I recently visited Darkes Forest Riding Ranch after purchasing a coupon for a Ranch trail ride on Groupon for four people. The family run business established in 1971 is located south of Sydney, and lies relatively close to Wollongong.
Travelling from Sydney, it took only a little over an hour to arrive at the Darkes Forest Riding Ranch, where there was ample parking. Helmets and riding equipment were provided, and soon after that we met our horses, named Lurch, Hammer, Rebel and Ledger.
I was a first time rider, and prior to beginning the trail ride I felt some anxiety mingling with my excitement. However, the anxiety quickly dissipated as it became evident that our guides were patient and experienced. Though there was only myself and three other friends scheduled for that trail session; two guides accompanied us, one leading and the other staying at the rear of the procession. My horse, Ledger, was a placid Clydesdale I took to immediately, despite his intimidating height. We set off into the Australian Bush feeling peaceful and contented. I was the first behind our friendly guide who spoke enthusiastically about the characters of the individual horses and her passion for riding. I jokingly questioned her about the personality of Rebel, and she hastened to reassure me that the name was entirely humorous in nature. Occasionally, the entire procession would stop as she instructed us on how to position ourselves as we travelled up or down a hill.
When it came to the time for trotting, we were all much more confident. I confess that trotting was one of my favourite parts of the ride, though I was always happy to return to the leisurely walking pace after.
Over the course of the trail ride, we came to know our horses individually. Lurch, for example, was prone to nibbling on the vegetation along the side of the trail - something he apparently knew that he was not supposed to do. Ledger was patient and dependable, while Rebel was sometimes lingered behind, not because of incapacity but because he was intimidated by Lurch. Lurch was apparently the more dominant horse.
The time flew by and before we knew it, our hour had passed. We returned the horses to their stables, said our final goodbyes and left. I definitely feel that experiencing the beauty and tranquillity of the landscape from horseback only added to the experience, and I look forward to returning some day in the future.
Where: 448 Darkes Forest Road, Darkes Forest, NSW 2508.
Why: For a safe and pleasurable experience of the Australian bush from horseback.
Cost: Varies for differing activities; Ranch trail rides for adults are currently $40/person for half an hour. See the website for further details.
When: Open 7 days a week, all year round (with the exception of Christmas and New Year's). Phone or email to book a riding session.
Good for kids: Darkes Forest Riding Ranch hosts a variety of activities and lessons catered specifically to children