Shirley Chan
This is writing…

Of Dragons and galloping Steeds

By Shirley Chan
(ThermalAir, Rotorua Daily Post)

“An ounce of confidence and a sense of adventure” was all I needed, my trek guide, Jody Hawkins, said to me.

“Horses need leadership, assertiveness and they need to know you are the boss” Jody continued with the 20-minute pre-ride mandatory lesson.

As she showed me, with ease, the mastery of her steed, the correct rein control, forward move and turning around, I knew I was in deep trouble. The horses were more than twice my size, ten times my weight and had more muscles than I will ever have in my matchstick body – and I was to show the horse I was its master?

While growing up in the concrete jungle of a city, I imagined being on my steed, my cape flapping in the wind, fighting dragons, galloping across moats, joining Robin Hood and his Merry Men, conquering my little sister’s castle – I was a fearless hero. My sister had a donkey while I rode my loyal steed.

Standing with my safety helmet on, facing my “fearless steed”, feeling extremely vulnerable, thoughts of galloping through forests, hills and dales, robbing the rich and feeding the poor, were farthest from my mind. Horse-riding is far easier in my imagination. I prayed to only walk my horse on flat terrain for the hour-long trek.

Mustering whatever “sense of adventure” was left in me, I met my horse, Megan, a good-natured sweetie. Thank God for little girls. My more experienced friend rode Cruise, a beautiful mare and Jody our guide’s mount was Milo.

I was glad I was not given The Man, a horse I imagined would whip me with the gold chain around his neck, pummel me to the ground and grind my face into the dirt. I was wrong. He was a good natured horse, as were all the 33 horses on the ranch, specially trained to take riders with all levels of riding experience or none at all, like me.

Once we were off and walking our horses, single-file, through the most beautiful terrain, riding amongst flocks of sheep and lambs on the hillsides, views of the lake, mountains and valleys, nature displayed at her best, I forgot my fears and began to enjoy the ease of being on a horse – they don’t name it Paradise Valley for no reason. It was paradise.

As we trekked through the 750-acre sheep and beef station, Jody, well-versed in ancient history, pointed out an ancient Maori Pah site high up on a ridge between two valleys where advancing enemy were easily spotted and attacks pre-empted. From there we saw for miles around. I was grateful to Megan for getting me up there on her sure-footed hooves.

We saw bubbling springs, babbling brooks, pristine waters of Ngongotaha stream where trout run. I could almost hear the warriors whose footprints I now tread on horseback, sharing the same paradise on earth.

Jody made a great difference to my ride. An easily likeable, warm personality, instilling confidence and trust in her skills as a guide and in our horses, an accomplished rider with much knowledge about horses and terrain, Jody is a great asset to any rider to have by her side. Her sensitivities and understanding are indispensable to novice riders like me.

There are more than ten guides like Jody to instill confidence in horses and riding for novice riders, or join you in the best exhilarating rides you can have if you are an accomplished rider.

Treks range from 45 minutes to 2.5 hours, and cater to all abilities. Staff take care to suit the rider to the horse and to choose the trek best suited to their level of experience. 25 minute and 5 minute pony rides are available for children under 8 years.

The love and respect for horses is apparent in every person on this ranch. Their mission is to share their love and respect for nature and educate on equestrian recreation. Most of all, they provide a fun, safe and professional atmosphere in which to enjoy the outdoors. A five-week Riding Programme is available by a professional to get you comfortable on and around horses.

Horse-trekking is addictive. By the time we returned and our horses had had their drink of water, I was toying with thoughts of riding lessons – perhaps I will fly through forests on the back of my galloping steed and join Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men someday. Dreams do come – sometimes.