Reflections growing up in New Zealand

My parents were not horsey. 

My mum was dragged on many rides when I was too small to ride out alone, and she does love horses, although finds them a little scary at times.

My father still tells stories of getting naughty ponies into single floats, emergency horse feed missions, and the worst of all. Horse shows.

I was lucky to grow up in a country where horses really are everywhere, and where riding was both affordable and accessible.

I  hope that reforms happen in Italy to allow the same to the youth here - as right now it is a dying sport due to high fee's, expensive liveries, and silly regulations.

I started riding at 6 years on a pony called Sascha. We lived  in Alexandra, a small town in Central Otago.  Riding lessons back in the eighties were rough and tough.  We were expected to prepare our horses from scratch, including bringing them in from the fields, picking hooves, tarring their feet, and saddling up.

Falls and accidents happened on a regular basis- and kids were not given any soft treatment. If it didn't require hospital, you got back on the horse.

I still have a scar on my back from a fall I received jumping. I can remember well ending up hanging from the stirrups under the horse, waiting for the instructor to come and help me. She didn't make it time, and the pony panicked, kicking me in the back whilst trying to get rid of me. I still remember the terror of being made to get back on the horse afterwards with blood seeping through my t shirt.

My family moved from Alexandra to Christchurch when I was 8.

I started riding at a pony stud at the end of the street. The pony I rode was a three year old New Zealand riding pony with the name 'Rat'. The owner of the stud had a teenage daughter Amanda Brown, who went on to become a top international 3 day eventer. She would instruct me on her mum's young ponies while riding her own 17 hh called Brigadair.  She let me borrow tack to take to school for show and tell, and basically just hang around the stables after school breathing in everything horse. The one clause on my riding lessons etc was that I bring my little beagle dog 'Bonnie' with me every time. This wasn't difficult, since Bonnie already came everywhere with me.
Of course, her horses were top show horses, selling  for the sort of money that my family could never afford;but luckily the dedication I demonstrated for being around horses was enough to have my parents agree to real riding lessons.

 I leased an Arabian pony called Tamsin from a local girl, and rode lessons in the weekends at a riding school in Wigrim.  It was there that I competed in a few shows, and met a great gang of horse crazy kids that in turn all had horses of their own too. Karlin was a tough maori girl from Hornby. She could ride anything, and seemed to always have some mad pony that nobody would ride. She was a superb jumper, and I remember being incredibly jealous of her appaloosa colt that sadly died whilst being gelded at two.
Charlie is still a friend of mine here in Sydney. She had a Standardbred called Harry that was also a good jumper. She was older than us, and wiser about boys and life in general. I had Tamsin, a pretty riding pony, and  Rosemary my friend from school, had little 'Blue', a 12 hh welsh pony.

My parents agreed to buying a horse when I was 12. 

I was offered a standardbred gelding called Alfie first. I had him on lease with ROP for 6 months, and I adored him. In hindsight, I so regret that we didn't buy him, as he was the perfect horse - a real 'mothers delight'. I would bike down to see him after school, and ride him bareback around the backroads of the port hills. He was the rouge of the paddock, so smart that he figured out how to open electric fence paddocks by opening the gate with his mouth (mouthing the handle - such a smarty!). 
He hated men , and this was apparently due to a particularly aggressive trainer in his racing days. We took him out some horsey friends for an appraisal as whether he was suitable to buy, he was a devil to load, and extremely naughty with the farrier.
My parents were recommended against buying him, and he eventually he went back to his owner.

Meanwhile, I was soon the new owner of a gorgeous liver chestnut with four white socks . He was a purebred Arabian and called Buddy for short.
I had Buddy or 'Sahara Glory Boy' as he was known on the show circuit, for four years.  He was the naughtiest little pony around - but also the prettiest. When my parents divorced, he was moved out to my fathers place in the country. Dad became great mates with Buddy who lived over the fence from him -and being a typical Arab, he loved people and socializing,. He would call out to him every day when he came home from work for his evening treats.

I have some great memories of our weekends out on the farm, where Buddy and his paddock mate Frisk (my sisters Welsh pony) lived.
We would take the horses out together all day adventuring.
We would collect wild duck eggs and blackberries, gallop among the cattle (outrunning the bull) and swim in the creek
I lived a great period of my life with horses. I came off countless times -Buddy's favorite trick was to come flying through the gate to his paddock after our long rides, and then let rip two good bucks which would have me on my bum in no time. Once he threw me off on the main road and proceeded to gallop home -tail high, and nostrils flaring. Luckily he was diverted by a pretty mare in a field further down the track, and a caring passer by gave me a lift down to get him. My sisters pony by all accounts was the opposite. He was a super pony, completely bombproof in every way, and after two years with us - he went on to another family down the road. His life was made up of pony mad kids, and though he had no time for adults or teenagers, he really deserved a medal for his patience with little ones. All kids deserve a pony like Frisk.

As high school progressed, parties and socializing became more important than horses.  Buddy was put up for sale.  He was not an easy horse to sell , and came back from two trials (one within a day).  He had a big buck, and was smart as a fox. His small stature (14hh) and sweet nature could throw people. He seemed so lovely and calm in the field, yet he was smart - too smart for most kids. Ridden with empathy he was a star - but with force or pressure, he would quickly have his rider off.  I had Buddy for so long, that his quirks were expected. I knew for example, that he would always pigbuck when asked for a canter. I knew he was fabulous to round up cows with (he lived in a huge 5 hectare field with a herd of them) and had what would now be referred to as 'cow sense'. Our games of separating the cows were some of the best balance exercises I can remember. Buddy would do it alone. I just had to hang on.
Ironically in Germany, one of the horses I rode regularly was a little Arab gelding called Aladdin. My style of riding was never (and still isn't) really cut out for big warm bloods - and I think this is all because of what I grew up riding.

 Eventually a friend of a friend who lived in the country  and had been competing on a leased horse, offered to take him on to re-sell. She worked hard with Buddy, and within a few months he had various supreme champion show hunters under his belt.

She sold him to a local show family, and when I was in NZ about 6 years ago I found out he was still there with them- causing mischief well into his twenties. He had just returned from a failed lease after bucking off his rider and his owner had decided just to leave him in retirement. I wonder if he is still alive now, he would be almost 28 if he is!

I should briefly mention my two geldings before I left for Germany. 

Red was an ex trotter who was really just a nice hack while I got my 'horse legs' back. When he went to a sweet lady on the west coast, I found myself with Gunner - a huge 17hh steeplechaser, who got me into trouble once time bolting down a main road of Christchurch. He almost was sold to the international eventer Tim Price, but instead went on to become a hunter in Central Otago, which I am sure he would have excelled at due to his enormous jumping ability (and as I discovered on that fateful ride - he didn't stop at anything he was pointed at!).

When I came back from Italy in 2001 I was working full time, and quite happy to get my riding fix helping a local stud with their horses.

My sister had been showing a young welsh pony at the stud, and I was riding two TB's and showing a young Arabian yearling.  Phoebe by this stage was riding in one day events, and getting tall. She really needed something a bit bigger, with the ability to go further. All of the larger horses at the stud were hacks, and Phoebe was only 13 - she needed a pony around 14hh.  By chance a friend put me in touch with a Connemara breeder down south that had a young horse without a rider. Phoebe, my ex boyfriend Scott and I all drove  to Fairlie to try her out.  On arrival, we were presented with Scarlet the connemara for Phoebe, and for me a pretty chestnut TB that had been abandoned after the owner couldn't afford to keep training her. We took the two out on a hack together with the owner and one of her horses.  I was told the mare I was riding had already been sold, which was a shame as she was lovely. We agreed to take Scarlet, and left happy about finding a horse for Phoebe. Two days later however, when organizing transport for Scarlet - I asked about Bella. Her sale had collapsed, and if I wanted her she was mine.

I brought Belle in 2001 and paid her off over 6 months.

 She arrived thin and leggy, and developed over the years into a chunky round beauty.
Nobody picked her as a TB when we were out, as she had a tiny round Arab face and huge wide girth.  She was my buddy the whole way through Uni, and apart from daily riding and care, I would spend every Sunday (usually hungover) hanging out with her. It was my ritual, and was a great cure for a weekends hard partying.
I was lucky to have kept her in some exceptionally beautiful parts of Canterbury.

For a few years she was at the base of the port hills, where I could exercise her on the same trails as those that Mark Todd's horse Charisma was trained on many years before.
On the weekends we would ride up to the top of the hills that overlooked Diamond harbor for picnics, and jump all of the park benches the council had left for tired walkers. My riding companions for those years were a gutsy endurance rider from Timaru on her little grey Arab, and a fifty year old man called Duncan with a big standardbred called Boss.  We had a lot of fun those years - and met a lot of local riders that we would ride out with on occasion.

Eventually I moved her closer to the airport  where I also had the option of riding on the beach. There was a nice horse park through the pine forest, and that was great for working her out. She was terrified of waves though (yet loved lakes) and her chestnut mare personality would come out most when out on the open stretches of sand. Or on the way home from a long ride.

I sold my best girl Belle when I finished University and left NZ.

She went to a lovely home, and died there only recently. She was first used as a riding horse, an later as a broodmare. The photo here is of her at the Trakehner German Verband Classification where she was fully classified for breeding (Trakehner stud book Appendix B ).

Not just that - she was voted as one of the best TB mares the German judge had ever seen!

The pics below are of Belle with her first foal. That foal has now developed into a great riding horse too - just like mum!

Belle was my last New Zealand horse. 

I mucked around for a few months breaking in polo ponies before I left the country in 2005, thinking this would be mt final horse work experience. I thought I was on to a career in an office, in trade or something similar...

Now twelve years later I laugh at how wrong I was.