Life on a High Country farm

Going from living in a busy, backpacker town in a house with over 10 people in, you could say it was a bit of a shock when I arrived at my next host: a high country farm in very rural Canterbury with only 3 occupants plus me. This is what I came to new zealand for however so I was excited to get stuck in and see how the farm works. They run sheep and a few cattle on the farm and about 80 horses. This was the reason I chose this particular farm as it also runs up to 12 day long treks on horseback across the high country.

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My job was to work with the younger horses and get them up to the level of being used for customers on their treks. They breed their own Clydesdale/Thoroughbred cross horses which are strong, sturdy animals ideal for their job of carrying either person or packs over many miles.

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I had never worked with young horses before so it was a steep learning curve for me in the three weeks I was there. Corinna who started as a help exchange and now works full time took me through the paces. On a good day we rode 4 times. The horses I was riding were good but just need more mileage on them and reminding that they are fast – paced walking horses. So I was essentially training them to power walk. We rode on various tracks around the farm so I used my new found skill of mounting from the ground opening and closing all the gates. Those were the best days when we just got to ride, ride, ride.

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My hosts Lawrie and Jenny run their 2300 acre farm by themselves. Jenny keeps the house/office ticking over with really yummy food and Lawrie deals with the day to day running of the farm. On occasion he will need Corinna’s help, so that’s when I helped with cleaning, weeding, or tidying – the not so fun day.

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Early on in my stay I got to go on a two hour trek with Jenny and 2 customers, giving one of the younger horses a chance to go out. It was very different to the previous trekking centre where we were encouraged to talk about the local area from history to the fauna. However,  at Alpine Horse Safari’s customers come to enjoy the peace and quiet of the rolling Canterbury hills so it’s a very relaxed ride.

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The multi day treks all go along a certain track, and in one particular spot the track was very overgrown from all sides with low lying branches ready to swipe at an unsuspecting rider. So this track needed to be cut from the bottom of the hill to the top. When I arrived the first third was done so the plan was to ride to Valley camp with pack horses in the afternoon, stay the night and early the next day ride up to the track and start cutting from there leaving the horses tied up at a point.

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The ride over was a really good experience,  we had 3 riding horses and 4 running free. Lawrie was driving up with the truck later on with all of the chainsaw gear etc. Going through the river was interesting… I made the mistake of looking down at the water and started to feel sea sick! So learnt my lesson after that to focus on the bank ahead of you. After the river was a road so had to keep the pack horses in line on this part, but once we were on the next farm we could relax a bit and let them run ahead, which they did until they found a good grazing spot!

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The Hut itself was more of a lodge I thought, sleeping up to 12 people with a big kitchen and dining table all centred around a central fire. The toilet and shower were outside but the water was hot so no complaints there!

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That night and the next day I was really ill, I shan’t go into the details here but let’s just say I don’t think I agreed with the water. So I made the decision not to go with them to cut the track, it was a long hard day and I just wasn’t feeling up to it. I was very disappointed because I’d been told the first hour and a half of riding was really cool and the reason why people come back to these treks. I never made it up there so it’s all a mystery to me.

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After 10 days on the farm, only talking to three other people me and Corinna took a trip into christchurch,  so many people! I took this chance to have lunch with some family friends who moved to Christchurch from the UK 6 years ago. I’d never met them before but they are my grandma’s friends and she’s a good judge of character so I knew they’d be lovely. And they were of course and took me on a tour of the city centre too.

I was very excited about the upcoming weekend as not only was it valentines day (har har) 2 new wwoofers were arriving. That Saturday afternoon I was going to ride Matipo and Puka in the round yard by myself. They hadn’t been ridden this season yet but were customer horses and “have never put a foot wrong in their lives”. I was excited at the chance of working a horse on my own in the round yard.

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Firstly I worked Matipo from the ground before getting on him with Corinna’s help at this point (he’s nearly 18hh – that’s pretty damn big). I then started working on him with his bending and doing lots of shapes to keep him interested. He looked happy so Corinna left me to it. I asked Matipo to walk on and out of nowhere he started bucking and bucking and bucking. I have ridden a lot of bucking horses in my time but my breath was taken away at the size and energy of his. So long story short I hit the ground pretty damn hard on to my shoulder breaking my collar bone and spraining my shoulder and neck. I still can’t recall those first 5 minutes after the fall either, at the time sitting in the house this was the most terrifying thing. Corinna took me to the doctors who prescribed me some strong painkillers, told me it was just muscle injury so to ice and rest it. It was only 11 days later when my shoulder was still looking wonky that I got an xray and was told my collarbone was broken!

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When I came back from the doctors the new couple had arrived which was a welcome distraction to the pain and discomfort I was feeling. They were really cool and had lots of interesting stories of where they’d been and what they’d done. So it was safe to say the next few days were not exactly fun as I struggled to get better. Funnily enough two days later they were going to cut the track again, this time driving to the top of the hill and walking down. So yet again I couldn’t go and help with that as this time I was injured! It was very frustrating for me not being able to do things, I’m not used to it – this is the first serious injury I’ve had. I had planned to stay 6 weeks but because of the accident I only stayed 3 weeks. I had gone there to learn how to and train young horses so now I couldn’t do that I didn’t want to stay and just do housework.

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Luckily for me Corinna was driving into Christchurch when I wanted to leave so I grabbed the chance of a lift to the city, much quicker than the bus. I phoned my family friends who agreed that I could come and stay with them for a few days. So that was my eventful stay at a high country sheep farm. I also got to help with repairing fences, skinning and gutting sheep and drinking cider by their swimming hole in the river.

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