Stride after confident stride we worked our way up the steep hill in search of a unique view of the beautiful Hanmer Basin and the surrounding peaks.
It would have taken some exertion and time to have achieved this beautiful bird’s-eye perspective by foot, but here we were on a peak open only to a select few, still with a sense of achievement, yet not in the slightest out of breath.
On other visits to Hanmer we’ve hurtled along bike trails, eyes fixed on the path ahead for fear of coming a cropper. Now, we’re admiring the surroundings and enjoying views towards Mount Isobel and the St James Conservation Area without having to watch where we’re going.
Tags, my sure-footed, 15.3-hand bay, has carried me. On first arrival, seeing his shiny coat and bright eyes and those of the other beautifully cared-for horses, it was clear this was going to be a quality experience. Co-owner Shaun had collected us from our accommodation and given us a low-down en-route to the rendezvous point, where, waiting for us with six of their glossy standardbreds, was his business partner Daf.
The couple took over the business in 2016 to create a trekking experience like no other. A high flyer on the South Island’s dressage scene, Daf still competes and travels widely to train horses and instruct riders.
We set off at gentle walking pace along the Rogerson Valley. Tags made easy work of the picturesque trail with its river crossings, pacing confidently through the rushing clear water.
Winding up along a shady lane lined by cherry trees and blackberry brambles, Shaun said this was their gourmet option, as in summer the lane provides juicy treats for riders. The rhythmic clip-clopping was at times accompanied by the sound of bellbirds and interrupted by the beating wings of kererū. Weaving back over the forest’s carpet of pine needles, mist rose from the winding river.
We were encouraged to connect with the horses through the reins.
“We like people to interact and engage with our horses and we make sure we simplify instructions, because if it’s too confusing, it can add to people’s nervousness,” Shaun told us.
Such is the reputation the pair are creating for their business, that one customer flew in especially from Wellington and more recently an 85-year-old arrived accompanied by a large family group to ride in celebration of her birthday, ticking off an important achievement on her bucket list.
“Not so long ago we also had a lady who I led the whole way and she was so excited, she came back and mostly rode by herself,” added Shaun. “She’s already booked again. We love helping people get over their fears and barriers like this.”
Reported by Fiona Terry for our AA Directions Spring 2020 issue