Cette page en francais ici
I meet Gerard in Hamilton. I'm one hour early, but he's waiting for me already! We tow the wagon till Kawerau, near Whakatane, where are the horses. It's close to Rororua, which is famous for its lakes, geysers and spas (even hostels have spas!). Great surprise, the poney club where we're about to stay for a couple of weeks is only a ten minutes walk from a free hot swimming pool, which include a jaccuzzi! The people in charge of the poney club are just a bit surprised: they expected the wagon, but didn't know there will be people attached to it... Fortunately the are nice and accept graciously our presence.
I get to know Gerard's horses, and I'm very pleased to see that they are nice, well educated and people friendly. They are very different from each other: Bo is the alpha and has a good dressage level, whereas Buba is the last on the picking order and has barely ever been ridden. He's a standardbred who got off the race track. There are lots of them around. Gerard likes them as they've all been broken into the harness. Plus, they are cheap!
Buba is very run down when we find him, most likely because of a selenium deficiency (common when grazing on volcanic soil). Fortunately Gerard diagnose and treat it right away. Thanks to that, daily maize meals and separation from the herd (which annoys Bo but benefits Buba who can eat without being chased), his look and behavior improves very quickly. He's full of energy, and even end up bucking me off! Fortunately Gerard is there to help me cope with the situation. We lunge him in a round pen. With tight reins and a long stick, he can do nothing but what he's asked: run. It seems to be a good way to have power over him - after that, he behaved. Lunging becomes my favorite exercise, I'm pleased to see he learns quickly, with good will and paying attention to my voice and gesture.
Another interesting experience was his discovery of waves. Gerard floats us both to the beach as a friend of him is heading there to ride. Lucky me! I'm tempted to walk in the waves, but Babu is not, he's scared like death by the smallest ones. We exchange our views for almost half an hour ("Go Buba" "No I won't") before he accepts to really think about it and finds out by himself that it's only water. Better not being scared of it when traveling on an island!
Besides getting to know the horses, I get to know Gerard. I'm also pleased to discover he's patient, gracious, open minded and generous to everybody. Plus, he cooks! He usually does when I pick up the horse poop, which I have to admit I'm happy to do because I find it easier than cooking... He's more keen on driving and I'm more keen on riding, but he suggests I can take both of his horses for several days treks! He even finds a trail I could ride: the Motu. We talk another girl into it and collect many enthusiastic feedbacks about this trail. Gerard decides he will also ride it after all. We'd like to get a third horse anyways, as two horses struggle too much to pull the wagon uphill. It should be easy to find a horse, they are over populated. But it's not that simple, as horses on sale are those people don't want anymore... And the best deals are not to be found on trademe....
Fortunately a friend of Gerard, Malcolm, knows about a horse whose owner can not take care of anymore: I didn't get exactly why, something to do with a court case but also with is work as sheerer... At least the reason is not the horse himself. He's a standardbred like Buba, that Malcolm got off the race tracks years ago. He's been trekking and pig hunting (and there are pictures to prove it). Malcolm tells us that the owner had sold it, but was disappointed by all the horses he had after this one, so he bought him back! (Actually he swapped it for a cow - they are worth more than horses as their meat goes to human consumption). He's a Maori horse, which might mean he had a tough education. We go and see him: he's short, thin but with nice muscles, and comes straight to us. There is no food nor water in his paddock. I decide to buy him, but it might take a week for him to be floated to our headquarter (at least 100 km away). I'm glad to have a nice horse, and looking forward to get to really know him.
It's nice to stay at Kawerau poney club a bit more anyways. We live with two lovely horses. And the rafting world cup is going on in Kawerau! I want to cheer the French team. I also get to ride with Debbie, a friend of Gerard, who has a spare mare. We even go together to a fundraising trek, with at least fourty other people! A great barbecue is held at the end. I had given up being vegetarian a while ago anyways.
The place also offers nice hikes: I've done the steepest hike ever by going up the nearby volcano Mount Edgecumbe. Last but not least, we now know the best fish & chips of the east cost (and maybe of New Zealand): Auntie's at Matata. We met somebody we won't forget there: a Maori lady, who invited us to visit her Marae. It's a place where the tribe gather for important events. There is a kitchen, a ball room, a kinder garden, an elderly home, a piece of land and some kind of church, but a very Maori one. The chief is carved on the totem pole (a cross) as are his four wives! We spent the night with this lady, her husband and their grandson, listening to their beautiful songs (and singing, as far as Gerard is concerned).
The actual journey has not started yet, but we are already in a different world.
One day, Malcolm tells Gerard he's floating Wiki to us. I'm so much looking forward to see him that I jump every time I hear a car. It's dark already when a horse float stops in front of the pony club gate. I run toward it but it leaves! Half an hour later they are back, and explain us that they were misled by the "keep out' sign on the gate (which I had never paid attention to).
My horse is there, for real. He's had good food at Malcolm's and looks even better than when we first saw him. When we put him in the paddock with the two others, they run around all together and it's awesome. I think Wiki looks tough in spite of being short. But even Buba chases him, making an underdog out of him! (He must have learned that from Bo).
The farrier, Neill Ash, comes to shoe them. I ask if I can put some of the nails myself, and he accepts graciously. As we are very interested in what he's doing, he gives us great explanations. He even does some diagrams for us! He shapes an extra set of shoes for each horse. When the shoes will be used, I will have to take them off and nail the new ones in the same holes - at least that's the plan. Neil spent six hours with us and even gave us a leather apron as a Christmas present, which is very precious for the journey. It's my PRECIOUS.
Now that I have a horse, moreover with shoes on, I need a saddle. Whakatane Hoof Camp salesperson advises us to reproduce the shape of the back with a metal wire, and to compare it with the saddles which are on sale. I find a good second hand stock saddle. I try it as I try backing Wiki for the first time. He's alert and listens well, he's just lovely. This is confirmed when we long rein him with Buba, then Buba and Bo: it goes very well. We're nearly ready, the departure day is getting close!
Olivia, a French girl interested in joining the adventure, comes and stays with us for a couple of days. We find some time to go to the nearby river where the rafting world championship is still on. We see lots of national teams going down the river, and eventually see our flag. We cheer our compatriots while they pass the gates with art, and then something which is possible only in remote countries happen: we have a beer all together!