Sunday March 25 2007
On our way to the beach we dropped off Ingrid and her little black pony mare, a product of the black stallion Harmony. When you buy a horse from Trevor, you don't just get the horse; you get a well broken-in horse, lessons if you need them, coaching afterward, and a return policy if you don't like the horse. Not a chance of that with Ingrid, she loves her little black mare.
From there we drove on to Oriti Beach near Invercargill. This spit of land we were on, said Trevor, was just for sports - horse riding and trekking, paintball games, go-cart racing, rodeo grounds, rugby. At least part of it, 1100 acres, is strictly for horse riding. I'd find, as we rode along, there were miles of cleared and mowed trails, through "beach bush" (my description) - dune grasses, blackberry-like vines, tall sedges that even a rabbit wouldn't fit through - and grassy dunes and forest. Trevor puts on rides here and some of his water troughs and markings are still up. It's part of some kind of park (state? county?) which the council encourages people to use; and they even asked Trevor if he'd come mark permanent trails in it, and asked him for advice on what other trails would be good - he could have a bulldozer or mower, at their expense to do so. Can you imagine any place in the States like this? Not to mention there's at least 12 kilometres of beach to ride to the southeast like we did, and another 12 kilometres of beach the other direction. I don't even know where we can ride along a public beach in the US.
Trevor rode Picksy, and I climbed aboard Fritz - big strapping anglo-arab. If Picksy makes 15.2, this guy must have been at least 16.2. I hadn't been on a horse this big and strong for a while, not since Stormy, but he doesn't count because we just go for strolls. I figured Fritz knew quite a bit more than I did, what with Liz eventing on him (dressage, cross-country, and jumping), and he'd also done a 40 km endurance ride, so I wasn't sure how he'd take to me, a non-dressage type rider. Well he was just fine straight away, and while he may have been a little hesitant walking along the road to the beach from the sand blowing across the road, or the commotion up ahead (leaning on Picksy for a bit of support), he felt solid beneath me. Trevor thought he just needed a break from his eventing work, just come to the beach and be a horse and have fun, kind of like we were doing. Picksy could use the run and the break too. And boy, did those horses have fun! Although whether they or I had more fun would be difficult to determine.
It was a good bit cooler here at the beach, and a strong breeze was blowing. I was not complaining! But I was glad I had 3 layers on including a thick fleece, and was kind of wondering why I didn't bring gloves along on this vagabond trip. We turned into the wind and started off walking when we hit the beach; there were a lot of people and cars on the beach, dogs, 2 big kites almost the size of para-sails, and motorbikes. Trevor said often he comes and there's nobody here, but today we walked 3/4 of a mile before we passed the last of the cars. The horses were already relaxed, strolling along look around at everybody and everything. Most everybody who passed us waved at us.
And then, for miles and miles the beach was ours - two people and two nice horses! We picked up a trot, a nice big floating trot for Fritz, then a canter, a big rocking chair canter, which quickly turned into a gallop, and into a flat out run - yikes!
I'm not ever completely sure of myself galloping on a horse, because I rarely do so. The last time was in Egypt, and that was two years ago. And I'm not always completely sure of the new horse I'm getting on, you know? It's like meeting a person for the first time - you're just getting the feel of them for a while. I get on a lot of different horses, and it's the same thing - you take a bit of time sorting each other out. Only with a horse, they weigh 1000 lbs and can hurt you if you don't get along or things don't go smoothly. And not to mention, there's always a different saddle to adjust to. I felt a bit naked in this Wintec saddle, though it was quite comfortable. And each horse has a different way of moving and travelling and responding that you must adjust to rather quickly. So, I got on this big New Zealand half Arab half Thoroughbred gelding for a run at the beach, and I'm wondering, will he bolt? Spook at a gallop? Stumble? (If so, I'd hit that sand pretty hard). Every time I get on a horse, I always send out a little appeal: I'm not particularly ready to die yet, but if I die, today's a good day to die, but I really really please don't want to get hurt again. I was always afraid riding racehorses when they took off running and I had no control - I mean, it's so dang fast!
But with Fritz, no worries! Big strides, big feet, which he placed perfectly and smoothly. I felt he wasn't going to stumble, and he seemed like he didn't bother much with spooking. I always felt like I had him in hand; I was never uneasy on him at all - he kept me from being nervous about flying so fast. Now, I'm not used to much cantering, definitely not galloping, and certainly not running flat out, so it took a bit of time to get used to balancing precisely right over his withers - and there's not so much margin for error when the ground's flying beneath you at 40 mph or so. My leg muscles had to adjust to the galloping - you use different muscles for trotting! In a while I got it - just balancing with my legs, not hanging onto his mouth, just sitting still.
The wind was BLASTING us in the face - your balance over the horse has to take into account the wind, which would knock you about a little bit - and was completely deafening. The horses were sprinting down this empty beach with abandon and delight, ears flattened, pounding along the surf, our tracks now the only things denting the sand for miles. Tears were pouring out of my eyes from the wind. Picksy pinned his ears harder and ran faster and behind him Fritz dug in his toes and ripped along right after him. What a rush! I'd never galloped along a beach, and here I was, in New Zealand, sprinting full out along an empty beach (alongside a Lord of the Rings horse!) with nobody but the gulls to watch us rip by, nobody to see me grinning like a dope. Julie Suhr, I thought of you today!
The 11 km just ripped by in I swear only 5 minutes (way too short!), and we turned into the high grassy dunes into this almost hidden little passage. Which turned into a little trail over the dunes, which led onto this awesome track I talked about. It was mowed wide enough for 4 horses abreast - it was this way over most of the area - past the beach bush, some of it twice as tall as we were, as if we were passing through arches, and... into a forest! It was awesome! Nick Warhol would have passed out and fallen off his horse from bliss. It was like a Sierra Nevada forest, thick groves of tall cedar- and pine-like trees, a thick canopy shielding us completely from the wind, a carpet of pine needles to gallop over, and smart little trails winding through the woods. They'd sometimes turn into another 4-horse-wide path groomed through the trees, and back onto narrow trails. We'd trot along the narrow ones, or canter, or just break out into a gallop, thundering along - we were the only horses out there, which was a good thing, because we were hogging the trails! Sometimes small tree branches would be hanging over the trail, and as we ripped under them, Fritz would duck his head and I'd drop onto his neck and duck with him, but we didn't slow down a fraction, not even when at one spot the tree branches squeezed us on both sides and from on top! I threw myself flat on Fritz's neck and shut my eyes tight, and he ducked and blasted through! Tell me those horses weren't having a ball!
I can't always get a horse to change leads at a canter, and I figured heck, I sure wouldn't be able to do it with Fritz, because he knows dressage, but I must have said the right things the right way, because I'd pretty much think, left lead, and he'd pick it up, or right lead, and give a little nudge, and right as clockwork, he'd pick it up. I wasn't even paying attention after a while. We'd stay behind Picksy, and I'd just ride Fritz off my legs, slowing down when necessary, and left it to him to decide when to canter. We both got into it - slowing down around a blind curve, then both thinking at the same time, Let's Go! And he'd launch into a gallop just as I was leaning out of the turn into the straight with him. Oh, what fun! I almost had to stop to pick the bugs out of my teeth from grinning so madly.
We'd come to a water trough and stop for a drink (grass, really, the horses didn't want water), then we'd continue on down a trail, trotting here, galloping there, little horsie ears pricked forward, always looking for the next corner. Fritz never missed a beat, never put a foot wrong. He's very athletic and has great balance. We'd come to a few roots in the trail, and while galloping over them, he'd seem to put an extra step in there to feel them out and travel over them smoothly.
I'd have gotten totally lost in there; we turned left and right and backwards and forwards, but Trevor knew the trails well. We eventually popped back out on the beach and had our 11 km back, cantering, sprinting, trotting, running flat out again. Fritz changed leads whenever he felt like he needed to, I didn't have to worry about it, which was good, because I figured he knew much more about it then me! Going this direction, with the wind at our backs, we had no wind, so it was silent but for the pounding of 8 hooves in the sand. We rode above the water line, and along the wet line, Fritz digging in to keep up with Picksy, Picksy playfully spooking at the water rolling up at us, Picksy's heels kicking up water and sand behind him.
Alas, the ride came to an end after about 2 hours or so. I'd say that was a close second thrill of a ride to my Egypt desert rides. Trevor's got the sweet spot for training endurance horses: at home he has gravel and pavement and grass for different surfaces, hills and a steep uphill climb for the lungs, and here kilometres of sand for speed training (and no concussion). What more do you need - except for more horses to run along the beach!