I wanted to take time out from my regular write-ups of local venues to wax lyrical about something close to my heart, and one of the reasons I prefer living in our fair capital to places like Sydney.
I’ve been riding horses since I was about ten years old. I started off at one of the many local riding schools and got my first horse at 15. He was a Welsh pony named Banner and my legs dangled down by his knees, but I didn’t care. He lived on Kambah Pool road down near the Gleneagles estate.
During my teenage years I attended the local pony club and due to a lack of transport a lot of the time I would ride my bike from my house to the paddocks; backpack stuffed with bridle and saddlecloth, saddle strapped precariously to the parcel rack of the bike and riding helmet strapped to my head. At one point I remember cycling past a couple of schoolgirls who giggled and pointed at me.
“Nice helmet!” *snigger*
“Excuse me, I have a HORSE, and I’m going to go and RIDE him?” Smackdown! They probably thought I was some stuck-up country club kid. Or, more likely, a crazy person.
Canberra may have its detractors, but where else in this country can you live in a city and keep a horse in the suburbs? The government operates several horse paddocks in Kaleen, Lyons, Curtin, Macarthur and Watson among other areas. Private properties offer horse agistment in areas such as Holt, Weston Creek and Kambah. Human accommodation around here might be exxy, but keeping a horse is surprisingly affordable compared with the other capital cities.
If you’re a parent being harangued by your horse-mad eight-year-old, there’s about half a dozen riding schools in the region. Horse riding lessons aren’t the cheapest sport around, but the bonus is you can drop them off and let the school horses tire your offspring out. Plus, learning to ride a horse isn’t anywhere near as painful as learning to play the violin. For the parents, at least. If you’re feeling brave most of these establishments also teach adults as well as offering casual trail rides.
If you decide to give in to your aforementioned eight-year-old’s pleas of ‘PLEASE can I have a pony?’ fear not, there are 14 pony clubs in the area—and four of these are within the city limits.
10 minutes from the centre of town there is a public equestrian park that pretty much anyone can use for free. It’s recently been upgraded with new arenas and looks pretty schmick. On certain weekends if you drive past on the Cotter Road you’ll get to see equestrian competitions. These aren’t just little local things either – a good number of world class riders travel to Canberra to compete.
We’re lucky enough to have a series of dedicated equestrian trails that meander throughout the suburbs. They all link up; you could ride from Tharwa to Hall if you wanted to. Back when I was young and silly my friends and I rode to the McDonalds in Tuggeranong on a couple of occasions. We’d follow the equestrian trail through the back of Kambah and continue along the lake. Crossing Athlon drive and dodging cyclists and dog walkers on the path around Lake Tuggeranong got a bit hairy at times, but nonetheless we survived to enjoy our reward. The fact that my pony was quite partial to the odd Quarter Pounder is neither here nor there. We’d continue around the lake (stopping in at my house for refreshments and scaring the cats), and up through the centre of Kambah on our way home.
32-year-old me is mildly horrified that 16-year-old me was dumb enough to ride a horse through the middle of a built-up area, just to get a burger. 16-year-old me didn’t care about things like public liability and doing things that are (probably) illegal, like riding a horse through a drive-thru.
The equestrian trails also link up with the multi-use Bicentennial National Trail, which runs the entire length of the east coast. Part of the BNT runs through Stromlo Forest, which is now a popular area not just for horse riders, but runners and mountain bikers too. Riding through what’s left of the Stromlo forest isn’t the lovely experience it used to be due to the 2003 bushfires, but it’s still great to have such an expanse of trails to ride through, that don’t come near built up areas. A few years back (2008 from memory), a bunch of horse riders attended the re-opening of the Stromlo Forest trails. I went to the opening on a spotty fellow called Harley, who later tried to run down John Stanhope on his way out. I gave Harley about half a dozen carrots when we got home. I’m not saying these two events are related.
These days I tend to stick to the property where my current horse lives. I don’t compete. I don’t hit the trails. I definitely don’t ride through fast food chains. But I will soon be living five minutes’ drive from my horse, and ten minutes’ drive from the centre of town. I’m fairly sure you can’t do that in any other major city in Australia.
Niki van Buuren is a Canberra-based writer, teacher and human slave to a 5-year-old quarter horse named Ollie (pictured).