behaved up until the point of actually setting foot on the beach. We obviously wanted a canter and they could sense that so after a while of a full-blown extension trot, we pushed them into the next gait (and by push I mean, loosen my grip on the reins by a fraction!) We started bombing almost immediately and I started to laugh, thinking that they were being exceptionally energetic today. That laugh soon turned to dread as I realised neither of us had any brakes at all. I tried leaning back, steering him into the sea, trying to steady him with my voice, all to no avail.
I don’t even know how fast we went that morning but I do know that it very quickly tore past the stage of enjoyment and straight to ‘I’m going to die’. This continued for probably all of about 3 minutes until Forrest came to an almighty halt as he turned on his haunches where he knew there was a track back to the float. Unbelievably, we both managed to stay on during the maneuver, which I’m putting down as a testament to our riding ability!
After that, the boys were so pumped and poor Max must have had a very sore mouth. Needless to say, we didn’t try another ‘canter’ again but instead trotted pleasantly and steadily back to the float through the forest, thanking our lucky stars that no harm was done.
I learnt a lot during my three weeks at Sharon’s and got a good taste of what it might be like to run a horse riding business. Looking back, I very much enjoyed my time spent there, despite its challenges, although I have to say I was incredibly happy not to have to make up any more feeds for 17 horses twice a day!! For that alone, as well as my help around the farm, I’m sure I am greatly missed!