When it comes to inspirational young women taking control of their destinies and setting out to achieve their dreams, I think Clemmie Wotherspoon takes the title. Just last week, Clemmie set out to ride the length of the Bicentennial National Trail (BNT) from Healesville in Victoria right up to Cooktown in Queensland, a total of 5330km. It’s just herself and three Australian brumbies she trained herself. To say Clemmie enjoys a challenge is an understatement, she thrives on it.
Now full disclaimer here globetrotters, Clemmie is one of my very dear friends. But that’s not why we’re featuring her here on our blog and supporting her on her journey. Clemmie deserves every single piece of recognition she gets, and your life will be enriched from just following along with her while she’s on her ride. Clemmie inspires me every single day – her strength, vivacity, courage and generosity are just some of her incredible qualities and the list does not stop there, trust me. But instead of listening to me sing her praises, I thought it would be best to hear Clemmie’s story and the reasons behind her adventure from Clemmie herself. So please, grab a cuppa and keep reading, for this is one story you will be better off for knowing.
Describe a little about yourself i.e. Where did you grow up? How did horses come to be part of your life?
I grew up in a working class town in Delaware, a small farming state on the east coast of the US, with limited opportunities. I was always attracted to horses, but my family didn’t have the money to be able to buy me a horse or pay for lessons. It wasn’t until after university that I was able to follow my horse-related dreams by working unpaid apprenticeships. My first apprenticeship was with Darcie Litwicki (apprentice of John Lyons) in Arizona. I worked 12 hour days as a waitress half the week, and spent the other half with Darcie, soaking up every bit of natural horsemanship she was teaching me, training her horses, trail riding, and shovelling poo. I had very little money, was fresh from an emotionally abusive relationship and very isolated from my loved ones. Darcie was so patient and loving with me, as were her horses. They really saved my life!
Can you describe the reason/philosophy/ethos behind your plan to ride the Bicentennial National Trail (BNT)?
As a little girl, raised in the States with an Australian father, I was fascinated by Australia. I spent hours looking at Tracks, a big coffee table book of photos of Robyn Davidson’s trek through the outback with camels and decided “I want to do that someday!” I day-dreamed about a long trek riding horses across Australia, but dismissed the idea as requiring too much money and expertise. Also, I found horses very intimidating – they scared me.
As an adult, I was trapped in an emotionally abusive relationship, working one of the lowest paid jobs in America (clearing tables), had no clear future and was breaking down crying everyday. One of the waitresses took pity on me and started taking me with her to train horses. Training horses gave me the confidence to leave that relationship, and begin a series of apprenticeships, eventuating in my relocating to Australia.
Who have you looked to as a role model for this journey?
Robyn Davidson. I admired her fierce independence, her love of animals and her understanding and connection to the natural world. She is my favorite writer and heroine.
Have you done any other treks like this before?
During and after University I explored the United States on my bicycle, carrying only my sleeping bag and tools. I went wherever I felt like it, sleeping in rail yards, graveyards, forests and barns. Occasionally I would stop to work at a farm or volunteer at a retreat centre. One of my biggest fears was travelling as a young woman. I decided to face this fear by travelling in such a vulnerable way, and I was fine. I found only happy and loving people everywhere. In total I covered 10,000km in a series of trips over 4 years. I loved it. I felt most myself – spontaneous, independent, curious and free. Horse trekking is the next level of this type of lifestyle.
For those who don’t know anything about the BNT, can you please describe the route? Is the track marked or unmarked?
The trail covers 5,300kms of Australia, following old droving and stock routes, passing through national parks, state parks, and rural and remote trails. The BNT is all volunteer run and the longest horse trail in the world.
How long do you expect it to take?
I left just last week on March 7 and am giving myself two years to complete it.
What have you been doing to help prepare for this epic adventure?
I think you should be asking what haven’t I been doing because I have been doing SO much! Training horses, buying gear, testing gear, learning vet skills, coordinating logistics, learning shoeing, transporting horses, etc.
How many horses are you going to take and why? How do you plan to monitor their welfare to ensure all of them complete the journey in good condition?
I am taking three horses, all of brumby lineage. I will do vet checks every other month, check their bodies each morning, and use my vet skills.
Describe some of gear you’ll be taking to help you along your way:
Pack saddle from Outfitters Supply, handmade riding saddles by Cliff Killeen and Tony Gifford, saddle bags and pack bags from Outfitters Supply, camping gear from Sea to Summit, other horse necessities from Outfitters like nosebags, hobbles, rugs, hand saw etc and then an electric fence, collapsible water bags and farrier kit.
Even though you’re going to be riding alone, there is no doubt a wonderful and dedicated support team behind you. Can you please give us a little more information on who has been/going to be helping and how?
So many people have been helping! You guys at Globetrotting have been awesome in mentoring my planning and media. Bogong Horseback has overseen my horse training and pack preparation. Trainers Tamara Coakley (VIC) and Mick Mason (NSW) each gave my horses and I private clinics. My parents, who happen live next to the start of the trail, have dropped hay for the horses at some of my camps in the Victorian section. All of the coordinators, members and supporters of the BNT have helped me immensely. Friends have helped with my website, social media and logistics. Videographers and editors have donated their time. HOOFS 2010, a brumby sanctuary, actually gave me a horse – Ari! He is beautiful.
What do you think is going to be the most challenging part about this journey?
The most challenging parts of this journey will be those hard days when its been raining for a week, I’m cold, I’m sick, have an injury or an injured horse, am low on money or confidence, and have no one to talk to about it, and no way to call anyone for support. However these are the days which I anticipate will give me the most personal growth as I will really have to dig deep to keep going.
Is this ride raising awareness/money for a non-profit organisation? And if so, how did you come to choose them and why?
I’m am arranging visits with brumby trainers and equine therapy programs (with at-risk youth or veterans) and will be recording the experiences. I have contacts who will arrange these visits. It works well with the trip as I have to rest the horses every couple of months for 2-3 weeks.
I believe humans are really pulled towards animals and nature right now. We’re gravitating towards animals – buying dogs, riding horses, attending equine therapy. But it’s a one way relationship – we pet a dog, ride a horse and it makes us feel good. There’s no focus on the animal’s perspective. How are they feeling? What’s their language? What works for their bodies? I believe that until we are able to cultivate this two-way relationship, we won’t receive the full benefit of the animal-human connection.
Horses for me have had a huge pull on a personal level. In order to connect with them and speak their language, I’ve had to practice patience, equanimity, and empathy in a way I’ve never had to do before. These qualities have spilled over into my personal life – my relationships, my ability to make boundaries and my own mental landscape. It’s been hugely beneficial.
Ultimately, I think nature is using animals as a vocal piece, issuing a cry for help, and we need to listen. If we listen, we may gain insights into global issues: animals, the environment, and human connections.
The potential of understanding a two-way relationship with animals is there, but needs to be articulated.
I’m seeking to do this by spending a year living with three horses outdoors while riding through Australia, staying with trainers of wild horses, and visiting rehab/recovery programs who use horses in a therapeutic setting. By exploring and documenting these experiences, I aim to showcase the horse-human connection and all it has to offer.
Furthermore, Australian heritage is wrapped up in this story. Currently, the iconic Australian brumby is under threat of being deemed a feral creature, with the potential of the breed and its stories quickly disappearing. Makers of the iconic serge-line saddle, indigenous to Australia, are nearly all bordering on retirement with no formal apprenticeship program, taking this historical tradition of functional art with them. The stories of Indigenous stockmen and women, who were pioneers in Australian horsemanship, are being lost as well. I really believe we need to record these stories to share with future generations. The lessons they have are invaluable.
And finally (because I always need to sneak this one in), what is your dream globetrotting destination?