Let’s be honest: at one point or another, all of us have fantasised about abandoning our everyday lives in favour of a long-distance journey with our favourite people: our horses! (Oh, and maybe our family… maybe.)
There’s something undeniably romantic about life on the road: living day-to-day, never knowing what’s around the next bend, and settling into an endless rhythm of eat, sleep, ride, repeat.
Of course, the reality of long-distance travelling with horses can be a little less enchanting, but that wasn’t enough to stop Monique and Erwin from selling their ranch, buying a horse truck and setting off on a three-year journey around Australia! #lifegoals
Read on to hear their story firsthand.
First of all, how did you two meet, and how did you come to be living and working at the Western Ranch?
Wow, that is a long story that we could fill this whole blog with! Long story short: we backpacked around Australia, really liked it, emigrated later and set up the Western Ranch.
If you want to read the long story, have a look at the about section on our website.
Have you always had horses? Can you give us a brief history of your life with horses?
Monique: I grew up with horses. My dad was a dressage rider and instructor and three of my uncles were also involved with horses, so it runs in the family. We had our own horses as well as some agisted horses at home. From the age of about 6, I was taught how to ride. Mostly dressage with a little jumping, cross country and carriage driving. I pretty much stopped riding when I went to university at the age of 18.
Erwin: I started riding when I met Monique when I was 21. I always loved watching cowboy movies and wanted to ride, but my family wasn’t rich enough to be able to afford horses. Monique’s dad taught me the basics of dressage, but I didn’t think jodhpurs suited me! I was always intrigued by the partnership between horse and rider and how to become one with the horse, especially when riding. I loved the idea of being a cowboy, travelling through nature and breathing in the freedom that comes with it. So we bought our first Quarter Horse. I got the horse bug and after a couple of riding holidays we decided to start the Ranch in Australia. That’s how I became a horse trainer.
What inspired you to sell the ranch, pack your bags and head off on such a monumental adventure?
Again, long story short: basically, to save our marriage. After 15 years of working on the Ranch seven days a week, it became a burden. Always being there for other people, sharing knowledge, no time for each other, constant hard work; it drains you. Erwin started to struggle with anxiety and depression. Life was not fun anymore, to such an extent that divorce was considered. Something had to change dramatically to save the relationship and get back the joy of living. Monique wanted to travel again, go back to the backpacking days and enjoy each other’s company without any responsibilities. But this solution was not enough for Erwin to give up his horses and the Ranch we worked so hard for. To let go, he would need a new challenge, a new purpose in life.
And voila, the latest dream was born: take the horses on a trip around Australia. Just start riding and enjoy the horses, the landscape and the people at a leisurely pace.
How did you choose which horses to bring with you?
Erwin: A lot of the horses we had for the trail rides at the Ranch were starting to get a little old. They wouldn’t be able to cope with the distance we were going to travel. I would have liked to take Winchester, a Quarter Horse gelding I had a really good bond with, but he started to have some trouble with his legs while ageing. Another option was a younger Quarter Horse mare, Sugarfoot, but she was a little small and I was worried she wouldn’t be able to handle the weight. Tonto, although not my favourite horse at the time, ticked all the right boxes: he was 15.1 hands high, 10 years old, strong, didn’t have many miles on him and had a forward walk. Now we are getting a stronger friendship and connection every day. Another reason I wanted to do this trip was to have quality time with my own horses, for a change.
Monique: Originally, we were only going to take one horse. But we still had Giles, our stallion, who won virtually all the competitions we entered. He gave so much of himself to us that we wanted to give him something back. We’re hoping that he likes this new adventure – we are showing him Australia and a world beyond competing.
What do you think makes the perfect trail horse?
Erwin: I think there is a difference between a trail horse and a long distance horse. For our trail rides at the Ranch with inexperienced riders, the ideal horse would be one with a friendly character, calm but still responsive when asked, and able to handle a lot of different riders. For what we are doing now, the horse needs to have stamina, a strong character and the will to work and keep going. It needs to be able to handle feed and water rations if need be, and keep its weight on easily. Good feet are also a lot more important. But above all, the horse needs to enjoy the riding.
As a trainer I need to let go of certain imperfections that I would normally correct, but the horse still needs to be flexible, balanced, and willing. They don’t need to be perfect; they need to get the job at hand done in a safe and enjoyable way. It’s definitely horses for courses.
What does a typical day on the road look like for you both?
Erwin: We have the route planned the night before and know how far it’s going to be. We don’t think in kilometres so much anymore, but rather in hours. 1 hour = 5 kilometres. After breakfast we saddle up and I start riding, leading the other horse. We ride about halfway, then I switch horses. On the road, we try to enjoy the things that come our way as much as possible, knowing how lucky we are. I sing a lot to the horses and have long and deep conversations with them. We look for grass and water so the boys can eat and drink. Sometimes people stop to ask where we are going and if we need anything. We share our stories and ride on. It’s great to meet all different kinds of people. When we get to the new camp we unsaddle, take care of the horses, go and discover our new surroundings, and at night I might play some guitar and sing. Not a bad day!
Monique: In the morning I help Erwin get the horses ready for the day. Once he starts riding, I break up camp, take the horses’ yards down and make sure we leave no trace. If I like the spot where we have been camping, I might stay a while longer and update social media or the website. Depending on our needs, I might do some shopping, get fuel for the truck, source horse feed and water, do our washing, all the usual domestic shores. If there is the option, I can do some touristy things as well or go for a walk with Olly, our dog. In the afternoon I drive the truck to the next camp, set up the yards for the horses and get their feed and water ready. Then the waiting starts. I can see Erwin’s progress on the GPS tracker, so I know when to expect him. Sometimes it’s a relatively short ride and we have the afternoon together; other times he gets back late. We have dinner together, make sure the horses are taken care of and watch a movie, read a book, play some games and talk about our day.
What does riding or being with horses mean to you? How have they influenced or changed your life?
Erwin: For me it’s a way of life. Riding my own horses feels like coming home. Familiar, safe, exciting, it feels like I’m around friends and I can be myself. I love it when you become one with the horse and the horse becomes an extension of yourself. It’s not something too many people will ever truly feel, so I feel lucky.
Monique: Having had the horse business and now doing this trip, the horses become your life – much as I guess children would be.
What has been the biggest lesson of the journey so far?
Erwin: Not all water is drinkable. After Albany going to Esperance, most of the water we came across was salty.
Monique: How to drive a truck! I’m not a person who likes cars or motorised vehicles. If somebody else can drive, I’m the first one to sit in the passenger seat. If we are going to attempt to go all the way around Australia, it will take us about three years. I didn’t want to rough it all that time, I wanted a proper home. Hence, we converted a horse truck into our tiny home. We have all the luxury we need in the front part and the back is for the horse gear, feed and water. In case of emergency, it is able to fit the horses as well. But that means I need to drive it! I got my HR licence after one day of lessons and then they turned me loose on the road! I’m really glad Australia is a big country, with big straight roads and not many cars on it. Slowly but surely I’m getting the hang of it. So yes, that was definitely a steep learning curve for me.
Give us your best ‘Tale of the Trail’!
Monique: ‘Hi, this is Scotty from the yellow airplane that has been flying over you all afternoon!’
I met Erwin for lunch in a parking bay along the road. While we were sitting there, a plane kept flying over. Erwin said he had been doing that all morning already. It was a little yellow plane from a contract spaying business. After lunch I went to the next camp and my phone rang. It was the pilot from that plane. I thought, ‘how the heck did he get my number?’
Turns out, after he saw Erwin on the horse, he rang his girlfriend, who has horses, and asked if she knew about a rider travelling with two horses. ‘Yes, that’s Erwin,’ she said. She had done a horsemanship clinic with Erwin previously and knew what we were doing. So Scott rang me and told me how impressed he was that the horses where so quiet around the plane. Later on we met up for a drink and a barbeque.
Erwin: For me it would be all the wild animals I encounter on the trail. The best encounter was on Christmas Day. Monique came on a little ride along the beach with me. We were talking and suddenly I looked out across the ocean and I saw what I thought was a strange round rock sticking out. It was a seal who was looking at us. He swam with us for a long time, just checking out the horses and playing in the water.
What advice would you give to those who dream of having a long-distance adventure with their horse?
Monique: Just do it! One of the reasons we talk about our trip and keep up with social media is to inspire people to do the things they dream of. It doesn’t have to be as big as what we’re doing; start with a small trip. Any organised trip from Globetrotting (I can recommend The Margaret River Ride) would be a great way to start.
And finally, if you could choose any Globetrotting ride to add to your calendar, which would it be?
Monique: Vancouver is still on my wish list, so I would definitely choose British Columbia, Canada. But there are a couple of other rides that I wouldn’t say no to, like the Camargue Ride. I could also highly recommend a trip to Iceland. We did an 8 day trip there and absolutely loved the Icelandic horses. The landscape is unreal.
Erwin: The Big Horn Cattle Drive. Wide open spaces, Quarter Horses and a job to do. What more could you want?
Inspirational or what?! If you’d like to keep track of Monique and Erwin’s epic journey, check them out on Facebook, Instagram and on their website. We especially love this GoPro footage of Erwin cantering the horses along a picture-perfect beach in Western Australia!