The Hobart

A Journey Across Canada, One Hoofbeat at a Time

by The Hobart Magazine
A Journey Across Canada, One Hoofbeat at a Time

Born and raised in the serene Upper Derwent Valley, a sanctuary she still calls home, horse enthusiast Stef Gebbie now stands on the other side of the planet. Literally. Amid the vast expanse of Canada, the second-largest country in the world, Stef is embarking on a mighty exhibition: a journey spanning over 6000 km on horseback, a staggering number that puts Burke and Wills to shame.

She is not alone. Accompanying her are two steadfast companions: Jack, a gentle paint quarter horse, and Wilson, a spirited morgan cross rescue. The trio have yet to find their groove. They were all strangers to each other when they first set out. “We’re still building trust and that takes time,” Stef says. “We don’t yet have the teamwork. I’m sure that will change over the next few thousand kilometres.” Just a few weeks into this eight-month journey, there have already been unexpected setbacks. Case in point: they were originally a group of five. 

Stef was joined by close friend Ella Ballhausen, and a seven-year-old Canadian mare named Freddo. “Unfortunately several days into the ride we had a bit of a misadventure,” says Stef. That’s putting it mildly. Ella and Jack received injuries that had them leave the trail for several weeks. Stef continued with Wilson and Freddo until bad luck struck again – a collision with a motorcycle left Freddo injured, requiring weeks of recovery. 

Ella has since stepped back from the exhibition, Freddo was transported safely back home, and Jack rejoined Stef and Wilson. And then there were three.

None of this has deterred Stef. Far from an amateur, she traversed Australia on horseback in 2019. She understands that the key to success lies not in meticulous planning, but in embracing the uncertainty of each day with an open mind. “There’s really only so much planning you can do when on the road with horses. The world is no longer designed for horse travel, and it is without doubt the most difficult way to travel,” she says. “Even when things go wrong, staying calm is the only way to solve problems.” The main risk Stef always keeps in mind is high speed motorised traffic. She and the horses spend many days on the open road, so vehicles are a constant threat.

Stef knew very little about Canada before planning this journey. In fact, her original plan was to cross the United States, but getting a visa for the required length of time was too difficult. So Canada it was, but there comes its own problem: a large chunk of Canadians speak French, and Stef does not. “I miss out on a lot of those fun and interesting exchanges with people,” she admits.

Despite this, Stef and her long-faced companions have been met with open arms by locals. “I have experienced more kindness and hospitality here than anywhere else in my life.” She’s also been in constant awe of Canada’s beauty. From the forested Appalachian Mountain ranges of Northern New Brunswick to the heritage townships of Eastern Quebec. 

The fauna she must contend with are very different to the snakes and insects back home in the Derwent Valley. “There are moose and black bears in the woods here.” But Stef isn’t too worried about an attack. The greater risk is actually the potential of these large animals giving poor Jack and Wilson a fright. 

Surprisingly, Stef finds the most notable difference between Canada and home to be the lack of fences. This makes it difficult to know whether land is public or private. “You have to ask permission to camp almost every day. People are generally happy to accommodate, but it takes extra energy, especially with the language barrier,” she says.

“I’ve had some amazing dinners with the kind people who have hosted us, from moose steaks to Poutine and everything in between!” When it’s just herself, though, food is primarily cereal and pasta. Nice and simple. The journey was tough on her at first, but her body has gotten used to riding. She unwinds each day with a cup of tea, watching the horses happily graze. “A great way to relax.” 

There is still so long to go, but Stef is keeping her eyes on the mission. “I think a super important part of any long expedition is staying present – not thinking about what could happen or what should have happened or the comforts of home, but just taking each week and each unexpected event as it comes.” Still, she can’t help but miss her four-legged loved ones back home. When she returns, the first thing she’s going to do is squish their horsey faces. “I miss my Australian horses so very much.”

For now, though, she rides, with Jack and Wilson by her side, under the Canadian summer heat, with thousands of kilometres ahead of them.

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