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Settlers and Pioneers

18 — Horses and Riders

page 123

Horses and Riders

Before railways and motor-cars had made transit easy and luxurious, the horse was the only long-distance time-saver for the New Zea-lander; and they raised good horses in those days. There were two brothers who had come from the Tamaki, near Auckland, and who had undertaken ploughing contracts on the Roto-o-rangi estate, on the old Frontier line, before they settled on their own farms, which had to be broken in from a wild state. The elder brother was courting his Kate, as he said, at the Tamaki, but it was a long way to go, quite a hundred miles. Yet he did it frequently, riding the hundred miles on the Saturday and returning to the station by the Monday. He would leave very early in the morning, ride the tracks and cross the unbridged streams—there was only a punt on the Waikato River at Ngaruawahia, and the other rivers had none—travel the Great South Road, and reach the Tamaki at night, 'do his courting', and off again next day.

page 124

There was a quick travelling lover for you; but the hardy lads of those Waikato days did not regard it as anything out of the way. They bred splendid horses then, hacks that could carry a man's weight and last the long day at a steady tireless gait.

The other brother also made week-end trips to the Tamaki to see his parents. On one occasion he rode down there from Roto-o-rangi on the Saturday. On the following evening the men at the frontier-station were astonished to see his horse, without rider or saddle or bridle, come trotting up and put his head over the gate. He had got out of the paddock at the Tamaki farm, not finding the company or the feed to his taste, and made a quick journey home. Two hundred miles in two days may seem a knockout journey for horseflesh, yet they could do it in those times. He must have swum the Waikato River at Ngaruawahia on his return journey; the puntman would scarcely be likely to give a stray horse a free passage.

That courting-day's ioo-mile ride was comfortable going in good weather, for all its roughness, for only the more northern portion of it was a metalled road sixty-five years ago. But probably only the fact that there was a girl at journey's-end would have taken the young farmer at such a pace. It was wise advice the old ostler gave in George Borrow's Romany Rye , when he told his roving acquaintance that 'no gentleman—supposing he weighs sixteen page 125stone, as I suppose you will by the time you become a gentleman—ought to ride a horse more than sixty-five miles in one day, provided he has any regard for his horse's back, or his own either.' But there were not many sixteen-stoners among the young settlers and cavalrymen of Waikato.

In those restless days on the outer marches, several cavalry corps were raised. The settlers and their sons prided themselves on their good horses, their riding and their shooting. The Waikato Cavalry have been mentioned. The Waiuku Cavalry, under Captain Barriball, drilled and, when needed, patrolled between the Manukau and the Waikato at Tuakau. Besides various detachments of the Colonial Defence Force Cavalry—with active service in the war—there were such smart corps as those in the Wanganui district. One troop was armed with lances, as an experiment. The lances were not used for anything more deadly than pig-sticking, and this provided exciting sport in the open country. In Taranaki, the Waimate plains swarmed with pigs and the settlers' wives and daughters as well as the men enjoyed the pleasure of the chase. Another diversion of the west coast horse-owners there in the Patea was the point-to-point race, across any kind of country. Rough-riding!

New Zealand, fortunately, is a land where the horse will always be needed. Much of the country must remain a pastoral land; there are hill regions page 126where motor-cars cannot be used, or should not be used; there are the sheep runs and cattle stations where the horse cannot be done without. So the useful kind of horse which the hunt clubs encourage is needed on many hundreds, even thousands of farms, and the draught horse is often better than the tractor in the country. The town and the speedway for the motor-car; the back country for the horse.

A great deal could be written about the need for encouraging horse-raising in spite of this machine-crazy age. For one thing, there is military need for the horse. It can go where machines cannot travel. There is a tendency to return to the horse in many countries. As a New Zealander said, since war-time restrictions on fuel were imposed (September 1939) 'petrol for the horse can be grown on the farm.'

To country school-children the horse is still a necessary friend. Both pakeha and Maori need ponies to carry them to school, especially in places where roads are rough and streams unbridged.

The late Sir Douglas Maclean, the owner of that noted stockbreeding station Maraekakaho, in Hawke's Bay, had a kindly thought for the children who lived on smaller farms and who were not always provided with horses. He had a way of asking them, when Christmas came round, what they would like for a present. 'Would you like a pony?' Many a well-bred and useful little mount was given away to proud young Hawke's Bay folk.