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I spend a couple of days with Dzidra and her family in Clive, just between Napier and Hastings. She's american and her mother has moved to New Zealand too, in order not to miss the kids' birthdays. Her partner Ronald is dutch and all together they have four children: Maureece, Natacha, Sophia and Danielle. She also has five horses and a horse trek business. I stay in a house with Dzidra's mother, Carol, who's seventy nine. We get along very well and I spend lost of my time with her, gardening, doing grocery shopping, and getting her started on couchsurfing.com. On evenings we have barbecues and who comes? Yakov! He talks me into staying in Hastings for a while, to help him breaking a horse in and to attend to Horse of the Year, a week long horse event. But before to go with him, I really want to go to Cape Kidnappers, attracted by the name, the fact that it's featured in the lonely planet and because Talya told me it was worth. As a matter of fact, she comes along and rides Bo, who proves one more time he can be trusted with anybody. The cape, famous for its gannets colony, can be accessed only at low tide. We first notice huge rocks, painted white by birds' droppings. The scenery is stunning.
Back from the cape, I start looking for a place for the night. A guy named Rob parks just in front of a paddock which looks greener than the others. He looks friendly: he thinks I'm somebody else, as I'll learn later. He ends up loaning me the paddock all the same, and even a caravan, which is great because I'm stuck here for a couple of days: Wiki has lost his two back shoes and I have to wait for the farrier to come. The coming days are quiet, I'm mostly busy eating and sleeping, but I get to see a baby shark being fished (and freed up) by a Slovakian guy I met on the beach. Evenings are more lively, as Rob comes back from work, as well as his neighbor Jaci and her children Marino and Pounamu ("greenstone"), who've just moved in. All are pretty fond of horses. Jack invites us for dinner two days in a raw, and we'll even come back to her place with Yakov for a hangi (traditional Maori meal). Rob takes us to the nearby museum, Woolworld @ Clifton Station, an old woolshed where are held shearing demonstrations and displayed all sorts of tools, as well as local curiosities such as a live possum.
Once Wiki is shod, Yakov comes with his wagon. We agreed on using it for the leg leading to his friends' (mostly on flat, busy roads) - like in the old days when we used to travel together. We harness Wiki and Bo in a beautiful pair. The first twenty kilometers are smooth, but more or less when we reach by mistake on Hastings' busiest road, which includes many traffic lights and rounds about, Bo starts his usual circus. He stops and refuses to move, except maybe sideways, just enough to block the traffic in both ways. We take turns in pushing and pulling him, always managing to get him going, but never for long. Yakov ends up walking on his side rather than hopping on and off the wagon all the time. We cope with that for about ten kilometers, after what things are back to normal, which is lucky because we have still quite a way to go. We arrive at Yakov's friends, Malcolm and Vale, after at least a fifty kilometers drive, relieved that nothing bad happened to the horses, nor to any vehicle or person. We had thought that the troubles we had had with Bo were due to the steepness of the hills and/or to the fact he was paired with Buba (which tends to wait for the wagon to be rolling before to himself go forward), but obviously there is something else. We really want t go to the bottom of it, because when he's not playing up Bo is fantastic in harness. When telling about our day to Malcolm, he just says "Must be the work load", and I want to believe he's right. Bo might have been complaining about those long days on tar sealed roads with no grass nor decent break. Resolution for the next wagon drive: organize nice breaks for the horses (in our case "nice" means "with food"!).
Wiki was horse of the year
I spend about ten days at the Baker's, Yakov's friends. Vale and Malcolm Baker share a passion for horses and more specifically for driving. Malcolm collects and fixes all sorts of horse carts. After work, he often harnesses four horses that he drives until dark. Vale rather drive difficult or underrated horses, to give them a new start. Their kids Jena and Sam (seven and nine) also ride and drive. All together they have fourteen horses and ponies. Vale, who's a vet, takes care of them almost at full time. No need to say that they are well looked after, and so are Wiki and Bo during our stay. When we arrive, everybody is busy preparing a world war I reenactment, where six horses have to pull a canon. Wiki and Bo are invited to join the effort and are harnessed with military equipment along with Malcolm's four standardbreeds. Rather than pulling a canon, they pull a wagon and cruise proudly in the neighborhood (it's the first time that Malcolm drives so many horses and even amongst horse people it's very unusual). The next week end, I'm invited to be groom in a driving competition. More family members come to help: Kay, Vale's mother, to look after the house and make sure we don't run out of freshly baked pastries and yummy meals, and Peter, Malcolm's brother, to help with the horses. We go to the competition with three vehicles, including a horse float and a horse truck, carrying Malcolm's four horses, the pony that Vale drives, and their respective carts. We drive more than a hundred kilometers to a dairy farm, turned into a five stars camping ground for the event. A dozen horses and carts compete during two days in dressage, marathon, slalom, hazard and... Style! The carts are magnificent with their big wooden wheels and all the drivers very elegant, with old fashioned clothe and hats. I learn that grooms are mainly cart ornaments and I'm once again dressed up from head to toes. I hold my breathe for most of the hazards. Hazards are gates (made out of trees for instance) between which the driver has to go in a defined order. This is very impressive, especially with four horses (which by the way only Malcolm does, the others usually drive only one horse). To take the required sharp turns, the front horses must half pass at canter, while the wheelers are pretty much standing still. When they are lined up with the gate, they all jump forward at the same time, followed by the cart. There is barely enough room for the cart. I've even been told that in a previous competition, one gate was more narrow than the cart... Vale also drives very well, so well that Lily the lovely pony is bought on the spot (before Vale trained her and broke her into harness, her owner tried to sell her, to no avail). My stay ends with a great highlight, as Bo and Wiki take part in the Horse of the Year parade in Hastings. 2600 horses are involved. Horse of the Year is the biggest equestrian event in New Zealand. But only few make it to the parade - only the best ones, of course! Bo, Wiki and two other horses, all shampooed, platted and nail polished, pull Farmland's wagon. As this year is the Chinese year of the horse, red lanterns are tied to the wagon and riders from the Beijing equestrian association jump in. My boys are honored to show them around in Hastings' streets, looked at by two thousand people. When the parade is over, people rush on them to pad them and take pictures, which they seem to like quite well. Between all those events, there is no time for boredom. First of all, Yakov and I spend a lot of time with Bobby. Bobby is a gorgeous two and a half year old Gypsy cob (a small sized Clydesdale), whose owner Jessie has asked Yakov to break in. He's very friendly to people, but has to learn everything, starting with leading. I use La Cense method (the french version of Monty Robert's) with good results. After few sessions, Bobby walks nicely besides me, stops and goes back when asked. Yakov also teaches him hips of things, Bobby being very obliging, except when he bolts away and canters around, stopping only to kick the air vigorously with his hinds, reminding us that although he might look like a teddy bear, he's a horse! We also borrow some tools from Vale, including Jena's staffed bunny, whose big ears fly around when he trots. When I see him riding confidently Bobby, convinced that I'm as capable as a staffed bunny, I also back Bobby. I cannot carry on the training further, as I have to move on if I want to make it to the south island, but Yakov takes over and I'm sure he'll soon be a great mount and harness horse too (Yakov told me he's pulled a tire since then and is about to try the sulky). When I'm not training Bobby, I ride Wiki. Besides all his greatness, he has a slightly hard mouth, which means he's often hard to stop or even slow down. I ride him very gently and seem to manage to teach him not to pull on the reins anymore. Malcolm later notices that he doesn't even pull at all when harnessed with other horses he let them do all the work!) A good solution is to harness him on his own, which I've been dreaming of. Yakov and Vale help me to get started and encourage me to go for a drive on the road. Driving Wiki on my own: checked! After this awesome time with the Bakers and Yakov, it's hard to leave, but the parade is the right time for that. It's held only 25 km away from Clifton, on the coast, where I've made some contacts for the next leg (against over 50 km from the Bakers'). Right after being parade horses, they are traveling horses again! Wiki is for sure the flashest packsaddle horse ever with his platting.