I rose at dawn and fed the horses. When I returned I found breakfast underway - at least I'll call it breakfast, but I shouldn't give the impression they were ingesting food, as such. Before each setting at the massive jarrah table was an assortment of what, at first glance, appeared to be mixed lollies. Then I realised they were pharmaceuticals.
The capsules, coloured pills and powders were explained one by one: fish oil for brain and joints, glucosamine for joints, calcium for bones, herb-X for liver cleansing, herb-Y for female troubles, herb-Z for free radicals, psyllium for the colon, iron for blood, B12 and folic acid for brain, multivitamins for anything else, and a couple of ibuprofen tablets thrown in - for what? I felt conspicuous with my bowl of sliced peaches, yogurt and macadamia nuts.
Packing saddlebags was exciting. I stuffed mine with mushroom and fetta foccacia bread, an apple, carrots and chocolate. I wondered if the others would get by on pills - but they seemed to be loading up with real food too.
Our Bowen specialist went ahead to prepare her Natural Horsepersonship- trained horse, Billy. He needed to be chased in circles to earn her respect before a ride. I caught Red, my unnaturally well mannered horse, and saddled up in the old-fashioned way.
We set off in perfect mild and sunny conditions. The forest shimmered. Butterflies, blue wrens and scarlet robins flit through the undergrowth and bright red and green parrots flashed by. But noises from the rear of the ride indicated all was not well. Someone was riding a new horse. Although aged and apparently placid, his rider was anxious and felt out of control. She and the hypnotherapist chose to turn back, so as not to spoil the ride for the rest of us. I was disappointed. What about hypno-firstaid to treat her fear? The Bowenist was also displeased. She saw it as a healing crisis. Things may seem bad but they'd get better, she said. They should work through it.
As the two turned for home, the Bowenist's horse, Billy, decided he'd like to go too. After some plunging he was sent up the front. But Billy refused to lead. He was put in the middle, but he didn't like our horses and showed it. Billy was sent to the back, rolling his eyes and on a tight rein, and he stayed in that position most of the ride.
We continued on through a lush Jurassic landscape dominated by macrozami "palms" and tall grass trees, then through groves of muted dark greenish-grey casuarina, their wispy needles padding the track, and eventually into a Dr Suess landscape of banksia with crazy zigzagy leaves.
Distant rumblings could be heard. Clouds rolled over and it began to rain. I cowered as the thunder closed in. Someone cheerily said she knew of a horse struck dead in a storm only last week. We plodded on, wondering if things were going to worsen before they got better, but fortunately the storm passed without a crisis. Then my friend's horse, Sam, decided to liven up. She said rain excited him, but I wondered if it had anything to do with all the ponycubes he stole from my horse's dinner.
As well as kangaroos, we came upon a family of emus. They ruffled their brindle feathers and bounced ahead of us down the track. Eventually the forest gave way to pine plantations. This was our halfway point so we found a resting place, tethered the horses, and raided our saddlebags.
The homeward ride was uneventful, apart from Billy being unrepentant to the end and Sam not exhausting his ponycube energy. I think they needed twice the distance to become respectful and tired. My horse managed without any soreness on his bare hindfeet after riding for about five hours. Nothing extraordinary for endurance enthusiasts, but enough for pleasure riders.
Back at the cottage the other two greeted us with gluten-free chocolate cake (proving you don't need flour to make a cake delicious) and hot drinks. On their way back after leaving us, they had happened to stop by at the vineyard, and after tastings of essence of nashi, raspberry, strawberry, blackberry, pear, quince, plum and grapes, and applecider, had felt perfectly able to resume riding. They'd continued on for a few hours through forest trails. As the vineyard is only 10 minutes walk from the cottage, I wasn't sure whether this was by choice, or under the influence of tasting.
The evening's topic of conversation fluctuated between the benefits of Natural Horsepersonship and Amazing Cancer Cures. Pat Parelli was worshiped. Monty Roberts was forgotten (possibly due to falling behind in merchandise). But even Parelli was deemed to have "holes" in his methods. I was informed these gaps were being filled by inventive local instructors, marketing their own brands of NH. No one seemed to care how blatantly opportunistic these commercial ventures were. They loved the displays like going to the movies.
Gossip intensified with tales of local personalities who cheated in their supposedly Natural Horsepersonship methods, depraved riding establishments, cruelty and RSPCA rescues, muddled veterinarians, horror horses fit for dogmeat but whose owners doted on them, and horror owners fit for dogmeat.
In between horse-talk we heard "proof" of hypnotism/herbs/vibrational thoughts curing cancer. A study was described - allegedly half the cancer sufferers were cured and half went into remission. We also learnt we are beyond the age of Newtonian physics and into the Einsteinian age, and how everything we used to call science is useless because of something to do with quantum physics, and how scientists know nothing yet these women know everything.
I practically ground my teeth away to keep my mouth shut. Perhaps the hypnotherapist caught my expression, as she announced she never argued with people of fixed views, but respected their right to think what they wished. In other words, arguing with her would be rude.
One by one others drifted off to bed. I found myself alone with the hypnotherapist. I felt strangely drawn to her. Maybe opposites do attract. We sat by the woodfire and she recited excerpts of NOVA to me. There was an article on being nice - how women try too hard to smooth things over, avoid conflict and subvert their own wishes for the sake of others. She looked at me meaningfully. "Yes", I nodded. "Guilty!"
I thought of people who cut themselves, to shock themselves back to reality when experiencing bad hallucinations or delusions. I wondered if there was anything sharp on hand.
To be continued...