Monday, April 23, 2007


Monday April 23 2007

The Raven is gone. Jumped out of my shoulder bag in Brisbane. I'd only walked about 5 minutes, so I searched and searched and searched and asked everybody, every store and cafe around (all thought I was a nutter), even a policeman in the area. I am going to spend the night throwing up. maybe the week.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Road to Nowhere

Friday-Sunday April 20-22 2007

At 12:30 PM I climbed into the truck with Christy, and with 3 horses in the float, we left Castlebar Farm and headed off to the weekend Nowhere Creek endurance ride, an 80 km ride and a 40 km ‘training ride’ in Elmhurst, Victoria, put on by members of the Victorian Endurance Riders Association.

I was prepared for a 7-8 hour drive across a small part of Australia, and with 2 stops for gas and 1 stop to pick up Subway, it took us about 7 hours. At Subway, I was CRAVING a salad, after a week of no greens, so I got a Big Salad, and asked the girl, “You have a shovel with that?” She gave me a fork, anyway.

The drive to the ride was pretty much brown - brown trees, brown grass, brown fields with no grass; the rare green spots were from irrigation. Which may stop completely in the Murray River-Darling Basin - which includes most of Victoria and most of New South Wales, and a part of Queensland - unless there’s heavy rain in the next 6 weeks. The Murray-Darling Basin has 50,000 farmers and provides nearly 40% of Australia’s agriculture, 96% of Australia’s cotton, 80% of the grapes, 30% of the national cow herd, 45% of the sheep flock. Think of everything that will affect - fruits, vegetables, grain, hay, meat, dairy, wine, towns, etc - if there’s no rain. Everybody’s praying for rain.

We arrived at basecamp in the dark, 7:30. Chelsea, having come to ride one of the horses, was already there, having driven from the far side of Melbourne; Linda, who’d be riding another, and her husband Chris hadn’t arrived yet. We picked a spot under the trees, along the path outside a fenced-off round grassy field. We quickly set up the aluminum pens and unloaded the horses, set them up with hay and water. They were rug-less so we had rugs to put on them… let’s watch Merri try to put one of those rugs-with-the-neck-warmers-attached on in the dark with no torch, with new puzzle-piece snaps to boot! I think by the time I got the rug on my one horse, Christy had parked the truck and trailer and unhitched and had dinner and a shower and gone to bed.

And set up my Mondo Tent, into which I hauled my Swag, which is a thick cushiony sleeping pad encased in a canvas bag, into which you also put all your bedding and pillow. I crawled into my swag and curled up in it.

My first night in a swag was very warm and comfortable… but I didn’t get much good sleep. Mainly because somebody kept banging buckets around, flinging them here and there, bang bang, throwing them down, bang bang, on and on - enough already! In my sleep-haze, I finally figured out it was probably a horse making the racket, and later on, as the banging finally stopped, then picked up again, I figured it was probably one of OUR horses, but I couldn’t be bothered to get up and do something about it. Instead I reached over and pulled out a pair of earplugs that somewhat tuned it out.

When I finally started getting to the real sleep, it started to rain - rain!? For that I jumped up out of bed, because both my doors were wide open and my head and feet were getting sprinkled on. For good measure I moved my suitcase from the open to under a tree, and zipped up my tent doors, and crawled back in bed. The rain only lasted about 10 minutes, just a tease to the dry earth.

Just about to hit the snooze hard, I heard a bird go off, and within two minutes, tens of thousands of birds were going off not far away, and they were LOUD birds, piercing my earplugs. Once I was up later, I hiked over to the golf course, where the main cacophony was transpiring, and discovered billions of white parrots, in trees, hanging from trees, between trees, in the sky, on the ground - everywhere. Not quite big enough to be cockatoos, but corellas, I think they were. DESTRUCTIVE PESTS! Many Aussies say, but I disagree, they are impressive, vocally and visually! (Of course, they aren’t eating my grain or hay, or crapping all over my property or truck). Me and birds, what can I say.

The 80 km ride started at 11 AM and the 40 km at 11:30. Vetting started around 9 AM. Trot outs, instead of being out and back, were in a circle, and this continued throughout the ride. Good idea! They take horses’ temperatures here too, something I had heard of but hadn’t seen before. Christy also uses the thermometer at vet checks to help determine if the horse needs cooling down with water or covering with a rug. Entry fees were $75 for the 80 km and $45 for the 40 km. Other rides I noted in the Victorian Endurance Riding Association mini-magazine were: $80 for a 120 km, and $120 for a 160 km ride; these seemed to be about average.

There were 22 entries in the 40 km, and I don’t know the number, but probably about double that for the 80 km.

Here in Australia, a horse must do 3 80’s for horse to qualify with qualified rider; a novice rider must do 2 40’s then 3 80’s. If a qualified horse has been off 13 months, or has vetted out in his only ride in 13 months, he must do an 80 novice ride again. (Someone correct me if I’m wrong on all this?)

The sky stayed cloudy and cool and threatened rain throughout the morning, though nothing came of it. The atmosphere at the ride, as well as the start of both of the rides, was quite casual. No controlled start, and no herd ripping out of camp to set a torrid pace. Several riders lagged well behind the official start time to get their horses to relax and move out calmly. The 80 km had two loops of 40 km (loop 2 was loop 1 repeated), with a hold of 1 hour, vetting at the half hour of your hold. The vets will actually call your number at the appointed half-hour time, so you’d better be there waiting; you‘ll get a minute or two grace, but after that you may be disqualified. The horses riding as novices had to complete the ride no faster than 6 hours, and no slower than 8 hours (so, no faster than 3 hours on each loop, no slower than 4 hours). The qualified horses can go as fast as they want.

I talked with Linda’s husband Chris about FEI rides - I guessed that at least 80-85% of American riders don’t care about FEI. He guessed the same goes for Australia. Chris came along to crew for his wife and Castlebar; he said with only 3 horses, he wouldn’t know what to do with himself! He’s used to strapping for 10+ horses at one ride.

After the first loop, Linda’s horse vetted out lame; Christy and Chelsea finished the 2nd loop at 6:20 PM just at dark, and passed their final vet check in the dark. We ate a 4-course meal cooked by a club, and forgive me, I forget their name, but it was the best dinner I’ve had in a long time! (Not counting that shoveled salad the night before). They also had coffee and hot water available in the mornings, and they made lunch, and breakfast Sunday morning. And there were showers available!

Later in the evening during final vet checks, a stallion broke out of his pen and got loose, running around the field among the horses getting their vet checks creating havoc, knocking his human over in his determination to have his way with a good-looking mare. Fortunately he was caught before anybody was seriously hurt. Everybody I saw in New Zealand at Horse of the Year (if they didn’t put their horses in these tiny, scary, assigned pens) and Nationals, and at this ride in Australia, uses the aluminum pens or the electric fencing tape, whereas in the States (in the West and Pacific South, anyway) we mostly tie to trailers or to high ties or Sky Hooks. Of course, a horse will get loose no matter what, and a horse will hurt himself no matter what, but I prefer the Sky Hooks. The horse can move around a lot and still lay down. I can just visualize too many scary accidents with horse legs through the aluminum fence pieces and the electric fencing containing only the horse that wants to be contained. A friend from Nevada double-ties her stallion, the halter attached to the Sky Hook, then the lead rope from his halter tied to the trailer.

I had a good sleep in my swag, popping earplugs in immediately. Which was why I missed The Great Stallion Escape again. I think it was the same stallion, this time loose without a halter, and apparently half the camp woke up (I was in the half that didn’t) and was chasing him around. I finally woke up to lots of yelling voices, one calling for a vet, but they were on the other side of the field. Our horses were still in their pens and Christy was gone; I figured I’d be of no use, stumbling around with earplugs in the dark looking for a dark horse, so I went back to sleep.
BC judging was around 8:30 in the morning; here they judge BC for juniors, lightweights, middleweights, and heavyweights. And here they rode their horses only, didn’t show them in hand. Chelsea rode Oslo for the lightweight division, and he looked like he could easily do another 80 km.

We went back and cleaned up our camp, packed everything away, loaded the horses and quickly took down the pens before going back for the awards. A fair number of people were still there as the head vet called out the names of the finishers and returned their horse log books with a completion sash and wine glasses (and bottles of wine for the BC winners). Then we were off - Christy back to Castlebar with the 3 horses, Linda and Chris to their home, and I got a ride to Melbourne with Chelsea. She was kind enough to drop me off at the door of my hotel in downtown Melbourne, which I greatly appreciated, because somebody keeps putting ROCKS IN MY SUITCASE!! It’s ridiculously heavy.

I’m headed for another leader of Australian endurance, Peter and Penny Toft in Queensland up north, and the Imbil ride May 5th. Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Dingley Maze Paradise


Thursday April 19 2007

Dingley Maze is the name of the main Castlebar Farm property. The name Dingley comes from a valley in England, and there’s a maze of valleys here. Or so the story goes. While Meg is gone for the week, and Chris pops in and out, the business of a big horse farm rolls along daily: feeding, exercising, breaking, riding, trimming, cleaning stalls.

Andrew is the current breaker. He’s got a farm, but farming is getting difficult now with the bad drought, so he commutes 160 km a day to come out here and work with the youngsters. He prefers stock horses himself, but he respects the Arabians. “People think they’re dumb, but they’re not. They’re smart. They’re always thinking of ways to get you. If you heavy hand them, they’ll give it right back to you.” He breaks the horses in at the Glen, then brings them over to Dingley Maze, rides them for the girls, then rides them with the girls, to make sure everybody is comfortable riding them.

With this many horses, there’s always horses to trim and shoe. This week Jeremy, and sometimes Mark, have been systematically going through paddocks of horses scattered throughout Dingley Maze and the Glen trimming, while the girls catch and hold the horses and comb out their manes and tails and drench (worm) them. One day I watched them go through a group of about two dozen 4-year-olds; one day a group of coming-2-year-olds.

And there's always horses to ride: I’ve had the pleasure of getting on one or two a day. The Raven rode twice! Favorite horse? Difficult to choose... but if you pick by names, how can you not like a horse named Demon? Which was my favorite ride? Hard to say… all were enjoyable no matter how long or short they were; all were beautiful rides to my eyes, whether we were up high with views or down low just following a logging road through the forest, the horses were all fun in their own way, and the company was always excellent.

One day we did a good long 2 ½ hour ride for some of the fit working horses. We started up a long uphill climb through the forest, then up on top we wound around the maze of logging roads (? That's what I'd call them, but I don't think the eucalyptus are harvested, at least not in this area), trotting, cantering the flats and uphills, walking the downhills. It was mostly eucalyptus forests, with a few areas of pine trees. Nasari was tough, chugging right on up the hills like they were nothing, wanting to get ahead - he just wanted to GO! He has a lovely canter. There was one long uphill stretch, about a mile or so, that we just cantered along up the gradual climb, and while I could hear the other horses huffing and puffing behind me, and dropping further back, Nasari didn’t seem to be breathing at all, and he left them behind with his easy rocking chair canter. I was in dreamland bliss or something on my horse, because apparently a wallaby hopped across the road right in front of us, spooked the other girls’ horses, and I didn’t even see it! I think the Raven did though. I can’t believe I missed it! But no matter because man, what a great ride that was.

We were in and beside a state park, so all of this was state forest land, all nice footing and few rocks. Even though it hasn’t rained in ages, it wasn’t dusty. Once we started back downhill, we eventually got to a steep road where we had to go over a bunch of downed trees that had fallen over the road from controlled burns. Nasari doesn’t step over anything, he jumps, and he likes to turn on the gas as he’s going downhill. Yeehaw! Much to my dismay, I had these big thick rope reins, and I put my gloves on for most of the downhill because I’d already rubbed a few holes in my fingers!

What a great ride! It wasn’t too hot, and on the last bit coming home, we got a strong breeze for a while. It felt good and it eventually cleared the air a bit of the persistent smoke always hanging in the air, though the fires are still going pretty well on that one mountain in the not-so-distance.

Then there was the day of the Reserve ride - a group of us just cantering a couple of miles on the side of the road and back, and I had this great little gray gelding Deviate that had this great Go attitude, and he was push-button to ride. Miles of lively cantering past scarey cows and screeching cockatoos (and over cockatoo feathers - somebody had a cockatoo for lunch). Always the cockatoos everywhere - flocks of them! Wildlife spotted besides the ubiquitous parrots (never get tired of them) were a wedge-tailed eagle, a kookaburra (!! This one was just sitting by the acorn tree inhabited by green and red parrots), a marmot, a black snake, a deer; and the Raven and everybody else saw a wallaby. Oh, and flocks of kangaroos at night time in a pasture of a nearby resort, where they probably throw food out for them.

Another highlight of the day is bringing the 2 foals into the barn in the evening. The little chestnut filly tore her mouth apart in a ghastly wound (really glad I didn’t see that one, or the Before pictures) months ago - you can’t tell anything happened it healed so well. The little bay is an orphan and she’s so sociable. She likes to investigate everything on the way into the barn; today she was sniffing the saddles so Chris threw a saddle pad on her. It about swallowed her up it was so big, and she just stood there sniffing the saddle like she wanted that too!

I’m going along to an endurance ride this weekend with Christy and 3 of the horses. I asked Jeremy how far away it was, and he said “It’s close.” How close? “7 or 8 hours.” Close! To me, close is 2 hours. Not so in Australia! I’ll be sleeping in a Swag. Stay tuned for that!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Castlebar Endurance

Thursday April 12 - Monday April 16 2007

Castlebar Endurance - Further, Fitter, Faster

From the some of the smaller, more casual breeders/trainers/riders (I believe we are humbly known as "Dregs") in New Zealand to the big operations: first stop is Meg Wade and Chris Gates' Castlebar Endurance in Victoria, Australia. Meg is one of the world's top riders from Australia, and Castlebar Farm is one of the leading breeders of top endurance horses.

Near the little town of Walwa (about an hour from Albury), they have three farms of over 2500 acres, with some 300 horses, more than four breeding stallions, 25-40 foals a year, and horses in all stages of training and endurance racing. Meg trains for Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai, and has done so for about 12 years.

The hobby of endurance racing turned into a business when Meg and Chris found that they couldn't find enough good endurance horses to buy just anywhere, so they started breeding their own. There's no doubt that the UAE is driving the market for endurance racing - it's a prestigious sport that the shaikhs can participate in themselves. The Middle East desire for endurance has created this huge market where Australian breeders (and other countries) can't meet the supply. Sheikh Mohammed is a leader in the endurance industry as well as the Thoroughbred racing industry, with stables in both sports all over the world. He once said, "Horse riding is more than merely sitting on a horse's back. It is nobility and chivalry.”

A number of racing and breeding stock at Castlebar belong to Sheikh Mohammed. Of those owned by Castlebar, Meg and Chris keep the good ones, or the ones they think will be good, campaign them, and sell the rest. Those that don't work out to be top endurance horses, they sell. Those that don't fit into their breeding program, they sell. The mares that successfully compete will be retired to their broodmare band if they fit into the program; the others are sold. If the horses don't work out in endurance, they are sold or given away. Meg and Chris have a variable number of stallions they use, all depending on the mare and the combination of bloodlines that they think will work best, always working toward breeding the best heart. It's like the breeding adage in any discipline: breed the best to the best and hope for the best. The stallions that they are actively endurance riding, they breed AI. All the stallions I've seen here are very quiet and well-behaved. Some stallions they have frozen semen stored for future use. They have mostly Arabs, some Anglos, a little bit of stock horse blood, but always at least half Arab. Sometimes they'll cross a full Arab back to a Thoroughbred line to get a little more size.

I was put up in the Staff House at the Glen - a nice old farmhouse with about 30 bedrooms. Well, maybe it was only about 10 bedrooms, but I could get lost in there. Right now over the Easter holidays, there's 3 people living there, Jude, Anna and Jeremy. Jude is from Christchurch, New Zealand and has been working here for 3 weeks. She started riding when she was 8 years old, where she participated in Pony Club, and she worked on the racetrack with Thoroughbreds. I asked her if she did the Mounted Games, and she said Yes! Loads of fun! Anna is from this area, used to work for Chris and Meg when she was 15, went off and rodeo'd around Australia, worked for a big racehorse trainer, has broken and ridden lots of horses. She loves her quarter horses - give her a quarter horse any day - but likes working here riding the Arabians. Jeremy is a young shoer from France.

There's always new and old staff coming and going, but mostly people stay on a while, or they go away to another life then come back. Meg and Chris are well-liked and popular to work for. Several more employees came on during and after the Easter holidays: Shelley, Jessica (former strapper for a big Thoroughbred racing stable), Christy, Asher, Amily. It's mostly girls - Chris says girls are, in general, just better with horses. I agree. Guys just naturally tend to be more heavy handed, though you find exceptions in both cases.

A typical day on the farm is: feed all the stalled and paddocked working horses morning and evening; there's about 40 scattered all over the main farm. The stalls get cleaned 3 times a day. About 3 sets of horses are put on the walker, which holds 10 horses at a time and takes at least 30 minutes to load (gather the horses, many of them fetched on the quad), then maybe an hour on the walker (20 minutes of walking, 20 minutes of trotting one direction, 20 minutes of trotting the other direction), then about 45 minutes to unload (bathe the horse, then return them to their stall or paddock). Usually two sets of horses get ridden, one in the morning and one after lunch, and sometimes a third set goes out. This is when there are more than 3 girls working. Normally there's 6 to 10 workers, which makes the days go quicker and smoother, and more horses get ridden. After an endurance ride, the horse will get a few days off; then he'll go back to being ridden, or exercised on the walker every day.

This is a typical day, but those are really rare. Something unusual usually happens. One morning the neighbor shows up to say 10 horses got out into his paddock, Paul radios to say some cows got out onto the road, and the construction company arrives at the same time an 18-wheeler full of feed arrives at the same time you find out UAE visitors are coming to look at horses for sale and horses must get shuffled around. But nobody gets overly excited, and things get chipped away at until they are done, and Meg comes and goes in her helicopter.

I've gotten to ride every day I've been here (the Raven had his first ride in Australia! ), and am impressed with the beautiful countryside (and the abundant wild parrots! ) everywhere we go, despite the dull brown colors from lack of rain, and the smoke in the air from controlled burns. It's a great area for training - hundreds of miles of eucalyptus forest land to ride in, and good tough hills to climb.

Tomorrow: a long scenic ride for some of the horses going to an endurance ride this coming weekend! (I believe the Raven will accompany us.)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Australian Arrival

Thursday April 12 2007


My first stop - after landing in Sydney - is Meg Wade's Castlebar Arabians, in southeast Australia, on the border between New South Wales and Victoria. It's near the Snowy Mountains, where the Man From Snowy River came from (he was a real person), in a beautiful setting of rolling mountains along the valley of the Murray River. Unfortunately the area here, and in fact much of eastern and southern Australia is in a severe drought. It's been very bad here for 3 years; the Murray River (Australia's second longest) is low as is the dam near Meg and Wade's place. Everything is brown. There's severe water restrictions, and crop production is about 15% below normal. Everything is getting terribly expensive - namely animal feed, and with little grass to eat, some farmers are having a hard time making a living, and are culling their herds. Many of the tree-covered hills are turning brown - the eucalyptus trees are shutting down. Their roots are shallow and there's just no moisture. There is a lot of smoke in the air from controlled burns. Creates a lot of haze but pretty fabulous morning and evening light for photography.

We'll get on to endurance next, but first: the fauna, ohmigod! There are wild parrots everywhere! Fields of white cockatoos hanging out with the cattle, like egrets, picking through their hay - but they aren't egrets, they are parrots! Like we might have crows or ravens or magpies flying around cawing and squawking, here there's parrots flying around screeching very loudly. There's red ones (king parrots I think) that gather to roost in the evenings in the nut tree in the Meg's back yard; there's smaller red parrots, white ones with pink breasts, and yesterday while riding in the eucalyptus woods, we came across a whole flock of black cockatoos, which have yellow on their tails. There's the noisy magpies everywhere also, but they can't compete vocally with the screeching parrots.

Oh yea - and the kangaroo. Meg and Chris raised this one as an abandoned baby - Whinny Woo is her name. The Raven got to meet his first kangaroo ! (Me too!) She came up to the fence to sniff him - smell is a big sense for them - and after a few sniffs she retreated quickly! I am sure it wasn't that she didn't like the Raven; I think she was just overwhelmed with being in the presence of such an avian celebrity. Whinny hangs around the house, mostly in the back yard, and in fact, lets herself IN the house. I was sitting at the kitchen table talking with Meg, and there's a commotion at the door like someone is coming in. Well, someTHING was coming in. Whinny was working at the door handle. Meg said "Come on Whinny, open the door." And Whinny got the door open, and came right on in. It just cracked me up. Meg gave her a few treats (she said "You don't leave biscuits or cookies sitting out or they're gone!"), then she crawl-hopped back out the door. Now, I've heard of miniature horses in the house... but kangaroos?!

On my first Australian ride, we saw loads of parrots, a big black snake (it was Jude's first snake sighting), and a wombat! At night driving along the road, we saw kangaroos! They are pests to many people, and hazards on the roads, just like deer are where I live in the summer. The second ride produced a wedge-tailed eagle!

And now, it's time to go ride again amongst the screeching parrots and wombats and 'roos Oh My!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

New Zealand Endurance Conclusion

April 11 2007

A month wasn't nearly enough time to get to know New Zealand endurance intimately, but I thoroughly enjoyed all the people, places and horses I met. A month was way too short! These are just my opinions and observations of the small slice of New Zealand endurance that I saw along the way.

Since New Zealand decided to go with all FEI rules 10 yrs ago, that means everybody who rides endurance in NZ goes by the FEI rules. This means to all members higher fees and more rules to follow. Some people I talked to are completely for it, because the higher fees take care of the necessary insurance and the rules (should) keep everything and everybody on a level playing field - they are (should be) the same rules followed by other countries. Of course, this does not stop the rare or occasional lame horse from winning or completing a ride (depending on the importance of the rider), but this can happen anywhere, not just New Zealand, and not just FEI or non-FEI. On the other hand, having to follow every single rule all of the time can seem a bit ridiculous at times - especially when a blind eye might be turned on one or two but not another.

For those not wanting their sport to be at the FEI level, they felt the fees were just too expensive, and it put more pressure on what could just be a fun sport. They don't have a choice, like America or Australia has. As an option, there are the training rides, (which don't count toward qualifying horse and rider) so they don't have to worry about competing, though they still must be club members.

Whereas in the States we can look up on the AERC website the records of any horse and rider, that is not available in New Zealand (yet). Here in New Zealand all endurance horses have log books, which record every ride they've done, with the results of each vet check recorded. These are quite convenient in that you can look back and see from ride to ride over the years the horse's recovery parameters, the lag times (how long it takes the horse to come down to criteria - where the riding strategy and strapping techniques come into play), comments and results on gut sounds or soundness or soreness. The book always accompanies the horse - if the horse is sold, the book goes with it. If the horse is sold without the book, he doesn't do endurance anymore.

One thing I am absolutely astounded at is the fact that the minutes of the Board meetings are not readily available to anyone. I did hear some murmurings of disgruntlement about different situations from several people at the rides and yet they only had conflicting rumors of decisions made. (It's surprising what wandering ears will randomly pick up.) If an individual wants the minutes, they can go through the process of requesting the information on that particular subject, which they will eventually probably get, perhaps with persistance, but only on that subject requested. It begs the question, Why would the board not want their members to be involved enough to know what exactly is going on and everything that was discussed, and who voted for what? American endurance riders have some of the same diasgreements or discontent with things that are decided, but the minutes of every meeting are published in the AERC magazine all members receive and are readily available on line. I sure want to know what my board members voted on, and who voted how, since I elect these individuals. And I certainly expect my board members to be approachable about any subject.

Nearly all horses in the rides wear shoes, and some wear pads on some rides. The barefoot trend is starting to catch on a little bit here. I did see one barefoot horse in a shorter race, but so far a barefoot horse has not completed a 160-km ride, and really, what would be the point?

As to feeding, most hay that is fed is meadow hay. It it isn't very green, and it doesn't look nutritious, but it is. Little alfalfa is fed because it's expensive, and chaffage is cheaper and easier and provides the same nutrients. Beet pulp appears to be common, as are vitamin supplements and electrolytes. Electrolytes appear to have pretty heavy use for the longer rides, in the horse feed and syringed before going out on every loop.

If my observations are off base, I'm sure that's because I did not spend enough time in New Zealand. In fact I'm sure I didn't - I must return!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Casa Enduro

Monday-Tuesday April 9-10 2007

I set my alarm for 4 AM to get up and leave with Paul Jeffrey and ... my alarm DID NOT GO OFF! I either turned it off in my sleep, or I turned it off after I double checked it. I had a knock on my window at 5:00 - 5:00! - from Jo and I flew out of sleep in a panic. Well, their alarms went off at 4 AM, but they lingered over coffee and packing up, so I wasn't in the doghouse.

Paul has been around horses all his life, and competes with his endurance horses nationally and internationally. He's qualified for WEC Malaysia on his horse Chinook, who last completed the Horse of the Year ride. Paul is instrumental in New Zealand endurance as a board member and as a sponsor of many of New Zealand's rides - for the Nationals he sponsored Carlos and Mariola as the foreign Spanish FEI vets. He's also influential in getting a lot of outside sponsorship for New Zealand rides. I heard some of the Ruahine Organizing Committee members talking about the Nationals - it cost them some $26,000 to put on this ride. Paul came forward with his funding of the foreign vets, and with organizing much of the outside sponsorship, including the main sponsor CopRice. He's absoultely committed to the betterment of New Zealand endurance, and is willing to take figurative blows to get the sport there. He's also responsible for being over here for Horse of the Year and Nationals. He may come off to some people as stern and uncompromising, but they don't know there's a great sense of humor lurking underneath. For example, his offering to share my RAVEN with his ripping-stuffing-out-of-stuffed-animals DOG.

We did get away from Rangiwahi at 6:20 AM, and in all it took us 7 hrs to get to Paul and Madonna's home outside of Auckland. That included stops for coffee (20 min), letting the horses out for a stretch and grass (20 min), and filling up with petrol (15 min). Their float is a nice big one, smooth driving, and the horses are standing in the stalls right behind you. It's funny to hear them snorting right there and be able to turn around and look at them.

It was a beautiful drive, right by Mt Ruapehu (couldn't see it on my quad ride yesterday because it was in clouds) and Tongariro National Park. Mount Ruapehu at 9176 ft is an active cone volcano. This was New Zealand's first National Park, and one of the world's earliest, created in 1894. Chief Te Heuheu Tukino gave the land to the people of New Zealand because they were sacred lands and he wanted them always protected.

Just a half hour north by bird, or an hour by horse float on the very winding roads over the volcanic ground covered by thick bush, is Lake Taupo, the world's 9th largest caldera. It's a huge lake that we drove alongside of for a while. There were a number of sailboats out on the still water, and the blue-gray lake blended into blue-gray fog and clouds in the distance.

The Spanish veterinarians Mariola and Carlos arrived at home (anywhere I open my suitcase is home now) just after we did. We had drinks on the lovely porch with Madonna in the mild weather and talked. I sat and half listened and half chipped away at the multitude of emails and photos I was two weeks behind on.

We all went out for Indian food in the nearest town, Pukekohe, where, as usual with Indian food, I ate myself silly. I am the only person I know who, despite all the stress and hassles you constantly face, gained weight travelling in India because of all the food I consumed. I still can't control myself!

I was planning a nice relaxing week on the North Island, seeing more horses and endurance people and finally catching up on my internet work, when Paul told me I'd get a ride to the airport Wednesday morning with Carlos and Mariola. "Why am I going to the airport with them?" "You leave tomorrow." "No I don't!" "Yes, you do." I disagreed, so I went up and dug out my flight schedule - and I discovered I did NOT have a week left in New Zealand! What the heck! I threw away my organizer because obviously it wasn't organizing me one bit. I need my usual little calendar. Everything written in pencil, of course. That was the shortest month I've ever had - I am not ready to leave New Zealand!!

So my only look at horses on the North Island were Paul and Madonna's horses of Casa Enduro Endurance Racing. As if New Zealand weren't Paradise already, they have a bigger farm 25 minutes away, right on the Tasman Sea, and I mean right on and above the sea. Oh my god! A 170-acre slice of Extreme Paradise on the rolling grasslands about 500 feet above the ocean, with 2 trails down there to ride along the beach forever. Great climbing work for the horses, uphill and downhill to the beach, then great sand training along the ocean. Trevor had said his beach was the best beach in the world to ride on ("Much better than Paul's"), but I really would have liked time to have to compare and prove him right! From the highest hill overlooking the water you could see miles up and down the coast of the Tasman Sea. Stunning! My pictures were nice, but completely inadequate to show the grandeur of the place. And the clouds for background sculptures were dramatic. Everywhere I turned I kept saying, "Oh my god!"

And the horses - they have about 16 or so, and I didn't see one horse I didn't like the looks of. They are all Arabians or at least half arabians, and they are all big and strong, well shaped, and they're all very personable. Paul took us on a little driving tour and showed us a grassy plunge that they see the horses charge down once in a while, so steep they are afraid to watch. Man From Snowy River cliffs! I didn't want to leave! I didn't get nearly enough photos. At sunrise or sunset, and with some more stormy clouds in all directions you wouldn't be able to take a bad photo. I will have to come back, because the Raven hasn't seen it yet.

My last evening there, Carlos and Mariola made tapas and an outstanding salad for us while Paul roasted lamb, and with Madonna we Salut-ed each other. Cheers to Kiwis and Spanish and Americans and good food and drink, cheers to endurance that got us all together, and cheers to New Zealand!

Sunday, April 8, 2007

New Zealand Nationals 100 km


Sunday April 8 2007

I moseyed out of bed and into camp about 7 AM, fog lining some of the valley, a nice sunny day after it looked like it might rain all night. It was cold and crisp and some of the warm horses were steaming. I kept my eyes and lenses on the strappers and some of the riders coming off loops and going out. As the day went on, Linda and Trevor finished together, 8th and 9th. Picksy did very well. Go little Lord of the Rings horse! Gemma Haywood won the ride, and 16 minutes behind her, Tony Master and Angela Doel had a flat-out sprint down the lane and around the corner on the short run in camp over the finish line, to the entertainment of everybody in camp, with Tony finishing just a length ahead. Angela won Best Condition in the judging later. Sandie's horse Mateus vetted out lame after the second loop, and David finished successfully on Zaandel, his first ride since his accident 2 years ago. Lois Hosking finished on her gray horse Cyden Sharif. Sylvia Ireland finished on her hose Miami; Sylvia was taking a break from her duties on the organizing committee: directing arriving rigs for 3 days (the first one in the dumping rain) and cooking breakfasts and dinners for hungry people on very little sleep! 40 riders started the ride and 26 completed.

Also on Sunday was the 80km Junior ride starting at 6 AM; 9 started with 7 finishers. Winner was Michael Wakeling, finishing just a few seconds ahead of Lewis West. I was standing in the lane when the first 5 Juniors came in, and they were flying by me like hurricanes!

I was bumming another cuppa coffee off Trevor and Company, when Leon the South African saddlemaker came by and said he'd just been on a quad ride with Sheldy (I think it was - he's on the quad in the picture), one of the landowners, and I just HAD to get out there and see the trail and the surrounding countryside. I tracked him down, and he happily took me out to see the first part of the first loop of the 160km (they actually did this twice, both in the dark) and the 120 and the 100 (done in the dark). 15 landowners allowed the ride to take place on their land. My driver was one of them. "Do you ride?" I asked him. "No. I don't like horses, my wife is allergic to them, and my mother is one of the top dressage judges in New Zealand. But when you live in a small community, you're involved whether you like it or not. I don't mind it at all." The track we went on was pretty amazing - it went up and down, up and down, some STEEP ups in there, and some steep drop offs to the canyons far below - all of this traversed in the dark. Thank goodness there'd been no rain overnight because some of that would have been treacherously slick. The scenery was just amazing, and most of the riders missed it because of the dark.

Then the big dinner/awards presentation started about 6 PM. Big catered 4 or 5 course dinner, and lots of good dessert. Yum! I was sitting with Trevor and his gang. When dinner was over, 250 people plus all crowded into the hall, and not everybody fit. The RiffRaff (like me) sat in the outer hall where I couldn't see anything but I could hear. Paul Jeffrey handed out the prizes. He individually called up the 1st-5th place finishers in each of the rides. Here, you don't just come up and get your award and get clapped for: 1st thru 5th places all got to say their Thanks pieces. And I was told EVERY finisher used to get to say their Thanks. Oh my lord! It's a nice idea, but my God, it goes on forever. I was getting sleepy, and I could see other heads nodding off and eyes closing. At the last 3-day ride I rode in, in Nevada, the Duck asked if everybody wanted to hear the finishers' names read off. The loud chorus was "NO!!" We of course don't have strapping crews that do so much work, either. And the endurance awards were over, then came the awards for the Competitive Trail Rides.

I didn't even stay for any of the entertainment - singing, dancing, DJing - because I was getting up at 4 AM to leave with Paul Jeffrey and Jo to head off to Paul and Madonna's home near Auckland, for my last days in New Zealand. I said my goodbyes to the great friends I've made here, and I headed off to bed.
I set my alarm for 4 AM, and double checked it before I crashed.

It was really set for 4 AM, and I really did double check it!

Friday, April 6, 2007

New Zealand Nationals 160 km and 120 km

Friday April 6 2007

Oops! I didn't quite make it up for the start of the 160 km New Zealand National Championships. 44 riders started the 160 km at 1 AM, and 11 Juniors/Youths started the 120 km at 4 AM.

It was a chilly morning when I got out on the grounds at 7 AM. There was a frost, but clear, no clouds. It was too cold for the strappers to be too busy for the first part of the morning, but as the day warmed up, they got busier.

Strapping's a fine science here. Whereas I usually ride slow enough in the States to just walk right into the vet check, here in the FEI rides it's usually serious business, even if you aren't competing for top ten. There are radio number checks 4 or 5 km from home on each loop, and an announcer broadcasts when the riders pass these. I thought it was just a nice way of letting everybody know what was going on in the ride, but no, I believe it's for the strappers to be ready for their horses when they come in. The rider will cross the finish or in-timer line and get a time, then they'll jump off their horse, unsaddle while several people grab their horse and start dousing him with water and/or cool towels. The idea of course is to get the horse down to the 64 criteria as quickly as possible and present it to the vet immediately to stop the clock. You don't want to take your time in getting the horse's heartrate down; nor do you want to waste the time getting the horse's heartrate below 64. If you've spent an extra minute, or 30 seconds getting your heartrate down to 60 or 54, you've wasted that time. You clean the horse's feet before it goes in the vet ring in case there's a stone that might cause it to be slightly off. It's an art, knowing the horse and presenting it at the precise time. Me, heck, I never have to worry about that because Gretchen and I don't ride that fast in the States, and I'm just happy if we have a crewperson there to hand me a sandwich and a Dr Pepper over ice. (Which, by the way, I have not found ONE in New Zealand.)

And of course you don't want to put too much cool water on the horse, or in the wrong places, such as the back and hip, where it might cause them to cramp up. You do put lots of water on over the head and neck and shoulders, and scrape it right off. Cool water under the hind legs, then more over the neck and scrape it off. I haven't seen anybody riding with rump rugs here, though Trevor said a few people do. Most people I've watched give electrolytes in feed, as well as dosing at the beginning of every loop (as long as the horse is drinking). The strappers also clean tack after every loop (um, I clean my tack well about once a year). Jo, who straps for Paul Jeffrey is always busy with the horses and gear, never stops working. The strappers also provide the rider with food and drinks, keep the horse supplied with food, blankets if needed, and carry the tack back and forth.

As the day went along, the same 4 or 5 riders stayed up front setting a quick pace, including Kylie Avery, who on her stallion Silands Jasark won the Horse of the Year ride. The Juniors were clipping right along in their 120 km ride - here they don't ride with sponsors - and to me they look pretty fearless.

There were 6 loops; loop 1 at 30 km was done twice (in the dark); loop 2 at 30 km was done twice; loop 3 was 20 km, and loop 4 20 km. There was a 40 minute hold each loop, with 10 extra minutes added to the hold times of I think the 4th and 5th loops for a represent of the horse just before going out. All those loops and hold times are a far cry from the 100 mile rides I know, with maybe 3 vet checks spread out among 3 30+ mile loops, or a 65-mile and a 35-mile loop. But FEI rules require 6 loops with these shorter hold times. Doesn't give the horse much of a good rest, and, I believe it removes some of the horsemanship from the ride. I'm not saying it's good or bad. If you can go out and gallop 30 km, have a break, go out and gallop 20 km and have a break, etc, you can do just that - gallop along, slowing near the vet checks for your heartrate and letting your strapping crew take over to get your horse down. That would be a different way or riding than if you had a 60 km loop where you had to manage and ride your horse a bit differently, to get him along further, rate him with a bigger plan in mind before he could have a break. Just an observation.

Lois Hosking and her chestnut Highlander, the Best Condition winners at Horse of the Year, vetted out (pulled) after the 4th loop for lameness. Well, he's still the handsomest horse on the grounds. Linda Pullar's horse Razzy was going very well for Linda Meredith (Razzy's first 160 km), and Vanzant was going well for Sandie, as was Gemstone and Paul Jeffrey.

Just after 3 PM the winner Mark Tylee came across the line first on his mare Class Act, with the next 3 finishers within 2 minutes of him, including Kylie on her stallion who came 4th. An hour later in 8th place was last year's National Champion, Jenny Champion on Freckles, and a minute after her was Linda Meredith on Razzy. We watched Razzy vet through - well, I don't know if Linda Meredith watched her: "The last vet out is always too hard to watch!" But Razzy passed with flying colors, and there were happy hugs all around.

Another horse that caught my eye was a dark brown gelding with a light colored mane, Blackjack Davey, ridden by Rupert Kurghan. The reason he caught my eye, besides being a pretty color, was that he was a purebred Thoroughbred. You don't see too many Thoroughbreds doing 100-mile rides... and he finished with a 14 1/2 hour ride time. Hmm... I wonder if I could get Stormy fit for 100-mile rides...

Sandie and Vanzant went out on their last 20 km loop just as it was getting dark. They kept company with 2 other riders, Robyn Peters, and Mariaan Liversage from South Africa. Her husband Leon is a saddlemaker, and would donate a saddle to the Best Conditioned winner of the 160 km. At about 8:15 PM the announcer broadcast the riders had just passed the checkpoint and were less than 5 minutes from home. "Everybody come out and cheer for them!" A good-sized group of people gathered 'round the finish line and waited for sight of bobbing headlights to turn the corner into camp. There they came, and a big cheer went up, clapping and whistling and yelling (which spooked the horses) for the last 3 riders home.

A completion for all of them, Sandie and Vanzant's first 160 km ride! Their ride time was 15 hrs 32 minutes (not including vet holds) - less than 30 minutes off the cut-off time. In most New Zealand 160 km rides, you have only 16 hours (ride time) to complete the ride. It's the Organizing Committees of the rides (the rides are put on by riding clubs) who make this pretty standard rule, because they figure you really don't need to be out there for 24 hours, and if you do, the ride is really too difficult.

Consensus from the riders was that it was a fairly tough ride, plenty of hills to climb. Paul Jeffrey said according to his GPS information, there was 3650 METERS of climbing in the 160 km ride. Garry Walker, president of the Ruahine riding club that put on the ride had said the ride has "undulating hills and flats." Paul told him "I must have taken a wrong turn because I never found the undulating hills!" Of the 44 starters, there were 26 finishers and 18 vet-outs (pulls).

Of the 11 starters in the Junior-Youth 120 km ride, 8 finished. Natalie Bickerton finished with a 7 hr 34 minute ride time, 4 minutes ahead of Tessa Deuss.

Two big rides down, more rides to come!

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Vet-In for Nationals


Thursday April 5 2007

Apparently Julia slept at the fence by the horses all Tuesday night, because when we got up, she was still there and the horses seemed unbothered. In fact Zaandel was in the middle of his pen, and when I went to pet Julia, he slowly crept forward. If the pig wasn't eating me, maybe she wouldn't eat him. He got close enough to almost sniff her, and while he snorted loudly through his nose, Julia just kept grunting happily. Later I saw Zaandel actually walk to the fence on his own and sniff noses with Julia. Maybe Sandie and David will have to get him a pig of his own when they get home.

We were among the first 4 horse floats to move into ride camp about noon yesterday. It slowly filled up during the day, and the clouds slowly built up...

Around 4 PM it started DUMPING rain. The North Island had some trouble with torrential rains in the last week or so, and I could see why. It poured for a half hour, then rained for another solid half hour, and rained on and off all night. Hopefully things would dry out for the ride, or else there would be some slick footing out there.

Thursday morning dawned bright and cloudless - for a few hours anyway. Ridecamp kept steadily filling up with horse floats from the North and South Islands.

Lois Hosking and her handsome chestnut Highlander were parked right next to us; Linda Pullar arrived with her mares Razzy and Abigail; Trevor arrived driving Chris's float with a load of horses. Lois is riding the 160 km and the 100 km on another horse. Linda Meredith from Australia will be riding Linda Pullar's Razzy in the 160 km, while Linda will strap for her and then ride her own Abigail in the 100 km on Sunday morning. Trevor was going to ride Picksy in the 160 km, but Picksy didn't feel just right after the ferry ride, so he's waiting till the 100 km on Sunday. Paul Jeffrey arrived with 2 horses, Gemstone that he will ride in the 160 km, and Gazelle who a girl will ride in the 100 km. Both horses completed the Horse of the Year ride a few weeks ago.

At noon, dozens of riders saddled up to do a mini-parade down the street and back. Some New Zealand news channel is here to film the ride.

Vet-in for the 160 km and junior-youth 120 km started at 2 PM. There are 4 New Zealand veterinarians, and 2 vets from Spain.

I watched Sandie getting her saddle ready for the 160 km. Since it's a 160 km FEI ride, she has to carry minimum weight of 75 kilos. She rides with 3 saddle pads, one of which has pockets to slip weights in. She also wears one of those vests that you get wet to keep you cool and carry extra weight.

At 6 PM the rider briefing started. There was some discussion over rules to sort out the time slips and horse logs, the represents on two of the loops, the weighing of riders (usually every rider has to weigh with tack in coming in from every loop; this time it will be 2 random loops for all riders, and individual random weighing of riders) and there was a suggestion that there should be some follow up of riders on the first loop. The first loop is 30 km, in the dark (and it's going to be a cold damp night), the first part up a hill, with no number check till about 26 km. What if a horse tied up out there after 8 km? It was decided that a motorbike would follow along a half hour or so after the riders left, for safety.

A big filling meal was served, and riders went to get ready for the ride and grab some quick winks before starting to saddle up around midnight...

Tuesday, April 3, 2007


Tuesday April 3 2007


We woke up this morning to 4 penned horses going bonkers and a pig! Just across the fence from them was a cute black and white big honker of a pig. Of course I had to pet it. It quite liked the attention and in fact as I petted her through the fence, she just sank down on the grass against the fence and my hand, sighed, and laid there grunting contentedly as I petted her. So while the horses were running in their pens and snorting loudly and threatening to break through their tape fences, I petted the nice pig. And, the Raven met the pig too!

We spent half the day in a bigger town 45 minutes away, Taihape (tie-happy) stocking up on supplies and errands. Taihape is, of course, the Gumboot Capital of New Zealand. That's Wellies, or mud boots to the rest of us. Maybe I should have picked a pair up because there's a lot of clouds in the sky, and there were an awful lot of low hanging clouds in the morning.

The foothills of the Ruahine Range are made of ash. Too much rain and they just disintegrate. You can see scars along the way where pieces of the hills just fell off and the sheer cliffs of ashy clay is exposed.

Back at Butch's farm, David took the horses one by one and lunged them in the round pen while Sandie and I took turns grazing them on the lush grass lining the road. The horses were given their grain, and I snagged a few handfuls for the pig. She almost expected it, was following me along the fence as I called her. The horses still didn't love her, and especially Zaandel wouldn't get anywhere near the fence. He watched me pet the pig but thought I was nuts.

Then we went over to Butch's, because he'd told us we could come take showers. We were not ones to turn such a gracious offer down! Butch made us coffee, sent us to the showers, and talked horses. Sandie got out her 2 nice photo albums of pictures she's taken (she's also a horse photographer) and she and David went through them with Butch. They talked horses and bloodlines, and, like learning a foreign language, I'm starting to pick up and recognize some of the names and lines, understand a few and put them together.

And we talked pigs. It's Butch's pig across the fence, and her name is Julia. He had a boar for her named Roberts, but Roberts wasn't holding up his end of bacon making, so no more Roberts. He sent some pig scraps back to the farm with us, and said "Just call her, she'll come." Butch had a book on his table, "Straight From the Horse's Ass, A Kiwi Cowboy Rides America" by Lee Hughes. Butch said he didn't read much, but he couldn't put this book down. I must find it somewhere. He said I could have it on loan for the week, but I knew I wouldn't have time to finish it. He also had "Five Hundred Horses", and "Ten Thousand Dogs", both by Peter Newton, and he said they were good also.

Anyway, lovely shower that, and a cuppa coffee. We left about 8:30 and as soon as we drove off Butch's lights went out - I think he was waiting for us to leave so he could go to bed!

Back at the farm I carried the bucket to the fence for Julia. She had been sleeping near the horses, and she must have known I was bringing her a bucket, because she was already waddling down the fence to me. LOVE THE PIG!!

Monday, April 2, 2007

Journey to the North Island

Sunday - Monday, April 1-2, 2007

For my journey With Holly Farm to the North Island for Nationals, our goal was to pack and get gone by noon, which wasn't going to happen, so, at the latest by dark, because we would catch the 7:00 AM ferry. We'd be taking 2 trailers for 4 horses; 3 would be ridden at Nationals, and we had a bred mare to haul back home to Auckland. David and Sandie sure hoped they'd get someone to haul her up north with them after Nationals, so they wouldn't have to spend another 16 hours or so driving her. Me, I'd volunteer to stay at ridecamp and watch the ride horses!

Nobody was panicking about packing or getting ready, and there was a lot to do: pack gear, clothing, food; clip the ride horses (they got show clips around the head); get things situated on the farm since they'd be gone for about 10 days. They'd either have a person staying there or coming to feed and check on all the animals. Meanwhile, there were horses' feet to trim, horses to move to different paddocks, a demonstration of driving for a gal that would work with a few young ones, and a few more stallions to show me, Zaddam and Simeon Sapar and Imperial Makkir.

About 8:30 PM we started loading horses:

Dahman Vanzant finished the Horse of the Year ride, but vetted out at the finish - his heartrate didn't come down. That's the first time that has happened with him. Sandie's doing the 160 km on him at Nationals. It will be his and her first 160 km. He's a homebred by Simeon Sapar. David will be riding Zaandel in the 100 km. He qualified last year as a 5-year-old, and was 3rd and got BC in the North Island Championships 100 km. This will be David's first ride back 2 years after breaking his pelvis. Sandie will also ride Mateus in the 100 km ride. Now that's endurance - ride a hundred miles starting Saturday at 1 AM, then get back on another horse and ride 65 miles starting Sunday at 1 AM! Mateus finished the Horse of the Year ride with a young South African girl aboard. Mateus is a character, rather pushy and annoying on the ground (but nice to ride, says Sandie), but you can't help but like him. He ate half my veggie sandwich the other day and he knows when I have candies in my pocket and he insists on sharing them with me.

And a note about New Zealand endurance: New Zealand about 10 years ago voted to go the way of FEI. They follow FEI rules for all their official rides. Horses and riders must first ride as novices, and complete 2 40 km rides, then 2 80 km rides, before they qualify as Open riders and horses.

Most of the 120 km and 160 km rides begin around midnight and get the hardest loops out of the way first, in the dark, when it's cooler. This CEI*** 160 km starts at 1 AM; the CEI*** Junior-Youth 120 km starts at 4 AM. This year's Nationals is a big shindig: there's not only the 160 km and 120 km, there's also a CEI** 100 km Sunday at 4 AM, an 80 km Junior ride Sunday at 6 AM (and Juniors here do not ride with sponsors), and the National Championships for Competitive Trail Riding, a 70 km Open, 40 km Intermediate, and 40 km Junior ride, beginning at 7 AM on Saturday. It's going to be busy!

We drove on into the night, with one stop for gas and burgers, talking horses.

I wasn't sleepy, but I laid down in the back seat of the GMC, and was just drifting off when David said "Are you asleep?"

I blinked awake. "Uh - no." "Well, I'm getting pretty sleepy... you want to drive?"

ACK! "Uh sure." Here I am, half awake at midnite or so, not only driving on the left side of the road, but pulling a horse trailer and 2 horses! And I by choice don't do a great deal of hauling at home in the States. ACK!

While the Eagles were singing "Desperado, why don't you come to your senses," I was singing "Retardo, why don't you stay on the LEFT SIDE OF THE ROAD!!" Gauche! Gauche! Careful! Horses in back!

I asked David just before I pulled out, "Is the road going to get wind-y?" because I was pretty sure this was that same godawful winding road that Linda and I drove on coming down. "No, it shouldn't," and as soon as he passed out, and the road got wind-y! Winding, narrow, with skinny bridges, and of course on every skinny bridge and curviest corner I met a truck! ACK! I was no longer sleepy, let me tell you! A bit of adrenaline kept me wide awake.

I drove for half an hour and David woke up refreshed. So I crawled in the back again and dozed off... then at 1:30 AM we turned off the highway onto a dirt road and drove a ways before pulling over. I didn't get up, but saw later they'd set up the wire fence pens for the horses, and were stopping for a few hours' sleep. The moon was glowing brightly through a cloud cover, and you could hear the beach and waves crashing a short distance away. Tired as I was, I never fully fell asleep.

At 4 AM we got up and took down the fences and loaded the horses again. We were back on the road at 4:30, headed for the ferry at Picton where we needed to be at 7 AM. I was now pretty tired, and was dozing off, and then David woke me to drive again. ACK! He said to stop at the first open coffee place, which happened to be 15 minutes down the road. All he needed was that power nap, and the coffee, and he was good to go. So, I laid down again to try to sleep, and we pulled over shortly after that, because Sandie was fading. I couldn't believe she'd lasted that long. He went to drive her truck and I drove again, following David, all the way into Picton. Fortunately for me there wasn't a great deal of traffic to worry about. Those roundabouts you have to drive around here, though, I'm not quite sure about in a car, much less a horse trailer. I was really glad it wasn't rush hour! We arrived at the ferry at 7:05, and it was loading already. We had to park behind the loading area, and David went to get the paperwork, and actually ask to get on the ferry, because he hadn't booked! He just hadn't gotten around to booking. They said at first there wasn't any room for us, but we squeezed on, the last few to make it on the ferry.

Now, I'd gotten a text from Trevor that the crossing he'd taken I think at 7 PM or so had been great. But, knowing that it was 12 hours later and weather can change quickly, and knowing that I can get seasick in a bathtub, I'd pulled out my seasick pills from Greece and took one. It was a smooth crossing after all, and I stayed awake for the whole thing, most of it on the cold front of the boat. David and Sandie and little Trent had a cabin to sleep in, but I figured I'd sleep in the truck while driving. I didn't want to miss any part of the crossing on the ferry! I had a coffee followed by a cappuchino, and stayed chilly out front till I had to take a break on the warm side of the boat for a while. Then I went back up front and stayed there till we docked in Wellington.

From Wellington we drove a half hour till we stopped for gas, then another half hour or so till we got to Queen Elizabeth park in Paekakariki on the Kapiti Coast. There about 1 PM we set up the fences and unloaded the horses for a few hours' rest. The Raven and I had to go see the beach and touch the Tasman Sea, then went straight back to the back seat of the truck. By then I felt like a chocolate bar left on the hot dash for far too long, and I totally passed out for 2 1/2 hours.

Our destination was Rangiwahia, a tiny town in the foothills of the Ruahine Range. This would be basecamp for the Nationals, being put on by the Ruahine riding club. We were planning to be there by dark, but you know how that goes... We got back on the road at 4:30 PM and drove on into dark again, and eventually turned off the main highway 1 onto this seriously hilly winding road for 14 km till we came to Rangiwahia.

We couldn't go on the ride grounds till Wednesday, so we went and camped on Butch's farm. Butch is an endurance riding farmer from Rangiwahia. We set up the fences for the horses, got them fed and settled. The full moon (or one day short) was up, and it was silent but for the horses munching.

By now I was feeling pretty wrecked, and could think of nothing but crawling into the back seat of the truck for bed, and David said we'd go to Gary and Vicky's. ARGH! Sandie said she'd stay with the horses and sleep, but even though I was about to fall asleep on my feet, I went along with David and Trent. Really, you can't pass up a chance to visit people in New Zealand. And anyway, my bed was our vehicle!

So we drove a ways to Gary and Vicki's and got to their place at 9:30, and they were a bit surprised to see us. Not displeased, just surprised we'd shown up so late. They gave us coffee, and talked horses. Gary's the president of the Ruahine riding club that's putting on the ride.

We got back to the farm about 11:30 PM and I passed out. And that was the end of our 24+ hour Epic Journey back to the North Island.

Holly Farm

Saturday March 31 2007

Trevor and I were away from his farm at 4:45 AM, headed north; he was dropping me off at David Marshall and Sandie MacLean's Holly Farm outside of Christchurch on his way to Nationals with Picksy. We left in a bit of rain and a thick fog; it took us 5 hours to get to Margaret and Allan's place for coffee, where we unloaded Picksy for a grass break and stretch. We were there an hour, and they talked solid horses. These people knew Trevor's uncle Brian and had some of his horses, and knew Trevor's horses and breeding, like he does, backwards and forwards. Allan was a beekeeper for 35 years, and has just turned 70 and is retiring from it. They sent me away with a homegrown jar of honey! (Which Trevor nicked.)

It was another 3 hours on to David and Sandie's, where Trevor unloaded Picksy again into the round pen, and we all had coffee before Trevor hit the road again. He headed another 2 hours north where he'd stay for the night, and pick up another lady's float and haul it with Picksy and her 4 horses to Nationals, catching tomorrow night's 7 PM ferry. We would pack tomorrow and head north by dark, to catch the 8 AM Monday ferry.

David gave me the history of Holly Farm, in his family for 4 generations, and the rundown on their horses and breeding program and bloodlines, which he knows upside down and inside out. Lots of fascinating history and stories there.

David's dad started breeding Arabians in 1961; David started riding their stallions in endurance in 1978, just to prove that they could do endurance. His dad had decided to breed purebred Arabians, and acquired 4 purebred mares to start, and a purebred Crabbet stallion, Silver Sparkle. David's father's lines carry select Crabbet, Russian, and Egyptian blood, and have proved successful in the showring and in endurance.

While continuing these lines, David and Sandie have decided to also pursue their passion ("I'm just obsessed with breeding!" said David) of breeding Straight Egyptian Arabians as Al Zayd Arabians. The horses are used for showing and endurance, an all-purpose Arabian. David's been all over the world studying breeding
and Arab bloodlines, as well as training them, in the US, Germany, and the UAE.
They've got four stallions: Imperial Maakir and Simeon Sapar are Straight Egyptians, and Zaddam and Pradaa are the mix of David's and his father's breeding. The young dark gray Zaddam was the one that made my eyes pop out. David and Trevor have a partnership in Whitestone's Silver Flame, the 24-year-old gray stallion with a band of mares at Trevor's.

The old homestead on Holly Farm dates back to the 1860's (about as old as you'll find in New Zealand). There's chickens and baby ducks, peacocks, pheasants, cows, and a miniature horse that is Trent's horse. Nobody but Trent can catch the little bugger, and his first day home, Trent led him right in the house. He regularly escapes out of his pen, and we had to run in a whole herd of 2-year-olds to separate him out back into his orchard pen.

There's paddocks of endurance horses in various stages of training, paddocks of two-year-olds, mares and foals, and just weaned babies. Another horse heaven in New Zealand!

Sunday, April 1, 2007


Wednesday March 28 2007

I was in desperate need of wireless internet, so Trevor drove me to Queenstown, about 2 hours away and dropped me off. He had some horse business he could take care of around there, so it wasn't a total waste of his time. He wouldn't hear of me taking the bus anyway.

We were socked in a thick fog until about Lumsden, an hour or so away, and then we drove out of it. All the way we'd been slowly gaining altitude, through sheep farms and more farms, and when we got out of the fog, there were big mountains off to our left, and decent sized ones on our right, that they sometimes did endurance rides in.

We reached the bottom tip of Lake Wakatipu, under which I believe there's a sleeping giant, whose breathing causes a rather strange rising and falling of lake level. We drove along the side of it, hugging it along what used to be an old goat track. It's still just a narrow winding 2-lane road, that sometimes squeezed to one lane with road construction. Pretty steep mountains above us, and across the lake, bigger mountains rising sharply out of the lake, no room for even goat tracks over there. If you wanted to head west, there's that mountain range to cross (by bird wing) before you reach another north-south highway (that only goes north to Milford Sound before stopping), and on the other side of that, nothing but hundreds of miles rugged mountains and lakes and Fiordland National Park, with very few trails through it, before you hit the Ocean. I'm sure it's thoroughly been explored at some point, but there can't be many casual visitors. Oh, wouldn't I like to just be dropped off with map and compass and the right gear on the other side of Lake Wakatipu to hike straight across to the ocean!

But I took the easy way, with Trevor driving me and talking horses on the way. We got to Queenstown and took some time finding an affordable hotel with wireless internet. Didn't find either - not so many rooms available (well, maybe not for the likes of me) with a conference in town, none with wireless at the ones we checked, so I settled on a room in a hostel, with wireless internet at cafe in town.

I had the downstairs of a house, with a bit of a view down over the lake. Gee, I'd like to just move in here for a few months! I only had about 2 hours to wander around town before I had to get to work, but, Queenstown seemed to be a nice town in a lovely setting! It's stacked up around the curve of the lake, with a big forested mountain looming right over it (with a gondola ride to the top), and mountains surrounding the lake everywhere. There's a hill on the left as we drove into Queenstown; Trevor said they worked up on top of that on Lord of the Rings, staying on the backside bottom of it, riding up to the top to work every day. I bet there weren't too many whiners on that shoot!

It was quite a busy town, tourists and backpackers strolling everywhere, sitting in outdoor restaurants, riding in vans taking them to adventures, and ducks swimming the lake and strolling the parks. You can do anything outdoorsy you want there (for a fee): bungi jump (no thanks!) sky dive (no thanks!), paraglide (no thanks!), white water raft (no thanks!), take Lord of the Rings tours, water ski, snow ski, steam in a boat up the lake, take scenic flights, go to numerous restaurants (lots of Indian!) and bars and internet cafes. Plenty of upscale hotels and loads of hostels. I'd love to come back spend time just hiking in the surrounding mountains. And riding of course.

Next morning I took a couple of buses to get back to Gore - all day to get 2 hours down the road, but the bus is a great way to see the countryside. One other girl and I had a whole bus to ourselves, and our bus driver gave us a personalized guided tour of the countryside we were passing through.

I am fascinated by the hedges that are all over the land down here, many of them made from closely planted pine trees that are severely shorn about 12 feet up (by tractors with large spinning blades), then sometimes allowed to grow normally above the trim. They are windbreaks or just impenetrable boundaries between pastures. Sometimes the hedges are other kinds of trees, big yucca-like plants, or even the invasive gorse, through which a snake wouldn't want to try to slither (and New Zealand doesn't have snakes - maybe this is why!)

The driver pointed out the "freezing works" or slaughterhouses where the cattle and sheep are slaughtered (deer are processed in their own plants), the old pulp mill, the big dairy conglomerates that are making a resurge. I said Surely Kiwis didn't consume THAT much milk, he said 97% of the milk products, milk, butter and cheese, are exported.

I also noticed some of the city slogans... If you've noticed, some cities or towns in America have adopted some slogan to put on the sign on the outskirts, such "Winnemucca - City of Paved Streets" (I'm not kidding! Though it may have changed to something more modern by now); Inyokern - Sunshine Capital of the World;" etc - I actually have a little book of them in America. Here, a few of the slogans were "Where Dreams are Possible" and "Northern Southland, Naturally."

I'd say for the whole country: "New Zealand - Come Ride!"

Breaking In One

Tuesday March 27 2007

Trevor's got lots of stories about breaking in horses - broke these here, broke those there, with a partner broke in 10 in one day. I'd sure like to see him work with one.

He asked what me the plans were for today. "Well? How about breaking in a horse?"

"Hmm. Royt-o. That sounds good."

He picked a 4-year-old gelding by Harmony that he already had separated from his herd-mates into his own big paddock. He likes to do this for a while before he works with them, to get them off the mob-mentality. He had only been handled briefly 4 months ago for a few hours, when he was tied to another gelding Trevor was breaking. He was run into a round pen and worked with till a halter was got on him, then he was simply tied by his halter to the other gelding with a halter on. The other gelding had a problem with fighting being tied; when 2 horses are tied together, they must work out the pulling and the tugging on the head. One horse can only pull back so far - they learn that pressure on the head means to give, and they learn how to lead. Other than that, the bay gelding had been untouched.

We ran him with the 4-wheeler into the big paddock in front with the big 8-foot fence round pen in it, and we left him in there to think about life in a restricted enclosure while we had tea. Then Trevor gathered up his gear - ropes and halters and whip and such - and went into the round pen. The gelding, a good-looking nicely built bay, bigger than his sire Harmony, was all snorty and wild-eyed. I climbed up and sat on the fence to watch and take pictures.

I could write a book on what he did, the subtleties and the reactions of the horse and human, but, the pictures tell the short story. First Trevor worked him one way around the pen till he was paying attention, then he worked him the other way till he was paying attention. He was then able to approach him and touch him, (the horse still snorting a lot, and wanting to run away, leaning his body away from Trevor, but still holding his ground), then throw a rope over his body and neck, then slip the rope around his neck and head. Due to that one little tying-to-a-horse lesson months back, the horse knew how to follow Trevor and the slight pressure on his head. Next came the surcingle, or roller around his belly, which he took very well. Trevor had the horse take steps in both directions, feeling the new thing attached to his girth and back, Trevor always controlling his head. After that, Trevor dropped the lead rope - the horse had learned to stand still when the lead rope was on the ground, because it was his sort of quiet spot, or safe zone - he didn't have to work while his lead rope lay on the ground. This whole process took maybe 45 minutes to an hour. Each horse is different, and his progress dictates how long you spend on each step. We left the horse in the round pen to think about the surcingle and halter with attached lead rope while we had coffee.

When we returned in an hour or so, the horse was standing quietly at the gate, watching for Trevor. When Trevor went into the round pen again, the horse was on the other side snorting loudly, but Trevor had only to walk up to him slowly and stroke his neck again, then pick up the lead rope and lead him to the middle of the pen.

Next was the introduction to the bit; Trevor slipped a zilco halter/bridle on under the rope one, with snaps for the bit. He stuck his finger in the horse's mouth to get him to chew; then he clipped the bit on one side, and got him chewing again with his finger, and just slid the bit right in his mouth, easy as that. The horse stood there like he'd always worn a bit in his mouth. Trevor stepped him in circles both ways a few times. Next, he attached a rope from one side of the bit through the surcingle and used that to pull the horse's head to one side, get him respond to that by turning. He did this both directions two or three times. Next, lines on both sides to drive him and turn him into the fence a few times.

Next, bit out of the mouth, and time to introduce the saddle - scary! Snorty spooky horse at that lump of Something in the middle of the pen! Trevor approached and retreated with the horse, removed the surcingle while rubbing it all over him. They re-approached the saddle, which, while scary, did not make the horse run away, although he could have if he really wanted to. Notice as Trevor picks up the saddle and carries it to the horse, he's not even holding the rope. I was amazed at how calm the horse was; once Trevor picked up the saddle, it was no longer scary, and he barely flinched as Trevor put it on his back. Trevor quietly and smoothly cinched it up, and turned the horse both ways. Here is where he says you really want to keep the horse from bucking - keep his head to you and keep him off balance turning.

So far so good... we left the horse in the pen with his halter and saddle, and went to have coffee again (we sure have a lot of coffee!). This all maybe took another 45 minutes.

When we came back, the horse was at the fence, eyes and ears glued to Trevor approaching. He walked away when Trevor entered the pen, but didn't run, and didn't snort. Trevor carefully approached him again, petted him, and drove him around a little bit again with the saddle on, and the rope tied around his neck, which was different with the rope hanging to the ground, which the gelding knew meant to Stand.

Next - get the horse ready to mount. Put the stirrups on, slap them around, bounce them off his side, and spin him or drive him around till he calms down to that. Then Trevor tied him to a post, (here's where tying to a horse also comes in handy in teaching the horse not to pull back), put weight in both stirrups, rose in the stirrups so the horse could see him on both sides, petted him. When he was ready, he slowly stepped in the stirrup and swung his leg over the horse, stayed low in the saddle petting him a while, then slowly rose.

And the gelding did nothing. Each step had been done smoothly and with the minimal amount of stress, nothing rushed, and the horse took everything well. Now of course each horse is different, and some may take many hours or 2 days to do things right (and things may not go smoothly at all) - you just let the horse dictate what he can take, and what you need to adjust for him. Trevor tried to get the horse to take a few steps, but the gelding knew he was tied up and shouldn't move. Trevor untied him, but he still wasn't sure what Trevor wanted.

This is where a jockey comes in handy... a passenger on the horse, where the horse still sees and feels a person on his back, but the person on the ground gets the horse to move at first, while the rider slowly takes over the commands. So, I climbed on him. Trevor led him around in circles, I moved my weight and arms and legs and reins around on the horse and petted him all over so he wouldn't forget me up there while Trevor, his safety blanket on the ground, led him around. After 5 minutes of that we quit, all on a very good note. That would do nicely till the next time Trevor works with him - and the whole process would likely take a fraction of the time the next time around, since this horse took everything so well and learned so fast.

When Trevor's done with his horses, he immediately unsaddles them - work is over; he takes them away from their safe comfort zone to the middle business part of the pen, un-halters them and immediately walks away from them, instead of letting the horse walk (or run, or bolt) away.

Really, it was all that simple, just a few hours and all that accomplished. But of course it's not simple. This one went easily and smoothly, and Trevor's so good at what he does, it just looks easy.

Watch the breaking unfold:

The Black Stallion: Harmony

Monday March 26 2007

This morning the clouds were hanging low enough to obscure the near mountaintops and it was cool - yea! I'm Wearing fleece - no complaints here!

Trevor wanted to put his black stallion Cherox Egyptian Harmony out in a pasture with a mare. I rode with Trevor on the 4-wheeler as he ponied the black stallion down the paved road, up a gravel road on his property and into a paddock with a mare who was waiting and ready for her black stallion. Boy that's a good looking horse. He's not very big, 14.2 hands, and I am a great sucker for black horses (and he's true black, doesn't get a cover - blanket), but he's really well put together, and he's got terrific manners. He and his uncle had their eye on this horse from Australia, and bought him a few years ago. He throws some nice horses, and they aren't all small like he is. He trotted along behind us, then we sped up and he galloped right along. Even when he had a paddock of horses whinnying at him and trotting alongside him, he bellowed at them, but never altered his course in following us.

Back at the house, Andrew showed up to help Trevor continue cutting up the huge 100-plus-yr-old tree they had to cut down before it split and fell on the road and his house. I, meanwhile, could take Picksy out for a 10 km walk down the road. If Trevor was positive he wanted to trust me with his Nationals horse - sure! I could do that.

Trevor caught him and saddled him up for me and turned me loose, and Picksy and I did the 6-mile strolling loop down the road past the neighbors' farms. It was still overcast, slightly cool, but no wind, very comfortable, and very lovely to be out in the Kiwi countryside riding (again) a Lord of the Rings horse! It took us two hours, what with having to stop on the way up and fill the tank up with grass a couple of times.

When we got back the boys were almost done with their work for the day, Andrew still chain-sawing away and Trevor hauling the trunks and branches away with the tractor. I brushed yesterday's sand and sweat off Picksy, then turned him loose in the very front yard. Then I sat out on the porch with the computer to keep an eye on him, had an ice-cold beer, and kicked up my feet. The boys stopped their work and Trevor fixed Picksy's feed while Andrew started the grill.

We had yummy barbeque (Trevor's home-grown cows) out on the porch into dark. The low clouds were still around, but no precipitation, and it was very silent. You could only hear distant traffic if you listened real hard (Trevor groused at it and I said "You need to move further out into the country!") and a bull bawling. Andrew's sausage dog launched herself off the porch several times to find scraps Andrew threw her.

Andrew left, and another neighbor farmer stopped by - neighbors are always popping in on Trevor - and they talked sheep and cows. And a bit of horses. Vince didn't have horses, but Trevor's world revolves around them, so there's always talk of horses in the house, no matter who you are.