Off The Track

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Trekking two Ex-Racehorses across Australia for mental health awareness

Corr enjoying a quiet afternoon


The trek officially kicked off on the 1st August 2023, with myself (Steph,) my horses, Zsófia and horses, Corr, New Future (off the track racehorses) and Flint (my brumby pack pony) departing from the trailhead in Cooktown, North QLD.

Honesty, throughout this trek is incredibly important to me, the good, the bad and the down right horrible. This blog will be a record of all our trials, tribulations and triumphs. As well as sharing as much support and information as possible.

Very tragically, about 800km into the trek after a freak accident involving a loose bull, the horses got loose and Corr fell into a cattle grid, quite seriously damaging his leg.

To cut a long story short (more details below): We paused the trek, and came back home. Unfortunately, even with the most amazing vets behind us, brave Corr was put down at the end of November 2023.

We made the decision to postpone the trek until the 26th April 2024, to learn, recoup funds, re-arrange the team, and grieve Corr’s memory.

The team now consists of myself (Stephanie Toms,) my two Ex-Racehorses (New Future + Karmic Prodigy) and partner (Daniel Grubb,) who I met, in a slightly roundabout way because of this trek!

Myself Steph and Future walking through a herd of horses during the first month of the trek
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Freedom Off The track

Vol 1: ~ Intro

Zsófia riding at home in Hungary

After a long morning, of teaching and riding, I stumbled into the house looking for a cold drink. Zsófia's head popped up from behind the blender. "Hey," she said, "I have an idea."

And that's how it began, an idea, sparked in the kitchen that would take us across the country on our two ex-racehorses.

When Zsófi first voiced the idea, we instantly knew we wanted to do it for a good cause. Our coach and mentor, Alycia Burton was just in the process of launching her charity, Freedom Youth, and her aim is to continue to inspire youth to live a life on purpose.

I've been helping Alycia run her youth events/camps for the past 2 years, and have seen the positive impact they have brought to so many. Zsófia had come over from her homeland of Hungary, on work experience with Alycia, for 1.5 months, but decided to stay the duration of her Visa and had also seen the incredible impact Alycia’s work has acheived.

Steph training a young horse at home

Both Zsófi and I knew we wanted to help this impact grow and that by raising awareness of and money for, the charity we can see that change brought to life.

With this goal for the charity, our biggest aim for this trek is to inspire others to peruse their own personal dreams. To prove that every problem is ‘figuroutable.’ And that each challenge can be tackled step by step (quite literally for us!)

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Freedom Off The track

Vol 2: ~ Intro

When Zsófi first brought up the idea of the trek, I was invigorated. Filled with ideas of trekking our thoroughbreds, exploring the country, pushing ourselves, and making memories. It felt idyllic. Then reality set in. It is going to be hard. Like really...really hard.

What I find quite humorous, is that I (Steph) haven’t actually done any thru-hiking (overnight, destination hikes) or camping with horses in any capacity. And to be perfectly honest, I don’t even regularly go camping. And yet, here I am, about to set off on the longest self contained trail in the world.

Zsófia training a TB in Hungary

I'm incredibly grateful however to be surrounded by some amazing, adventurous people, who have helped immensely to strengthen my mindset.

One of these people is my younger brother, who is wise beyond his 19 years. Sean lives in NZ and spends a great deal of his time thru-hiking the mountains, hanging off cliffs, and living out of a backpack. We've had a handful of phone calls about the trek, and aside from him being one of the coolest (craziest?) people I know, he's taught me so much about mindset and motivation. Two of my favourite sayings, which might be engraved in my brain now, are, 'Just be a little bit better' and 'Do hard things.' which we have taken on as our trek motto’s

Zsófi wading through a river on a trek

Thankfully too, my trekking buddy, Zsófi is also by far the most experienced trek rider I've had the pleasure of meeting. She's competed in the Mongol Derby, ridden through Patagonia, across parts of South Africa, Kyrgyzstan, Hungary, and more places than I can list! The insight she's shared and the stories of her life have both inspired and terrified me. From pulling horses out of quicksand to facing off wild bulls, I can safely say I am incredibly grateful to be doing this at her side. And am looking forward to everything I can learn in her experience

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Freedom Off The track

Vol 3: ~ Steph's Thoughts

Steph s horse New Future racing in Hong Kong

The trek runs through my mind every day.

I find myself daydreaming, about the adventure, the challenge. Strangely, I'm looking forward to the rainy weeks, the late nights, the aching muscles, the hot and cold, and the long hours to just 'be' in my head. I'm also quite looking forward to meeting the 'new Steph' after the trek.

What worries me the most, is the 'scary' stuff. The fear.

Anxiety is something that's traveled through life with me, cropping up just when I think I have it under control. I am worried about the challenging terrain, scared of getting hurt, or worse, Future getting hurt. I'm intimidated by the sheer size of the trek. By the thought of getting lost, having to backtrack, and all the unexpected pitfalls that will come our way.

Yet, maybe strangest of all, is how much I'm looking forward to being scared. If 22 years of being in my head have taught me anything, it's that every single time I've been scared and wanted to quit or run away, that's the exact time to go all in. Maybe not with guns blazing, and maybe it's with my very characteristic 'detailed, colour-coded plan,' However I am equally nervous and thrilled to learn more about myself, to push my headspace, and learn to rely on myself, one of my closest friends, and our horses.

With the mission of the trek being to raise awareness for and create discussions around mental health, the trek is a perfect opportunity to prove that if we can push through the 'hard,' anyone can.

Perhaps I'm being sentimental, but I feel that the trek is a good analogy for life. There will be challenges, storms, laughter, pain, and literal mountains. But the only way to get through it, is, well... to get through it!

Steph teaching at a beach lesson
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Freedom Off The track

Vol 4: ~ Equine Welfare

Steph and Zsófia riding two OTTB s at home

Since the trek's foundation in 1988, only around 50 people have completed the whole trek (with horses, bikes or on foot) and only a handful has completed it with the same team of horses they started with.

It is important to us that we do everything in our power to preserve our original horses. Their welfare is of our utmost importance.

Prior to starting the trek we had planned to ride 5 or 6 days a week, averaging 30km each riding day. The horses will have multiple grazing breaks throughout the day, and will also be supplemented with a complete feed to keep condition throughout the ride.

We are incredibly fortunate to have Equidae Botanical Horse Care sponsoring all the minerals and supplements for our three horses over the duration of the trek, keeping them in tip-top health.

Our horses will also be wearing Scoot Boots throughout the trek, to preserve their hooves and remove the risks of lost shoes and the need to find farriers in each town.

Zsófi relaxing on a trek
Zsófi on one of her many adventures

Lastly, our horses are in well fitted saddles, designed specifically for trekking. Steph's first trekking saddle comes from Be Professional. Look Cool. Who, coincidently, are good friends of Zsófie and have been an invaluable source of knowledge and expertise as we prep for our trek.

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Freedom Off The track

Vol 5: ~ Trek Prep - or lack there of!

With exactly 3 weeks before the trek, its starting to hit home what we are actually about to do. And, how much we still have to do!

My saddle has been posted...but is still in transit - stuck somewhere between Germany and Australia. Along with my breastplate and two girths and both our Bivi's. I am also currently in Victoria for the June/July school holidays, helping to run a handful of youth camps with Alycia.

I'll be getting home around the 12th July, and we will be leaving for Cooktown (to start the trek) on the 21st or 22nd of July. With the goal to arrive in Cooktown on the 25th July.

Currently don't have camping or accomodation arranged for Cooktown, and don't even yet know quite where the trail actually starts. I have an overall feeling of just not being ready. Not knowing enough and not having prepared enough.

I am so thankful to have Zsóf, who helps calm my mind each and every time I get overwhelmed, but reminding me we will work it out along the way. Its impossible to think of this trek as one big adventure, it feels too daunting. But to break it down to the day by day, and things start to feel ok.

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Freedom Off The track

Vol 6: ~ August 1st: DAy 1

Day 1 - 32k down! 5,298 to go! Day went great, walked the whole day along the Mulligan Hwy, a 100kmh road that was mostly populated by trucks and tradies.

We had made the decision to hike the first 2 weeks on foot, to give us a better idea of the trek, improve our fitness and give the horses the best possible start to the trek.

We also have my Dad, incredibly kindly driving the car and float as our support vehicle for the first month. Arrranging meetups and resupplies every 2-5 days.

At the end of our first day we ended up near Lions Den, and while my Dad (our support driver for the first month) had accommodation at the Lions Den Hotel, we were still at a loss for where to stay. Eventually deciding to just set up camp next to the side of the road, we tentatively settled in.

Much to our relief however, the chief of the local fire department noticed us and decided to offer his agistment paddock for the night. We happily agreed.

After meeting the owner of the property (and getting a tour around the 180acres in his buggy) we were glad we took up the offer. The horses had a BEAUTIFUL paddock for the night, and we met some of the most wonderful people. Including a lady who lived across the road and ran a non for profit horse rescue. She was one of the most inspiring people I’d ever met, and got me thinking a lot about who I want to be as a person.

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Freedom Off The track

Vol 7: ~ August 2nd: DAy 2

We set off from near Lions Den Hotel on the second morning with the Bloomfield Cabins and Caravans as our destination for the night. After about 20km, in which it rained for almost the entire time, my feet and legs were KILLING, each step sent little stabs of pain around my foot until it was all I could to keep hobbling along. I was cold, soaked, sore and tired. Quite honestly I already wanted to give up. But. I reminded myself with the mission of this trek to inspire people to do the hard things, that I could keep going.

Zsof appeared to be striding confidently up ahead with Corr, until she also mentioned her feet were sore too. Well, I thought, If she can, I can.

The last 10km passed unmercifully slowly but eventually we staggered into the camp site, meeting up with my Dad again.

After the horses were safely settled on their tethers, and our swags were set up we took off our shoes and oh wow - I didn’t realise it was possible for feet to feel that good.

Our horses were tethered right next to two wonderful people, Andy who worked with local Rangers and MC, an incredibly interesting woman, traveling Australia with her young son. Loving the types of people we were meeting already.

The owners of the camp grounds were so welcoming and supportive, offering us a hot shower that we took too gladly.

Sitting on the floor of the shower I noticed about 4 blisters on each foot, which explained the discomfort from earlier.

Reluctantly dragging myself from the shower, got the chance to have a lovely conversation with some of the locals and we learnt some important information concerning the days ahead.

The Creb Track, that we originally had planned to go down, was impassable due to some very heavy (and unseasonal) rain so we decided on an alternate route. Choosing to go along the Bloomfield Track instead. Content with our safer decision we went to sleep to the sound of rain pattering down on our tarp.