By ERWIN CHLANDA
Horses are great conversation starters, especially if they are ridden long-distance by six-year-olds.
That bit of old bush wisdom underpinned the 130km ride by 12 kids under 19 years and three adults from Glen Helen to Alice Springs where they arrived yesterday.
Wherever they stopped or made camp along the world-famous West MacDonnell Ranges tourist drive, visitors pulled up and had a yarn, hundreds of them, says Tiani Cook (pictured).
And that, of course, was just what the founder and president of Horses for Courses was looking for: Bringing people from the cities in touch with children living in the far outback, the former to better understand the educational and social inequities of isolation, and the latter to get assurance that they, too, are part of the greater Australian community.
Problems include “boarding school blues, distance education challenges and social isolation implications effecting mental health. Bush kids are tough and resilient, but we want them to know they’re not alone,” says the group’s website.
It also pays tribute to Dolly’s Dream which was set up in memory of Amy “Dolly” Everett, aged 14, who took her own life after an extended period of bullying and cyberbullying.
One of the people stopping for a chat was the former Lord Mayor of Adelaide, says Ms Cook.
“Now he’s taking our story back to share with his friends.”
It was a big effort to make a point, which Ms Cook hopes will bear fruit through gofundme with a $10,000 target.
She is no novice to long distance riding: In 2017 she rode with a friend 1000 kilometres from Suplejack Downs Station to Darwin.
The ride from Glen Helen took six days, on the last of which “we got absolutely drenched, after the region’s longest dry stint on record. We got the rains to come,” says Ms Cook.
“We had great fun sleeping on tables under shelters of the Simpson’s Gap school picnic grounds, and under tarps on the back of trucks.”
That night members of the Country Women’s Association cooked dinner, giving the support crew a night off.
Callum Pugh (pictured) and Matilda Cook, both aged 6, took turns on one horse but between them rode every inch of the trip.
It was almost entirely off the road and trough the bush, mostly without exiting tracks: Ms Cook led the way, pretty well just following her nose, across “loamy flats, hills, rocks, treacherous terrain, along sandy creek beds,” she says. “I was making it up as we went along.”
Ms Cook says the most important task was to make sure the horses “stayed healthy and sound, did not get sore feet or a sore back.
“We were riding over rough terrain, from little stones to big slates and river pebbles.
“We’ve ridden over every stone there is.”
A by-product of the adventure is the knowledge that you can ride a horse from Glen Helen to The Alice with overnight stops at locations accessible to support vehicles: Ochre Pits, Ellery Bighole, Ryan’s Gap, Turnoff Bore (where the Glen Helen road turns off from the Hermannsburg road), and Simpsons Gap.
Tourism operators – any thoughts?