Routing through the options at the tourism desk of the hotel this morning, my eyes fell on an advert for a company based out in the Daintree National Park who specialise in taking people for horseback rides in the rainforest. I really should have learned not to take anything at face value after nearly killing myself yesterday, but this did sound like an opportunity to start the New Year by relaxing and taking in the beautiful scenery of Northern Queensland - after all, what could possibly go wrong sitting on the back of a horse looking at scenery? Well, let me tell you I've come away from today with a newfound respect for jockeys and horse riders everywhere.
The minibus turned up to collect me mid-morning, and was already so packed that I had to cram myself into about a foot of space at the back. This seemed promising - I was obviously embarking on such a popular pastime that people were lining up to be a part of it. We were driven out to the stables deep in the forests out towards Cape Tribulation and as the bus pulled into the car park, it all looked delightfully serene. There were horses grazing in the fields, forests and rolling hills all around, I thought I could hear the trickle of a nearby stream - it all seemed too good to be true.
Our driver parked the bus and led us into the main building where we were given refreshments and quizzed on our general level of riding experience. We were then taken through to the stables where horses had been prepared according to our various skill levels - Mine, a mare by the misleadingly charming name of Duchess, was supposed to be an easy going ride as I had put on my form that I had only ever ridden a horse once before and had a very basic understanding of how to do so. As it turned out, Duchess proved to be utterly uninterested in doing anything which didn't involve eating or chasing the other horses. Despite all my best efforts, I quickly came to the conclusion that there was slightly more chance of the Pope converting to the Church of Scientology than there was of me getting my horse to take the slightest notice of anything I wanted her to do. The other horses seemed happy to trot along, heads held high while their rider gazed around at the scenery and said things like "ooh, isn't that pretty?" at regular intervals. Duchess was much more interested in stopping at every tiny clump of grass and yanking the reins out of my hand in order to lower her head and have a serious munch while everyone else disappeared into the distance.
I also discovered another quality to Duchess - she seemed to seriously have it in for several of the other horses. As we trotted along the trail, whenever a particular light coloured mare overtook her she would bite them on the bum as they passed. Then we entered an open field and Duchess decided it would be a good time to show off her horse racing tendencies, taking off like a bat out of hell with me clinging to the reins for dear life while other members of the party looked at me with a newfound respect as though I might actually have had any control over what was happening. If I tugged on the reins to get her to slow down, Duchess would begrudgingly do so and then look around at me as if to say "You're really in for it now" before taking off again five seconds later. Nevertheless, once I got used to having absolutely no control over my horse and the terror had turned into passive acceptance, I found it quite exciting to be the only one whose horse seeed to want to have any fun. I was riding high in the saddle, somehow managing not to fall off, and finding that I was actually starting to really enjoy myself. At least, I was until Duchess came to her favourite snack stop which happened to involve dragging me under a low hanging tangle of nettles and branches without stopping to wonder if I would fit. After being scraped and prodded from all directions by thorns and sharp bits of twig, I came out of the experience with ultiple cuts and bruises and a lovely looking scrape mark across my throat which must make me look as though I need to speak to the Samaritans.
Next time I come up with a plan for a nice day of relaxation which includes the words "what could possibly go wrong?" please think seriously about slapping me.
About Simon and Burfords Travels:
Simon Burford is a UK based travel writer. He will be re-publishing his travel blogs, chapters from his books and other miscellaneous rantings on these pages over the coming weeks and months, and the entry on this page may not necessarily reflect todays date.