I’m in New Zealand, on a fifty-acre farm with dairy cows and horses. The wooden farmhouse is very close to the main road and it shudders every time a car or bus flashes past. What a lovely green, green country this is, after the States! I am going to “work” for my keep here, as Judy has six enthusiastic riders lined up for me to judge tomorrow.
We pay some old Kenya friends a visit in their new property just outside Aukland. Life is a struggle for them, as it is for all that leave Africa and have to work physically with their bare hands, often for the first time. And it is not easy, when you’re approaching retirement age, to start afresh anywhere.
My first day in New Zealand is at the local Riding Club and Judy has an idea that works a treat. A group of riders who have never ridden a dressage test before, come in front of me. After each test I discuss the marks with them, trying to give helpful hints and encouragement, and after lunch they re-ride the test. In every case there is improvement and some of them quite remarkably so. The venue is a beautifully scenic twenty-acre smallholding with open-plan home on a hill overlooking the sea.
You do everything yourself in New Zealand. This is hard to imagine when one is so spoilt in Africa where you have people to do the donkey work. As in Canada, there’s no going for hacks in the countryside, as there are too many roads and fences. Exercising takes place in the home yard.
The following day I travel through farming country – fields and fields of lush green grass. Farmhouses are built near the main road so there is little or no privacy. This seems strange when the properties stretch out behind and they could so easily have put their homes back a bit, on a hill or behind some trees. I am told it was because of the original expense of laying electricity and communication lines, and the convenience of having doorstep transportation for milk and dairy products in pioneering days. It is rich countryside and paddocks take only about a month to re-grow after they are grazed.
Then I climb by coach into the mountains and the farms thin out as great pines take over, the land becoming more like the highlands of Kenya. This is sheep country and geyserland: billowing clouds of steam rise as we near Rotorua, and the smell of sulphur permeates the air. There is a greater difference here, between town and country. But habitation still clings to the roadside and you never go far without passing a house or building of some sort.