Four beats to freedom - a horseback journey through New Zealand

Looking Back

The Horses
Kakadhu Foggarty – 14 yrs, Connemara x gelding The explorer in the ranks, Foggy had ‘been there done that – Pony Club Horse trials, hunting, mustering, dressage, he knew it all . He is brave, wise and an inveterate showman and was my best mate.

Timaunga Borrygone – 10 yrs Connemara gelding 
The mountain pony of all time, Borrie belongs to Rob Stanley at Hurunui Horse Treks and had previously been from the Hurunui Pub to the west coast on tracks considered almost impassable for ‘normal’ horses . Borrie regards pig hunting as the pinnacle of sporting finesse and thinks of three things – his food, his tummy and what to eat next. 

The Weather
We were lucky in so many ways. It was a wet summer and we had few of the long warm evenings I had imagined. But rain brings grass and the boys seldom struggled to find enough to eat. The streams were full of water. Whilst we got drenched many times, we seldom set out in the rain and on only 5 days did it rain all day. I never had to camp in the rain two nights running. The wind was usually at our backs – the most notable exception being the last three days on 90 mile beach when we made slow progress into a wind gusting up to 70 kph. I pitched my tent that night INSIDE an old hut…

To camp or not to camp…
To my surprise I only spent 21 nights under canvas . However I was usually self-sufficient, borrowing shearer’s quarters, or camping in huts, woolsheds or RDA centres or pony Club rooms. I spent one night in the sick bay at Orini school! The boys usually had a paddock but we took a little electric fence unit supplied by Gallagher, so I could set up a small paddock on the verge or against the bush as necessary.

Best moments
Spring green in Southland – views of Mount Cook coming down from Omarama saddle – coming over Stag saddle at nearly 2000m above sea level, with snow on the frost shattered rock strewn ground and brilliant sun above - getting out the other side of the Rangitata river after waiting three days for it to go down - Christmas in a hut on Mount White Station with just the three of us - coming over the Organ range in low cloud, between Island Hills and Glyn Wye stations – Riding beneath enormous wind turbines, each blade 60 foot long, on top of the Tararuas, - thick green forest in Taranaki - Magnificent beaches and white cliffs, north of New Plymouth, Getting through Auckland which involved three days of city streets – riding along the river bed at North River (North River Treks) – being sung to in Maori by children at a primary school in Kaitaia - Moonlight on 90 mile beach in a howling wind ....

And the worst
The first and worst was near Ettrick where against my better judgement I tied the boys to a barn door ‘just for a moment’ while I put the pack on Boris. Something startled Foggy who pulled back – probably for the first time in his life, pulling the whole door off its runners and down on top of him. How we avoided a broken back or a fractured pelvis I shall never know. 

And the rest? An encounter with an Angus bull asleep on the track near Omarama – the scree slide above Esk Head station – looking out of a hut on Rainbow station to find my horses had made an independent bid for freedom and set off without me back towards Invercargill - Getting drenched in Northland (and getting drenched again… and again) - dismounting for the last time...

Rivers and river crossings
The big braided rivers of the South Island were a worry – I had been filled with all sorts of tales of drownings and sinking sands before I set out. The Tasman , thick milky and mineral rich as it runs below the majesty of Mount Cook , was reputed to be ‘impossible at this time of year’ but Lester Baikie helped us across - and in fact it was remarkably low. The Rangitata was more of a problem, and I waited for three days to see it low enough to cross comfortably, thanks to guidance from Laurie Prouting. The Waimakariri was ‘a piece of cake’ but the Hurunui after the new year was thick fast , chocolaty and impossible forcing us to float round by road. In keeping with all forecasts, The Waiau was the trickiest – fast, bouldery and well up the saddle flaps, it swept Borrie up against a big boulder so that he had a struggle to get free with the packs, and scared me rigid!

In the North Island most of the rivers we encountered were tidal and muddy – a very different set of problems and one which the boys were less familiar with. The Whangaehu had soggy patches, in the Awakino Borrie started calling for a snorkel, and at Mangawhai Heads where we crossed the estuary the tide came swooping in just behind us so we just avoided a big swim

Hardest days
The greatest height we climbed to was 1987 m above sea level, coming over frost shattered rock on Stag Saddle between Tekapo and the Rangitata. Boxing day was a long haul, from Mount White station through to Esk Head -–this involved a climb to about 1650 m on a very hot day and, since I failed to follow instructions adequately involved the three of us in a scree slide and other hazards. From Whanganui we had company along the beach for a distance, and had our first taste of negotiating rocky points by going out into the waves . The weather pulled its punches right to the very end, when we spent two days ploughing into the teeth of an immense wind on 90 mile beach – gusts of up to 110 kmph were recorded at the Cape that day.

Encounters with traffic 
We were terribly lucky to get permission to ride on vast amounts of private land so for only 30% of the time were we on tar-sealed roads. If I was significantly ‘at risk’ at any time it was solely through the efforts of unimaginative drivers. On busy roads and bridges I put the pack horse in the middle and rode firmly in the middle of the carriageway, taking up the space of any slow moving car. Logging trucks, milk tankers and sheep wagons were the worst – all having large trailers behind equally large main trucks. But old men and young women in ordinary cars were equally callous, and tourist buses that seemed to creep up silently at 100 km hour,  whisking past at inches distance in a flurry of cameras all took their toll. 


My aim was to fit with the boys' natural routine in so far as possible, giving them kip time and eating time during the day on the basis of ten minutes after every hour.  My standard pattern was to get off and walk for ten minutes in every hour, and to walk all steep down hill stretches. Whilst I rode Foggs more often than Borrie they shared the packing and riding and never did the same job more than two days in a row. 

The boys had NRM sweet feed, for contingencies only, in the south island. As the months wore on, Foggy needed more and in the last stretch was receiving an extruded feed twice a day. I too ate well – lots of bread with seeds in, lots of pasta, lots of tuna fish, lots of apples, lots of muesli bars and lots of cheese. 

If you have read this far - a thought...
The horse can open the widest doors for all of us . His friendship is the greatest gift. If he does not do as you wish, it is probably because he does not know what you want. If some day you should choose to make a journey with a horse, take time to listen to him. Learn the pattern of his day and the rhythm of his eating. Be sure that your hands are as familiar with the contours of his legs and back as with the body of a lover: only then will you notice those tiny changes that intimate to you that something is not quite right. Tend his needs before your own. Let him always come first at the end of the day. 

If you are not prepared to do this - buy a bicycle.


Mary Pagnamenta


The Long Riders' Guild

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