Saturday, January 3, 2015

Horse Trekking New Zealand

We are back from a truly excellent vacation.  Already went to see Fawkes and he has been well cared for, although not doing an awful lot in the frigid temps and snow CO was experiencing.  I saw him get ridden by R2 today and he was pretty up and spooky.  No surprise there. I will hop on him tomorrow.

As for vacation, we tested out three different horse trekking operations in the Queenstown area. Because apparently I don't spend enough money on horses in the US.  And also because I was determined to ride in Middle Earth!  Geek win.  It was crazy fun and I thought I would include some photos and details from each ride.  In general, at all three places the horses were shiny, their feet looked decent, and they seemed well cared for.  That always is a "must" for me.  Queenstown doesn't seem like a bad place to be a horse.  Their herds were mostly stocked with ex racing Standardbreds, although they had lots of draft crosses and other breeds too.

Moonlight Stables:

This was a last minute idea as we had left a whole day to prepare for a backpacking trip and ended up with a free afternoon.  We called and they came over to pick us up at our hotel right away.  As we pulled onto the property, we saw a loose horse galloping around the paddock and J just wanted to make sure that wasn't the horse he was supposed to ride!  It was a guide horse who had opened his pen and freed himself for a jaunt.  They fitted me out in paddock boots and half chaps for which I was very grateful and then introduced us to our horses.

My ride for the day was Mr. White, who actually starred in the Air New Zealand safety video based on Lord of the Rings.  Oh yeah, LotR fantasy come true!

Stars know how to pose
It was just J and I and they sent two guides out with us so one could hang with J at a slower pace while I could canter with the other guide.  It was a beautiful ride through a working deer, elk, and sheep ranch.  Mr. White was what they called a "Station" bred horse, or a ranch horse.  We rode in these giant pastures with the deer and elk, with some great canters and even a couple gallops.

Mr White was incredibly responsive off my leg and had a sensitive mouth.  Kind of surprising for a ranch horse! It made for a very lovely ride.  The guides were also really fun girls.  The views were mostly pastoral with some of the big hills and mountains around Queenstown for a backdrop.  Unbelievable.  I want to go back and work at this place.  Forget corporate America.

Mr White and I dreaming of riding off into the sunset together

Dart Stables, Glenorchy:

We actually had three rides booked here in advance, but ended up canceling one.  This is the part of the vacation I was most looking forward to and it was a little bit disappointing, probably because I had it so built up in my head.  This stable is large, they have something like 60+ horses and 15 employees and it was totally booked up so the barn area was kind of insanity.  Very well organized though and we got great Lord of the Rings filming stories.  All of the barns in the area apparently had horses in the movies, which made for quite a lot of entertainment.

In the morning, J and I split up so I could go on the advanced riders only "Trilogy Loop" ride and J could do the mixed ability "River Wild."  My ride was 4 women and a really fun British guide.  I had a horse named Biscuit, who was unfortunately not that much fun.  He was very defensive of his position in the line and spent a lot of time kicking at the other horses behind him and pinning his ears and being generally unpleasant.  He was a speedy little thing, but we weren't allowed to pass so during the canters we spent quite a bit of time fighting.  He wanted to canter literally up the ass of the horse in front of him and I preferred some breathing room.  Biscuit generally won that battle.

I didn't take my phone on my ride, so here is a picture of J from his ride through similar terrain.

On the flip side, the scenery did not disappoint!  The Humboldt mountains had been the Misty Mountains in the Lord of the Rings movie and cantering up this crystal clear glacial fed river through purple lupines with impressive mountains in the background was as beautiful as expected.  And there were plenty of opportunities to canter and one full on gallop that made cranky Biscuit very happy.  My favorite part though, were the river crossings!

There were many and it was fun to slosh through horse-chest deep water.  While my horse was kind of a pain, the other ladies really enjoyed their horses so I don't think the problem is their string, maybe Biscuit and I were just not a great match.

After lunch, we took a van up to a place called Paradise.  Spoiler alert, it lived up to its name.  Here we did a walking only ride through the forest of Lothlorien, Amon Hen, and Beorn's house from the Hobbit movies.

I rode a horse named Scar, aptly named due to an accident with a fence when he was young.  Scar was sweet and cuddly, he tucked his head right into my chest when we met.   So cute.  Generally I get bored quickly on walk only trail rides but the scenery here made it worthwhile.  And Scar was so nice and comfortable that it was a pleasure to ride him.  Paradise can get quite cold in winter we were told, but in summer it certainly seems like heaven.

J and I sometimes even get photos together. J's horse was not pleased.
Our third ride was supposed to be us doing the River Wild as a couple, but we decided to switch venues and get some different scenery.  We tried to book a mountain horse trek but Christmas/New Year is their busiest time and couldn't get a full day option.

High Country Horses, Glenorchy:

We booked a Paradise on the Rees ride, and pulled into another idyllic venue

I want to be a horse here, sheesh.
This place was much smaller than Dart and I liked the vibe.  Although the girls here were clearly working their butts off, I felt a little bad for them.  Their set up was 4 tourists to one 1 guide so we were paired up with another couple, people who hadn't really ridden before.  J and I were on this ride together and had the fancy camera, so we have lots of pictures from this ride.
Fun fact, lupines are an introduced and invasive species.  But they sure are pretty.
I was matched up with the poorly named Doobie.  Names aside, he was a rock star horse.  The guide explained he isn't a proper trek horse as he is really the barn manager's show horse, but he has to earn his keep so he spends some time with the more advanced riders.  I seriously got very lucky on this vacation, or New Zealanders are really thoughtful because it is rare on a tourist type ride that I get to ride horses this nice.  Hell, some of them are better trained than Fawkes.

Doobie was a pure gentleman.  The way this stable works is they let me canter on ahead of the group and then told me where to stop and wait for them (e.g. at the creek or at the quarry).  J was allowed to follow me on his horse Jack, because they knew his horse would follow Doobie's lead, which he did perfectly.  This ride was alongside the Rees river, which runs next to the Dart, but we went further upstream and had slightly different views.

Doobie was content either leaving the group and taking off on our own for canters - which was dreamy - or walking at the back of the group.  We also tried out a lovely collected canter when everyone else was trotting in front of us.  J was a real trooper cantering along behind us when we left the group, trying not to fall off!  He didn't want me to have to slow down for him, so he hung on.  Also, he is getting to be a decent rider.

Love this guy.
I really enjoyed being able to go off on our own.  No eating another horse's dust or dealing with herd issues, just a lovely ride.  And, MORE RIVER CROSSINGS!  I think I am now obsessed with river crossings.  It was hot, so kind of tempting to go in deeper and get wet myself, but then again, the water is snow melt so a tad chilly.  Doobie didn't seem to mind.

Wow, this post got long.  In summary, horse trekking in New Zealand was fantastic.  All 3 venues were fun and I would have a hard time choosing my favorite.  If I ever get to go back, I would like to do a multiple day ride.  My husband was amazing and I think is falling in love with riding a little bit.  Vacation rocks and I am going to pretend I don't have to go back to work on Monday.

Hope everyone in blogland had a great holiday season!


  1. That looks amazing!!! I'm so glad that you had a great time! I'm seriously drooling over the scenery there.

  2. Those pictures are insanely beautiful!!

  3. The scenery is just BEAUTIFUL! I want to do this one day!

  4. holiday activity in the country. The two classic trekking routes either to Everest base camp or the Annapurna circuit are not easy and the challenge you'll face on either route will have a lasting effect. The Manaslu route trek around the world's eighth largest mountain is more remote but no less beautiful passing through stunning bamboo forests, villages filled with prayer flags and culminating with spectacular views from Larkya La. Mustang is an easier cultural trek, suitable for those with good general fitness but not necessarily any previous trekking experience. The language, culture and tradition of the Mustang region are still mostly Tibetan making this one of the most culturally interesting treks. There are shorter treks up the Langtang Valley and Helambu which are still hard work but also deeply rewarding. They generally begin in Kathmandu, leading through large grazing areas covered in flowers, dotted with stone huts used for butter making, Sherpa, Tamang villages and the homes of yak herders, right up to the Tibetan border.