One day I took the dogs Gypsy and Jack and walked along the cliffs to Sandpatch. I drove the ute for the first part, along the limestone tracks behind the prison, the race course and then to where I once thought I'd seen a thylacene.
What I'd seen was probably a monster feral cat but its stripes were distinct and the animal was bigger than any cat. It loped across the track two hundred metres ahead of me and its tail was kangaroo straight and hanging down. Maybe it was a fox that I saw. Maybe I imagined it. I was only eleven.
This day, the dogs went ahead, past the Water Corp compounds fenced off with hurricane mesh, along skinny tracks flanked with peppermint trees. Towards where the white witches lazily turn on big whispering arcs, I came to the place where I'd lost the stirrup iron.
I was eleven or twelve when I took tourists out for horse riding tours over the coast hills to Sandpatch. They paid extra to get to the coast but for a half rate I'd weave a ride through sweet-smelling stands of boronia and paperbarks, then over to where the limestone springs fed the orchids and purple flag. Boomers and their families, sleeping in the groves, would wake as we trod past them, springing out of the bushes and bounding away. Sometimes then, the horses would spook and gallop off home without their riders. Public litigation wasn't so much of a problem as it is now.
The day I lost the stirrup, I led a group through a lowland red gum forest and then headed up to the coast hills. Now, I can't remember the moment when one of the horses finally threw it in, said "I quit" and buck jumped the hapless tourist off his saddle and into the black sand, but I remember the aftermath. We were near the cliffs where the Southern Ocean roars in to hit the limestone. The tourist had to sit behind my saddle on the way home and I led the recalcitrant horse by her reins (once I'd caught her). We returned to the riding stables with everything and everyone except a single stirrup.
Des and Jock checked the busted stirrup leather and conferred. They got on their horses and took me back out to find the stirrup. It was one of the last times I saw Jock riding a horse. He took his Palomino stallion that day. They wanted me to show them the country between the tourist getting chucked off and when I caught the horse. Thinking back, they probably were enjoying an excuse for a ride but the afternoon was also spiced with a peculiar competitive nastiness between the two men. (There was a woman in there.)
When we arrived at the cliffs, they both started questioning me about the exact spot when the horse had dumped her rider. I couldn't remember. Jock and Des rode around, looking for the stirrup. They were annoyed with me and their language was ... well it wasn't threatening but yes, it sort of was. I was flustered with their pressure and wondering why the stirrup was so important. I was late back from that ride anyway. I was afraid of Des. I'd always been afraid of Des, and him wheeling and turning his quarter horse through the scrub and coming back to glare at me with his loose blue eyes and grilling me again over a stirrup just did my head in.
I can say that now, "did my head in," It's a groan up term but I was so young then that the phrase didn't mean what it does now.
We never did find that stirrup iron.
I took the dogs out there recently and stood in the spot where the tourist was thrown. I wished I could find the stirrup under a shrub, or see the loose sand of the track fall away and reveal the edge of its iron tread.