We’ve all heard the mantra – ‘get back to nature’. That’s all very well, but what if you didn’t even start there? Does it still count? Sometimes we feel like all we’ve ever known is concrete footpaths, narrow streets and the familiar grind of garbage trucks every Thursday morning. So, driving through the gates of Yarra Valley Trails and breathing in the very real and full smells of lush country air, heavy with the warmth of horses, we felt transported to an alternate universe. Though fortunately, one that’s only an hour from Melbourne! Honestly, with the sun on my face, it was enough to bring out the country girl buried deep within this urban creature
My son Lewis is almost twelve years old and about to lurch into that foreign country that is adolescence. This means I’m quite awake to ideas that might both ground and unite us before our communication requires a translation service. Plus, it’s a completely digital-free few hours for both of us. A rarity these days.
Deep and gentle whinnying can be heard as you walk towards the office to be greeted by the lovely Lisa, who is as sure-footed and welcoming as the enormous creatures to whom we are about to be introduced. There is no expectation you’ve ever even eyeballed a real horse before and not a hint of wanting to make your meeting with Missy & Cleo (yes - all seventy-five horses on the property are known by name and nature) anything but seamless for all involved. These people actually love their horses like extended family and find this property as much a sanctuary today as they did over twenty years ago when they first bought it.
The horses we have been paired with were bred on this property by Glen, who is a mix of the Man From Snowy River and your favourite storytelling uncle. We are encouraged to pat and talk to them and are given tips on grooming and very basic horsemanship. This time together in the holding yards is designed to allow us for bonding with our steeds prior to jumping into the saddle. And it works. Lewis is looking decidedly less rigid and Missy is losing the look of a terrifying giant and coming into focus more as a large, but soft and hairy partner in this adventure.
Glen gives us all the instructions for mounting and also the required support so that nobody feels they’re mounting personal Everest. Lewis says he feels a bit shaky but is more than happy to keep going. Glen doesn’t miss a beat with his chatting, constant anecdotes and ‘checking-in’ on us. We hardly even realise that we’ve left and can actually say, “We’re riding horses!”
Set on three hundred acres, Yarra Valley Trails satisfies every Australian country cliché available, in all the most stunning ways. Surrounded by the mountains of the Great Diving Range and with open, green paddocks dotted with horses, ducks and then into eucalypt bush with the occasional kangaroo, echidna and wombat as travel companions, this feels like the Australian home I’ve only dreamed of.
The rhythmic swaying we fall into once in the saddle seems to be slowly purging us of city stress with each fall of the hooves underneath us.
Pushing sweet-smelling leaves from our faces, reaching out to touch the bark of trees and taking the time to stop and simply observe a baby Kookaburra while chatting until it decides to fly off. If this isn’t chicken soup for the soul I don’t know what is.
As expected, we get braver and more relaxed with every crest and turn of the path. This ride travels as fast or slow as you are prepared to go. The more courageous could be off up ‘canter hill’ and be planning their ride that crashes through the stunning adjacent National Park to Kinglake Hotel for lunch in no time.
As we approach the home stretch, I observe a serenity that has fallen over my son’s face as he absentmindedly pats Missy’s neck and I breathe in crisp air that I’m sure is nourishing me in more ways than I would ever be able to articulate. Noticing the layer of urban anxiety that I’m so familiar with lifting from my shoulders I look down and give my girl a good pat too.
Travelling home, still with the smells of the day on our clothes, we chat about who we’ll bring next time and how, possibly, that was the “best thing we’ve done together for ages” … yes, Lewis, you are correct, it certainly was.
Yarra Valley Trails is located an hour from Melbourne in Christmas Hills
35 Osborne Road
Christmas Hills VIC 3775