Couple on a spiritual quest

IT’S been a good couple of days for Dakota Wolf – and he and Tahnee have more ahead of them. The trek known as the Tasmanian Trail, now a place in his mind as much as a route on a map, is about to mark its 25th year. Mr Wolf has just been named the trail’s president. But best of all, he’s in his favourite part of Tasmania, the ride from the Derwent Valley up through the Central Highlands.

Today we meet up at Ryelands, a farm and vineyard on the Macquarie Plains to learn why a married couple would want to spend their days together in a saddle. The saddles, by the way, belong to their mares, Coda and Caliska. They met while working at Tas Networks, work he left after 21 years.

“Honestly, leaving the job helped take a weight off my shoulders and deal with some mental health issues.” That’s not to say riding the Tasmanian Trail, some 480 kilometres that crosses the state from Dover to Devonport, doesn’t present its own set of problems.

“There’s a section of the route along the Poatina Highway that offers little separation between horse and speeding cars,” says Dakota. “What we’ve learned to do is to pick the quietest time of day to do that section.” Because the ride connects interesting sections of trail, quiet roads and single-track paths – some 15 sections in all – a rider also has to weigh up how much distance they want to cover in a day or two. What can they do, and what can the horse handle?

Spending time with horses is not only good for his own well being, but by taking Tahnee’s suggestion and sharing pictures and words via social media, it’s helped others too. “Bringing people along for the ride, as it were, taking them away from the stresses of life, is good therapy all round.”

The Sheffield man talks about riding the trail in almost spiritual terms. “It’s enormously peaceful, a way to really take in what’s around you.’’ “And with a horse (the trail is also open to cyclists and walkers) you’re feeling every muscle move, and you become part of each other.” He smiles at his wife, Tahnee. “And riding together, working together, that’s the brilliance, the wonder, of this.”

Dakota talks about the kindness of people on the trail. “It was just before Christmas a couple of years back when one old horseman, asked me in Miena: “Where you going young fella?” I told him what direction I was going and the next day, Christmas Day, at Bronte Park – it was seriously cold – this same man turned up with a pot of hot stew, ready for the eating. He laughs. “I think it was possum stew, but man, it was good! And after we ate, he fixed a problem I was having with my saddle.” Dakota and Tahnee get all sort of offers of help, most often a paddock to put up the horses and the humans in a tent. “This is from total strangers,” she says.

A trail member since 2015, Dakota has been president of the association for a few weeks now. Originally an offshoot of a national trail ride, an Australian Bicentennial project, Tasmania’s trail itself is 25 years old this coming Sunday.

Winding its way through public and private land, there’s occasional management issues needing the attention of the all-volunteer association, responsible for the trail’s management, maintenance and promotion. “A farmer up north had blocked the trail when people left gates open, allowing his cattle to escape. It took 18 months and some conversations with the minister, Guy Barnett but we managed to get a land swap done and get it sorted,’ says the new president. “I’m passionate about these things, and tend to not let it go until it’s resolved.” He and Tahnee are mounting up now.

They’re about to take on their favourite part of the ride, from the Derwent Valley and up to Victoria Valley and the Jones River near Mount Bethune, west of Hamilton. This coming week, Ellendale beckons and then Ouse and a rest day. “The horses would like a little time off, too,” he says, smiling.