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Story and photos by Cheryl Clarke of HostelBookers.com

HighOnAdventure.com   October 1, 2011

  This post is sponsored by HostelBookers      
  The minute I stepped off the plane into the hot, dry air of the Australian outback, a strange feeling washed over me. It took a while to place exactly what it was. In fact, it took an hour’s car journey from Alice Springs, through the red dust and ghost gum trees, with hot air blowing in my face like a hair dryer on full blast. Once we finally arrived and stepped out of the car—bam—it hit me. Complete and utter silence. No birds singing, no cars driving by, no wind blowing, no people talking, nada, nothing. Until you experience it you can’t possibly understand how completely calming utter silence is. The Outback is probably one of the few places in the entire world where you can experience such silence.   Australian Outback  
Australian Outback

But I wasn’t there for a relaxing holiday, so this feeling soon disappeared when I was told the long list of duties I would be carrying out for my food and accommodation. I was there as a woofer, someone who works for food and accommodation. It is a very popular attraction in Australia and there are tons of jobs like this that can be found online. I highly recommend this experience, because the jobs are mostly off the beaten track.

Since you don’t work for money, you often get extra stuff offered to you. For example, in the homestead where I worked, my boss took me and my work mates on an exclusive tour of the outback in his 4x4 and lent us his car so we could drive on a trip to Ayers Rock on our own. Woofing is a great way to experience how people actually live in a completely different environment and it can bridge a gap between jobs if you are on a working holiday.

  Australian ranch horses  

Aside from fixing fences, irrigating the land, cleaning the homestead and working in the kitchen, we were there to feed, care for and train the horses on the ranch. Training horses is big money in the outback. The rule is that if the horses are on your land, they are your property. You can catch them, train them and sell them if you like. So, as you can well imagine this is a lucrative and inviting opportunity for people with a lot of land. I was there with three other girls to train the horses best we could so that eventually our boss could sell them at a tidy profit. However there was one small problem—none of us knew how to train horses.

That wasn’t a problem as far as our boss was concerned. We all knew how to ride (the other girls far better than me.) He gave us a couple of books and taught us how to gently gain the horses' trust. It involved slowly approaching the horse an inch at a time until you are standing by its shoulder. Once you are there, you slowly reach out and try to stoke it. This is always a very tense moment because often the horse suddenly jolts and bolts off and you "MUST NOT MOVE", as my boss shouted at me on my first day. You have to stay completely calm and in control which is the hardest part, especially when inside you are bricking it! You have to show the horse you are in control, you are the master.

Horses on the ranch

Once the horse trusts you, the next stage is to get a training rope around its neck. If you have done the first stage properly this isn’t too hard. It’s tied in a special way so that it can never tighten too much and hurt the horse. You loop it over the head and the horse walks around the yard for a couple of days getting used to the rope by itself. After the horse is comfortable with the rope touching its skin it has to get comfortable with some pressure. For this you have to get physical. We were taught to grab hold of the rope and give it some resistance. The horse naturally wants to run away so you have to pull it quite hard to stop it. There is a certain angle you can get which exerts the most amount of force. For the horse with its thick skin and huge muscles it’s nothing. But believe me, man against beast–you need all the help you can get!

Eventually you get to the stage where you can lead the horse around the yard and when you are comfortable enough you can get it used to a saddle. The final stage is actually jumping on the horse. The first time is extremely scary since you’ve no idea how it will react. But after 6 weeks, we had a horse semi-trained and were able to take it out on a hack into the outback. It was a pretty special moment and one I will never forget. Take my word for it, woofing is worth every second.

  Fun on the Australian ranch  
Fun on the ranch
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