Who are we?

At the age of 10 I was lucky enough to be introduced to horses. Lisa, a wonderful woman who is still a cherished friend to this day, moved into our local area, which we refer to as 'The Okau' . She and her partner Bryan came with 30 horses! The horses ranged from 9hh to 16.3hh, from foals to retired, miniatures and shetlands to appaloosas and thoroughbreds. At just half an hours ride or 5 minutes drive away, it really was any girls dream come true! Of the 30 horses that came, many were Kaimanawas from the 1997 muster. It is from this first encounter with these transfixing specimens, that my passion for this intelligent breed sprouted and led me to get 4 of my own in 2008, along with 9 others at the same time for Lisa and associated teenagers.

My first horse teacher however was Pee Wee, standing no more than 12hh, and in his teens, he was too small for me to ride in a saddle! Lisa generously lent him to me, obviously knowing he would be the best 'first teacher'. I forced Pee Wee every where and made him do everything, he was your 'stereotypical' nasty kids pony. I had heard numerous stories of the wounds he inflicted; Dennis lost a chunk of his back, Bryan had been bitten numerous times while trimming his hooves and people had been chased, to name a few scenarios! I am proud to say I never wore any wounds, but we did have a few run ins! He used to live on our large rural lawn. One day I went out with the bridle, my needs only in the forefront of my mind, and he saw me coming and cantered straight at me! My first thought was "yay he finally loves me", but as he got closer I could tell he had his own agenda, I still remember the look in his eye. At the sight of this miniature savage I turned and bailed up the porch steps! I rung Lisa that night to share my debacle, at which she said "take a big stick next time, if he comes at you make like you are going to whack him!" I was very tentative about approaching him the next time, sure enough, at me he came, this time with his front teeth showing! I raised the stick and yelled words my mum would have disapproved of and to my surprise he stopped dead, lowered his head, and in the way horses do, apologised! I learnt many other skills from this magnificent pony, I learnt how to sit a buck, how to catch the pony after he bucks you off and how to jump. The most important lesson I learnt from this pony though, despite all of his terrible habits, was perseverance. I loved that pony like he was my own. Unbeknown to me Pee Wee was not officially owned by Lisa, he had been one of her rescue cases, she had found him chained up in a tiny yard, with no food or water and caught in barbed wire. One day out of the blue Lisa came and told me that his 'owners' wanted him back and Lisa had no rights to keep him. As much as Pee Wee could be a REAL nightmare, I loved him for what he was and even if Pee Wee didn't agree, we had established a deep bond :).

After Pee Wee came Des, a GRUMPY old standardbred with the heart the size of a pea (or so I thought at the time). By the time I got around to riding Des I had been at Lisa's house every weekend for the past year! By this stage it is fair to say I was like a piece of furniture, with that same token it became my responsibility to catch my horse and organise taking myself for a ride! At 11 I was short and weak, Lisa's partner Bryan was sick of saddling the horse I wanted to ride so blunty told me, "if you cant saddle your own horse, you cant ride it". Being the stubborn kid I was I told him back with as much brash as he had delivered, that yes I could, I would ride him bareback! For a time he got the last laugh as everytime I would make Des gallop he would stop dead and buck, flying I would go, tears streaming imagining I was going to die!!! So in fact both Des and Byran found humour in my bravado! A time came however when I got the last laugh and my bravado triumphed. I got so good at being bucked, I would land on my feet in front of Des with the reins in my hands, strongly express my disgust in Des, hop back on and away I would go again. I cringe looking back now, I treated that poor horse like a machine, no wonder he would dump me all the time!! Unfortunately I didn't learn this at the time, this lesson came about a year later in the form of Seamus.

Seamus came in from the 1997 muster as a yearling and lived on Lisa's back lawn in Okiawa, with her old mare from her childhood Honey. During his time on the lawn Lisa earned his friendship, too much pressure however and he would be off like a shot, making a 6 foot fence look like a divot in the ground! When he was old enough Lisa's partner Bryan took over Seamus's training and started the process of 'breaking him in'. He did not take well to the idea of a rider on his back and would jump yards, buck Bryan off and refuse to be caught. All that had occurred to this point, I had no knowledge of. One school holidays Seamus happened to be in around the house, not knowing who the horse was and thinking I was pretty 'good at horses' by this stage I went to pat him. Clearly disgusted about the idea he trotted away. Determined to get my own way I followed him around and around until he stood and let me pat him. This continued for a few more days, during this time he came to trust me. I had been informing Lisa of my progress and by now knew a little of his history. I cannot remember how it happened, but on one of those days I put a halter on Seamus and I climbed on his back. It wasn't until I was up there that the 'tales of Seamus' came to mind. I quickly hopped off, took the halter off and reflected on my actions. I knew Lisa would be furious that I put myself in danger so decided to tell Bryan, even though I was sure he wouldn't be so happy either. Much to my shock however he told me to go and get a saddle and a bridle, it was time for me to ride him! My first few rides on Seamus were a dream, he didn't buck and he acted like a willing partner. After these few rides however he must have considered his situation and decided his old life was better. Every time I would ride him he would buck like a stag! In the beginning I would go flying left, right and center, but eventually got the knack of sitting his buck. After a while his bucking was not as frequent so Lisa felt confident that he could live at my house for a while. How I didn't break anything I will never know. I stuck it out with him though and after 7 months he had stopped bucking!!! I am proud to say that he is now the quietest kids pony on the farm. If an adult hops on he may still buck and the best way to catch him is with a 5 year old. Seamus knows and loves his job, which Lisa allows him to do, with no untoward pressures. Unfortunately I look back at this now and think boy I would approach this differently!

Many other horses came after these 3, I was so blessed to have so many different horses at Lisas to ride. After 5 years I had progressed from only being able to ride the quiet ones to being able to ride any horse on the property. I started many horses under saddle during this time and began training beginners ponies to sell on. Lisa and Bryan still joke about the rider I was and can remember saying to one another "how are we ever going to make a rider out of her!" Of these other horses there are too many to name, there is Buzz and Whiskey, the first 2 horses I broke in at 15, Reily the arab who taught me that forward moving was ok, Hamish the big jumping Standardbred, Cobba who taught me to never give up..... Every single horse I rode then and ride now teaches me something about who I am as a person and a horsewomen. I was truly blessed to learn about horses in the setting I did. Horses were my savior from teen troubles and are a fundamental key to the person I am today.

There have been many influential horse people in my time, through Lisa I met the man that first introduced me to natural horsemanship. His name was Shane Hunt, weighing no less that 130kg, but with a heart of gold, he unveiled a whole new approach to horsemanship. Shane used to babysit my mum and knows the area I grew up in like the back of his hand. I never bore of his tales of the past and his experiences with horses. When I first met Shane he had 3 astoundingly beautiful Clydesdales that he used to put in a cart and they pulled team harrows. I cannot describe Shane's 'method' with horses he just has a way of being with them. Maybe its his commanding stature I do not know. He strongly believes in never teaching a horse with malice and being consistent. Two principles I too feel strongly about and carry around with me in my 'horsemanship tool kit'.

Another influence on my horsemanship was a magnificent lady named Lynley Bolt. To this day she is a great friend and a horsewomen I aspire to be similar to. I remember when I first went to Lynleys farm, up the Taumatamaire, it was the steepest land I had ever been on- her house being at 1300ft! Lynley had Rhythm Sport Horses and was standing Rhythmic Paint The Wind at stud at the time. I do not fully remember how I came to be there, but I remember the experience of riding Rhythmic Voyager, or Sailor as he was most commonly known. He was a treat and still is to this day the only horse I have ridden like it. He was like air and butter in my hands. The feeling of riding this horse has lingered, even though the memory is a haze. In November 2005 I did 5 months of work for Lynley helping start her young horses, milk her 12 cows and assist on their 6000 acre farm. The knowledge I gained through Lynley blew my mind, everything I knew and believed about horses changed. I dread to think of the horsewomen I may have become without Lynleys guidance. To this day Lynley and I live and breathe a similar philosophy, its not uncommon for us to have 2 hour long phone conversations! Lynley is a wealth of knowledge and thankfully is willing to share what she knows with me.

The last main influence I had was Susan Lock, of Dynamic Performance Horses. I lived in Australia for a few years and during this time I did 25 hours a week for Sue on her Australian Stock Horse stud. Sue played Polo and Polocrosse and closely followed Steve Bradys method. I had never worked on an 'actual' stud before. It was such a valuable experience starting 13 horses at a time and watching and comparing their progress. Sue and I had such a valuable sharing relationship and when I finished that job Sue had extended my knowledge and understanding as much as I had hers.

To sign off this unintentional novel we would like to extend thanks to all, horses and people alike, who have shaped the horse people we are today.

Check out Lisas place here at www.okauhorsetrektaranaki.com
Read her story of Seamus below 

Cheryl Gray,
Jun 5, 2011, 11:36 PM