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Sketches of Early Colonisation in New Zealand and its Phases of Contact with the Maori Race

A Savage Equine Battle

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A Savage Equine Battle.

My duties as boundary rider necessitated my paying a visit to that portion of the run abutting upon Maori lands, it having been reported at head-quarters that several mobs of cattle had crossed the boundary, and were heading for the district surrounding the native village of Paimata.

It was always a standing direction to the stockmen upon the station, that, when such became known, to proceed immediately to the locality, and drive the cattle back over the boundary.

The Maoris of this village in particular (it being the nearest to the homestead of any such), were a fruitful source of trouble and annoyance to the proprietary, hunting the cattle upon every occasion, killing the calves, and worrying the cows with their dogs, so much so, indeed, that many of the latter have afterwards been found to have died from its effects, and this, be it understood, often beyond their own boundary, and far within the run.

During those early days of the Colony's history it was of no use whatever for anyone to collect evidence, nor yet of going to the expense of proceedings in a Court of Law, for, no matter how clear and conclusive the evidence for the prosecution might be, no conviction could be gained by whites against Maoris; the Magistrates treating these latter like children, would, in the first place, commence by reading them a lecture from the Bench, then to wind up by dismissing the case with a caution "Not to repeat it again."

But, on the other hand, should the case be reversed, and the Maori be the prosecutor, the unfortunate white settler would be certain to incur the full penalty of the law, no matter what the provocation.

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So much was this the case during those early times, that hardly any white settlers ever dreamt of proscuting Maoris, preferring to put up with annoyance rather than "being fooled by mock justice."

I had fulfilled my allotted task satisfactorily, after a few hours' of hard riding, but steering a circuitous course, the better to examine the country whilst proceeding homewards, both horse and dog showing evidence of the severe strain they had undergone.

A portion of our road lay through a ravine that traversed some of the foot-hills of the Great Pai Rata Ranges, but all within the Maori boundary.

We were proceeding leisurely, and had made considerable progress, when suddenly, from one of the gullies leading into the ravine, galloped a small troop of half wild Maori horses, lead by a powerful and heavily built stallion, who, now trotting up the side of the range on our left and along it, kept a parallel course to ours, being at the same time closely followed by his troop.

It was at that season of the year when stallions watch their harems with jealous eyes, brooking no interference on the part of others of their own sex, and this, no doubt, was the cause of the following curious but thrilling incident.

Not many minutes elapsed before he espied us, and, turning slightly in our direction, he commenced to neigh loudly, expecting, no doubt, to be answered by Aotea, who, however, kept perfectly mute all this time.

The wind, which up to then had been calm, commenced to blow in sharp puffs, and that in the direction of the wild stallion, who was quick to scent an enemy.

There was no mistake to be made about the wild horse now, for his actions proclaimed he meant mischief.

His inquisitive neigh was quickly turned into a angry and savage one, accompanied by the shaking of his head and long shaggy main occasionally, and rearing up on his hind legs, whilst pawing the air with his fore, but at the same time biting savagely at some imaginary object.

All this demonstration on his part was plainly visible to me, and it denoted that he meant fight, but that I Hoped to avoid by all possible means.

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A battle with a wild horse is a very different thing to one with a bull, their tactics being altogether different and much more dangerous for the horseman.

Even, should both horses rear on end at the same time, and meet each other, the danger is lessened but little, as, from the boxing propensities of some horses, the rider is liable to be hit by their fore hoofs.

It would be an act of fool-hardiness to court such a contest, and it is best left alone.

By cracking my gully-rake whip loudly several times, at the same time sending my dog up the range towards them, I was hopeful of stopping their further advance.

The troop stopped, but the wild stallion came on steadily, paying no attention to the barking of the dog or the cracking of the whip.

It was evident, now, that if anything was to be done to avoid a contest with the wild and savage brute, it must be done quickly, for he was rapidly closing in upon us.

I well knew that the lumbering heavy wild brute was no match, in a race, with my fleet-footed favourite, so, calling the dog to heel, and waiting until he came up, I then pressed my knees upon Aotea,—my usual call for speed from him, as I never used spurs upon the docile creature, the action of knee pressure being understood perfectly and responded to at all times by the intelligent animal.

Now consider my great surprise upon receiving no response from my hitherto obedient horse, and that surprise turned into consternation, when he suddenly stopped short and faced the approaching stallion.

No coaxing on my part was of any avail; in fact he paid no attention to me whatever, but watched the approaching foe attentively, and with ears set back closely, eyes ablaze with rage, whilst champing his bit angrily, but at the same time trembled with excitement.

It was perfectly evident that Aotea meant to fight, and nothing that I could do would prevent him.

It remained for me now to decide whether to keep my seat in the saddle, and help Aotea to fight the coming battle, but, after thinking the matter over rapidly, I decided that it was too risky to attempt, so made up my mind to leave my favourite to his own devices, as he could page 67act quicker unencumbered by my weight; and well indeed was it for me that I so decided, for a most desperate and savage contest it really was, and one I have reason to remember.

Before leaving the saddle, I drew my knife to cut the reins, and, with the head-strap of the bridle, I did the same, letting the whole fall to the ground, which freed my favourite of the bit and its encumbrance; after which I sprang to the ground, but left the saddle remaining upon his back, and most fortunate indeed was it for Aotea, that I did so, as will appear further on.

Having taken these precautions, I moved quickly away from the spot, but, at the same time, did not neglect to keep Aotea between myself and the approaching wild horse, knowing full well that the faithful creature would protect me with his life.

As I could do nothing further for him now, I trusted hopefully, to his coming safely out of the contest, but little indeed did I dream of so terrible and ghastly an ending of the battle.

Gathering up my whip, and calling my dog to heel, I ran for some two hundred yards, and then turned, to witness one of the most thrilling and savage equine battles it is possible to conceive.

Scarcely had I stopped, when the horses met, eyed each other viciously, but did not commence hostilities at once.

What a contrast was here to be witnessed between these two stallions as they thus stood watching each other, prior to the desperate life and death struggle that was so soon to take place between them.

Both, with eyes blazing like balls of fire, ears bent back, and open mouths, but trembling all over with excitement and passion.

The one symmetrically formed, with not one ounce of superfluous flesh upon him, and withall, beautiful as a gazelle; whilst the other, huge, ungainly, and gross in the extreme, with not one good point to be seen, but nevertheless very heavy and powerful.

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After looking at and studying each other for the space of a couple of minutes, they commenced to gallop in a circle so far as the width of the ravine would permit, apparently racing, but in reality they were "taking each other's measure."

Aotea all this time kept in advance of the wild horse, with just sufficient distance between as to enable him to throw out his heels if opportunity offered.

They had performed about three circles, within the narrow limits of the ravine, when suddenly, Aotea threw up his heels, but, that instant, the wild horse swerved to one side, with the result that Aotea's intended blow passed within a couple of feet of the latter's head.

Now, simultaneously, they reared upon their hind feet, and, like trained pugalists, threw out their fore, right and left, with great force and precision, but, with wonderful instinctive sagacity, each received the other's blow upon the hoof, whilst, at the same time, both kept their heads turned slightly on one side, out of reach of each other's hoof blows.

The sounds caused by these hoof strokes were quite distinct to my ears, the metallic ring of Aotea's mail-clad feet being plainly distinguishable above the dull heavy thump of the wild horse s blow.

They now suddenly swerved apart, and instantly wheeling, both horses kicked out their hind heels, but, wonderful to state, their hoofs met togther, the iron-clad heels of Aotea counterbalancing the greater weight and force of his opponent's blow, the wild horse being the heavier and stronger of the two.

Again were the tactics of racing performed for a couple of rounds, the horses keeping well abreast of each other all the time, but, upon this occasion, they had three or four yards of space between them.

Once again did they rear up on their hind legs, and commence to "box" with their fore-feet, biting savagely at each other the while, the wild horse tearing away a portion of Aotea's main, whilst the latter caught his huge opponent by the under jaw, and so held him firmly, whilst, at the same time, the turned-down heels of his shoes (a peculiar necessity for all stock-horses in a rough hilly country so as to prevent them from slipping), cut or rather gouged out great pieces of skin and flesh where-page 69ever they struck, from which, the blood weltered copiously, whilst the incessant screaming or squealing of both horses could be heard quite distinctly, for a great distance, upon such a calm day.

Up to then the wild horse had the worst of the battle, being the first from whom blood was drawn, but how long that would last was indeed problematical.

By a powerful wrench, the wild horse forced his jaw asunder from Aotea, but sustained a most ugly wound by so doing.

They both swerved again, and wheeling brought their heels into play upon each other's ribs and flanks, but, strange to say, broke no bones, so far as I could see; nevertheless, it had the momentary effect of staggering each, but that did not in the least tend to stop the contest, which was immediately renewed again, and if possible, with greater fury.

The furious appearance of these two enraged animals had a strange fascination for me, and I felt as if firmly rooted to the spot; nevertheless, a peculiar creepy sensation of dread would occasionally pass over me, which was in no way allayed by the appearance and action of my dog, who evinced abject terror, and howled piteously whilst crouching between my legs.

The noise of the fight, and the screaming of the horses, with the howling of the dog, caused a strange combination of sounds with their echoes amidst the gullies of the surronding hills, weird in the extreme, in that lonely spot.

Fierce as the contest which had hitherto taken place had been, it was but as play to that which was now about to commence.

The horses turned quickly together, and with one impulse threw themselves against each other, trying by shear weight and power to thow the other down, at the same time biting savagely and tearing great pieces of flesh and skin away, the wild horse, from some unaccountable cause, paying great attention to the saddle, which he quickly demolished, tearing it into shreds, thereby, to a great extent, saving Aotea, who punished his huge opponent upon neck and shoulders, mangling the wild brute frightfully, his mouth being covered with gore.

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Whilst this was proceeding both horses used their fore feet with great force, whenever opportunity offered, doing each other consigerable injury.

This attack lasted much longer than any that had preceded it, and was of a much more furious description.

Again the horses separated, and commenced to gallop to and fro, but on each occasion the met they launched out their hind heels with great force, from which one or both would sometimes reel, but strange to say, causing no bones to be broken as yet.

Nevertheless, this terribly severe battle was beginning to tell upon both animals, the wild horse in particular, who had lost a considerable amount of blood from his numerous and severe wounds, but who, nevertheless, still kept up the fight with great courage and determination.

Again did the savage creatures close upon each other biting and tearing at one another in the most frightful manner, causing each to be bathed in blood, from their numerous and severe wounds.

Once more, and for the last time, did the maddened animals bring their heels into play, hammering at each other furiously, causing the noise of contact to vibrate from hillside to hillside.

The crowning event of this furious battle happened when Aotea, by a kick, heavier and better directed than hitherto, broke his antagonist's thigh, leaving that member to hang helplessly by the wild horses side, causing the poor brute excrutiating agony, and preventing him from continuing the fight.

The unfortunate animal was now completely at the mercy of his active but exasperated foe, who was now about to finish the fight in his own peculiar and decisive manner.

Trotting around his helpless antagonist, he would every now and then turn to give him the full force of his mail-clad heels, which must have fractured more than one bone, the poor brute, all the time making ineffectual efforts to escape from his active and watchful antagonist.

The appearance of the poor creature now, was pitiful in the extreme, and his head hung listlessly, whilst he appeared as if half dead already.

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His occasional attempts to escape must have caused him intense suffering, for with every limp he took he would grunt or squeal, denoting plainly the pain he was suffiering.

But Aotea watched him warily, evidently determined he should not escape him so easily, and continued his attack upon almost every part of the poor brute's body.

It was during one of these assaults that the iron heel of one of Aotea's shoes struck the wild horse upon the forehead, the blow causing a momentary tremor of the whole frame of the doomed animal, then it fell as if pole-axed, where it remained motionless.

Aotea stood looking at his late antagonist for a few seconds, as if considering what next to do, after which he advanced smelt, and bit him savagely, then impulsively, and with a wild scream of rage, he reared high up but instantly came down again with all his weight, planting his fore-feet upon the prostrate body of the unfortunate wild stallion, thereby bursting in his ribs, which act must have killed the horse outright; and this he repeated two or three times in rapid succession, Aotea's fore-feet and legs up to the knees being covered with the gore of his unfortunate victim.

I could stand this sickening sight no longer, so walked away from it as fast as possible, my dog following close on my heels, but I did not dare to call Aotea as yet, fearing the result of his outburst of passion.

After I had proceeded some considerable distance from the spot I turned, and, placing my finger to my mouth, gave the peculiar whistle known and always obeyed by him.

But he took no notice of it at first, so I repeated several times, when at last he obediently came trotting after me.

When half the distance between us was covered he suddenly stopped, wheeled, and galloped back to the spot where the dead body of the wild stallion lay, which, after examining attentively for the space of a minute, and carefully smelling, he turned away from, and galloped after me.

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When he joined me, I paid no attention to him at first, not knowing what humour he might be in after such a desperate contest, so allowed him to notify his presence first, which he quickly did, by rubbing his head, all bleeding as it was, against my back, and whinnying.

I then turned, patted and caressed him, whilst looking to his wounds also, which were many and severe, all of which attentions he seemed to understand, and was pleased at.

Little could be done for him until we got home, where he was "placed in hospital," and it took at least a month of careful treatment before he was himself again.

A small party of us rode out to the spot, early the next morning, to destroy the carcase of the horse and obliterate all traces of the contest, so that the Maoris might not have any grounds for legal proceedings, which they would have been only too pleased to have jumped at if the opportunity had offered.

It was a ghastly sight to see how the wild horse's carcase was torn and mangled, a silent witness to the ferocity with which Aotea had fought.

We built logs around and upon the body, numbers of which were strewn close around, and having set fire to the heap, we waited until the whole was completely consumed, leaving not a vestige of the wild horse remaining, whilst other traces of the contest were obliterated by the careful use of a brush harrow.

It was a matter of conjecture, afterwards, whether the natives were aware of this adventure having happened, but, if they were, which was very unlikely, they said nothing about it, the subject being seldom referred to by any of the settlers, for obvious reasons.

The news and description of this thrilling equine adventure made quite a stir amongst the settlers of the surrounding districts at the time, and many were the visits of neighbours and friends to see this celebrated stallion who was the hero of the hour, and profuse were the encomiums passed upon him for the great courage he had displayed throughout so unequal a contest.