Discovering personal growth in the Australian wilderness: A vet’s experience with the TRAIL Emerging Leaders Program

Rightly or wrongly, participating in personal development had never really been on my radar. I’ve spent countless hours, days, and years even, developing my professional skills as an equine surgeon. Carving out the time to work on myself seemed a bit indulgent.  

Discovering the TRAIL Emerging Leaders Program

I was first introduced to the TRAIL Emerging Leaders Program through my research into the upper airways of thoroughbred racehorses. The description of a ‘challenging outdoor experience’ was music to my ears. Subsequently, I was fortunate to be awarded one of three AgriFutures Australia-sponsored positions in the program and would like to thank them for their continued support. I hoped to develop skills to facilitate dissemination of my research outcomes to different thoroughbred industry stakeholders and ultimately to increase the research impact factor.  

In mid-March, we congregated in sunny Canberra to form the 15th cohort of the TRAIL program. We began our experiential journey through environmental, physical, mental and, at times spiritual challenges.

Experiencing the outdoors and building connections

The positive culture and strong connection fostered within the group appeared to develop seamlessly. I felt honoured to be part of it. I can only hope other ARLF cohorts are as lucky. We completed a five-day adventure in the ACT wilderness hiking through areas ravaged by the 2019 bushfires. Widespread damage to access roads has restricted access to the area since the fires. But I am happy to report the charred landscape is now regenerating fiercely with thick, scrubby, ankle-prickling vigour. Our route led us down into the poetic Orroral Valley, where wild dogs, wallabies and snakes co-existed alongside early pastoral settlements, with an old NASA station thrown in for good measure. I hope to return to that bit of paradise one day.  

Surprising similarities among rural industries

The group consisted of professionals from the beef, goat, egg, grain, seed, cotton and thoroughbred horse industries, fostering a broad connection between all corners of rural Australia. Interestingly, despite this diversity, it became apparent that the issues facing my industry were surprisingly similar to other sectors. The perceived mistruths across the board surrounding ethical production and animal welfare demonstrated a huge communication disconnect between rural industries and consumers. Thus, I came away from the program convinced that we must become proactive in educating and providing a genuine two-way line of communication with our consumers.  

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the workshops. The sessions on effective communication and personality types were particularly enlightening. Our phenomenal facilitators and guide – Simone, Benny and Laura – were just solid gold humans. Thank you.  

I will use this experience to develop my role as an educator and advocate of the thoroughbred industry. Also, I look forward to following the illustrious careers of my fellow TRAIL peers. 

TRAIL 2023 reflection – by Dr Josie Hardwick, Senior Lecturer and Registered Specialist in Equine Surgery at The Animal Hospital, Murdoch University 

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