No matter what day of the week it is, you can almost always look out onto 90-Mile Beach at Ahipara Bay and see locals and tourists alike atop beautiful horses, riding along the beach, having their own little adventure for the day. Having grown up around horses thanks to my cousin, who was a competitive rider, and grandparents, who were racehorse-owners-turned-recreational-riders, I have always found myself very comfortable around these massively gorgeous creatures. I realize that not all people are privy to having such a childhood and in fact entrusting a half-ton wild animal with your safety can be quite frightening. If you’re a new rider, I would suggest finding a horse trekking company where guides are trained to help beginner riders and the horses are generally calm and easy to ride.
Since I was a child, I would snatch up any opportunity to go out on a horse ride, so when I moved to the Far North and found out that my flatmate’s parents (Sharon and Kev) own three horses – albeit they are by NO means beginner horses and they are full of their own crazy quirks and attitudes – I felt like the luckiest girl in the world! I have been fortunate enough to be asked to come along for many of the rides they go on through the gumfields and sand dunes (that were mentioned in the 4WD post) or just out along the beach in front of our house.
I remember initially speaking to Sharon and Kev about being interested in riding with them and both of them simply asked “do you KNOW how to ride?” Understandable, I’m sure they don’t want to take responsibility for a novice rider getting hurt on one of their horses. I answered both of them with the same answer “I grew up around horses and while I’ve only had a handful of actual lessons, I’ve been riding probably more than 100 times in my life. I can hold my own.”
My first ride with Sharon and Kev was on a beautiful, warm summer evening shortly after the New Year. Kev was on Ginger –the most difficult of the three horses to ride, who’s the pack’s ringleader – always riling the other two up; Sharon was on Harmony – the newcomer to their pack, a gentle sweetheart who tends to get picked on by the other horses; and I was on Ringo (who is nicknamed Drongo cause he can be quite the idiot, sometimes) – who has a tendency to go from zero-to-sixty- in 3.5 seconds and is scared of his own shadow! The evening ride was an easy one, we simply rode along the beach – walking, trotting, cantering. Then we detoured up a sand dune and into a big open field. This is about the time when Ringo decided he no longer wanted to be at the back of the pack and went from zero-to-sixty without me being ready for it. I gripped his mane and the reins as tightly as I could, and held on as long as possible – but within a few seconds I had that “oh shit” realization. I knew I was going to come off. So rather than let myself get thrown and potentially trampled, I took my feet out of the stirrups and jumped to the left. I landed luckily in a soft patch of long grass and minus the massive bruise I ended up getting on my arm, I was unharmed. Now I understood why Kev and Sharon are adamant on only having experienced riders on their horses.
My second (and only other) tumble came on my third ride when I was riding a neighbour’s horse, Charlie due to Kev and Sharon inviting a friend out who was put on Ringo. It was a bloody hot day- the sun was shining down like nobody’s business and it must’ve been in the thirty-degree range. Charlie is a big, solid boy and has a much bouncier gait than I had grown used to with Ringo. Add to that the fact that Charlie’s riding equipment is all Western gear- I wasn’t in my comfort zone. As we were riding up the hills and through the forested area I started to feel as though my right leg was feeling a bit longer than the left. The thought had occurred to me that perhaps with the heat and horse’s sweat, maybe my saddle was loose. Well it sure was, because within seconds of thinking that, my saddle was sliding to the right side and before I could even shout out, I found myself in a pile of dead gorse bush! I had prickles EVERYWHERE! Up my arms, in my hands, in the back of my legs, even on my butt ( I found THAT out when I got back up on Charlie and into a sitting position – not the nicest feeling in the world.) Despite the tumble within the first hour of our ride, I pushed on for the next four hours and am really glad I did because it was a really nice long trek over to the west coast and back to Ahipara Bay.
I’ve been out a number of times since then, and have had the pleasure of seeing a lot of Ahipara’s untouched beauty. Whether it’s been through the tea tree forests, along Ninety Mile Beach, or horse trekking through the sand dunes – it’s always an adventure. I am lucky since I have Kev and Sharon to ride with, but if you find yourself up in the Far North, and are keen to do some horse trekking, look up Ahipara Horse Treks. (PLEASE NOTE: I have not been asked to promote this company, nor have I gone on rides with them – however they are fairly well known in the area and seem to be busy, especially through the summer months).