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Windmills and horses (with Ballance School Horse Trek)

Peter happens to be a great horse man: he's broken in hundreds of them! His new thrill is to breed deer, kept safe behind tall fences. He shows me the mob, as well as the shed specially designed for them. The rain is falling when I leave. Once again it's just me, Bo and Wiki. We're soon on tar seal and have to cross a town, Ekatahuna. Very handy for grocery shopping, but not pleasant on horseback! To have something to look forward for, I call Gary, who organizes the Balance School Horse Trek (I was given the flyer by the teacher who visited Castlepoint Station with her class). Gary tells me I'm welcome to come along, and even offers an accommodation for my horses and I (I'll finally won't need it but how sweet!). It's still raining when dawn comes. Attracted by some light, I call in Avon and Jo's, dairy farmers passionated about cows, hunters, hockey players and horse lovers. Their neighbor Cath, who joins us in the evening, is really into horses, and after meeting her everything flows smoothly. She uses her network to find the next places where to stop, and rides with me the next day, in spite of the rain. She even finds two more riders to come along for a while! I enjoy not having to thing about where to go, plus good company keeps warm. Catch leaves after making sure I go to a good home (Christine and Gary's). We meet again the next day in Ballance so that she can introduce me to my new host, Debbie. I also have an appointment with the farrier (arranged by Avon): Lou, 23 only, but who has shod thousands of horses already. He does a very neat job, finishing at night, thanks to the light of the neigbour's quad who happened to drive past. Then Debbie also lights me with her vehicle, while I walk the horses to their paddock. I meet her husband, who has just learnt some French words from the internet! They very nicely agree when I ask to stay for a couple of days to rest. But only after the Balance School Trek! Debbie, Cath, myself and about twenty riders ride up to the windmill farm, which offer a very unusual yet beautiful scenery, even though they spook Wiki! There are about as many people involved in the organization, and we are awesomely looked after, with coffee, pastries, and a barbecue at the top of the hill! Wiki and Bo spend the next day grazing the rich dairy farm grass, plus the hay that the farmer, Darcy, gives them every morning. Their neighbors are Harry, Debbie's horse, and some alpacas. In the meanwhile, Debbie shows me around and introduces me to her friends. We go and visit Christine, who makes food bags for Wiki and Bo out of the cover of Debbie's regretted horse. Christine also offers me some warm clothe! She had noticed during my overnight stop that my food bags wouldn't last long and that I was wearing absolutely all my layers. Debbie also shows me how to browse Wiki's details on the internet, thanks to his tattoo. I discover that he'll turn 10 on the 23rd of October 2014 and that his birth name is Murdoch! We even find some videos, where he leads during the whole race (except at the end - he finishes last). Last but not least, Debbie drives me to several neighbors, and also to the city council, in order to find an itinerary that would keep me away from the traffic. It's quite tricky, as I'm now riding at the west of the ranges, which is a quite narrow and populated piece of land. There are no more big stations but mostly dairy farms, with many small paddocks, where riding cross country is a brain twister. By miracle, I get to ride across a reserve and other peaceful tracks through bush and tropical forest for forty kilometers. To get there, I ride again through the windmill farm, which spooks Bo! I'm glad that Wiki has been desensitized before because I couldn't deal with two badly excited horses. I'm also grateful towards Graham, the local farmer, who has signposted the way for me not to get lost (with ribbons and red paint). I spend the night at the Ritchie's, Daniel & Vanessa. I give short pony rides to their daughters, and in return the youngest one, Jemma, teach me a lesson on video games: she's only five but she seems better at it than I will ever be! Daniel is nice enough to give a couple of phone calls for me and has soon found where to stop next: at Martine's, a French speaking Belgian lady who has horses!

Last canters in the north island

As winter and the end of (the first part of) my journey are coming soon, I don't rush. I stay a whole day at Martine's, where I get to enjoy her beautiful veg meals. When I leave, she comes along (riding Bo) as well as a friend of her (riding a kaimanawa horse - a New Zealand "wild horse"). We ride together for the first kilometers, on the neighboring farm, where they have a pet sheep!

I carry on " Highway 57", as I don't have any other option. Trying to escape from there, I visit in depth some "no exit" roads and interview many people, including a farmer who understands my problem very well but can't help, as he's crossed too about having to drive his tractor on the highway!

I've almost accepted that my fate is to ride on the highway for the next twenty kilometers when I meet Jeff, who shows me a race bypassing it for a while. When I reach the other end of the race, what a surprise: Jeff is waiting for me, with his 23 year old daughter Kim, ready to ride with her helmet and high-vis jacket! My day of ride ends as it had started: riding Wiki, Bo being my "guest horse". We're back on the highway but Kim is enthusiast all the same. In her company the kilometers on tar seal don't seem that long.

I move in with Rick (Martine's contact) for a two days stay. He's 69 years old and has started riding horses only at 40, but he's in for even more challenges, as he's bought a young Clydesdale-cross mule (named Bruno). Rick organizes horse treks (Levin and District Horse Treks) and is the president of the local branch of Riding for Disabled, an association which gives access to horse riding to disabled persons thanks to donations and volunteer work.

We spend a day scouting my itinerary, knocking at some doors to figure out where to cross the Ohau river. It's surrounded by private properties, but on both side the owners are nice and helpful and give me the permission to come across. One of them has just tried to cross  with his tractor (whose wheels are tall as a person) but had to back track as it almost got washed away!

I'm not overconfident about this river crossing when I leave from Rick's. He and his Appaloosa mare guide me to the next farm, where we meet Bruce Mitchell. Bruce offers to show me the way through the paddocks so that I don't get lost. In return I offer him to ride Bo. He's not ridden a horse for 20 years and has a bit of a stiff leg, with a knee replacement, but he gets on with no hesitation. He even takes Wiki on the lead, a get the horses to trot and canter! I get to drive the quad bike, that I nearly drawn in a creek much deeper than it looked. When the horses cross it, the water comes to their belly. Besides that the drive is nice and leaves me plenty of time to take pictures and pick up mushrooms.

Bruce leaves only after we reach the next farm (Daniel's). I just have to ride a quiet road to get to the dreaded river, and I meet for the first time a Te Araroa walker, who's left Bluff, at the bottom of the south island, months ago, and is going to Cape Reigna, at the top of the north island. He tells me about his adventures, which include walking with sore feet to the point that he lost his toes. Which he obviously managed to get over by now! (www.rambleon.co)

The horses cross the Ohau river with no trouble at all, and the doubts I had about it are replaced by some kind of beatitude.

I stop for the night at Melda, a very nice lady who breeds show jumping horses. She was recommended to me by Robbie Lammas. Robbie, who I stay with the next day, used to be a jockey, as well as his wife Rosie. As the apple seldom falls far from the tree, they had together three jockeys, two boys and a girl! Robbie and Rosie are stewards at the races, which mean they escort on horseback the competitors to the starting blocks. I've had since the opportunity to see them working at the Otaki races, and even to win a couple of dollars by betting on their son Buddy! Robbie has also been organizing treks for the local piney club for the last twenty years, and know all the trails. I got in touch with him a while ago, and he provided me with useful information and contacts (all the farmers I would have to ask permission to). He also bothered calling them ahead, to warn her that a young Chinese girl would call them soon. Apparently on the phone my accent sounds exotic as those of the Asian call centers!

Another day ride brings me on the west coast beaches and to my last stop in the north island, at Mary Pagnamenta's. Mary is a British lady who has travelled on horseback the length of new Zealand, a dozen years ago. She has since immigrated here and live with the horse she traveled with, Foggy (now 26), and many others.