Elvis is alive and well and living in the countryside in Hawke's Bay!
That's Elvis the horse, not Elvis the singer. This Elvis may be a bit of a slow poke but he's placid and dependable.
"He's Glenn's spirit horse," declared my teenage son Alexander as we clip-clopped around the hills of Mountain Valley on a horse trek recently.
You see, our riding instructor Rosey Veint has matched my partner Glenn to Elvis. He's a sturdy fellow and Elvis being a sturdy horse was quite capable of carrying him. However, as his rider later protested, "We were at least 20 metres behind you guys. Elvis stopped and would only go when he was good and ready. Then, on the way down, he went very close to the edge."
Elvis obviously has a mind of his own. Maybe he was trying a quick way to off-load his generous payload! You always have to watch he quiet ones, or so they say.
During the school holidays we had zoomed up the Napier-Taupo highway towards Mountain Valley Adventure Lodge. The turn off is situated shortly after the Mohaka Bridge. 'Thrills and Adventure', says the sign near the road and our 4WD is soon engulfed in a cloud of dust. Ten minutes later we are there.
Five horses are tethered in the corral, waiting patiently for their next customers. That's us, we think happily. We are excited at the thought of a couple of hours riding across the farm.
But first, Rosey gives us detailed instructions on what to expect. "Riding horses can be dangerous but we do everything we can to make sure you are safe. While they are all very calm and placid, if a tree falls down beside them you can't blame them for being spooked."
We really hope this won't happen. We are all complete novices. Do a few horse rides spread out over the decades count? Probably not.
Following these safety procedures we are asked to choose our helmets and then given mounting and steering instructions. They are simply stated and very thoroughly done, so we feel we are in capable hands. We learn more about our horses.
Alexander's horse, Silkie, (a boy) completely idolises his friend Hugh's horse, Indie. "Silkie is an ex harness racer, so just remember to tell him to stop if he starts to pace," says Rosey. Alexander takes a gulp.
"Elvis is a station-bred horse. He goes downhill very slowly, probably because he is so tall and gangly and needs more time to think about where to put his feet. The worst thing he will do is stop and eat."
My horse Jess is Kaimanaw-bred. I am pleased I found this out after I got on her as I would've feared her desire to answer the call of the wild and disappear over the hills in search of her long-lost cousins. However, she was very quiet and just plodded dutifully up hill and down dale. The only glitch was on the way home when she paused to nibble on a patch of lupins — her feet got caught in some prickly blackberry and she gave a little sideways jump, as did her rider who pulled tightly on her reins. "The best thing to do is to pull firmly and slowly in the direction you want to go," explains Rosey.
Out across the 'prairie' we ride. It's a spectacular day — how fortunate we are. In a nearby paddock a herd of cattle pricks up their ears as we file past. A cacophony of mooing ensues. What a din! I eye them nervously and ask if there are any bulls in their midst. "No, these are pregnant cows," says Rosey. A tiny black calf scuttles to the safety of her mother.
The only sound after that is the rhythmical thud of hooves on the grass. It is quite mesmerising. In fact, so much so it seems to have hypnotised the teenagers — for the moment, anyway.
Rosey has a dream job. She's been involved with horses ever since she was a child growing up near Christchurch. When she mentions that she owns a horse that was in a Lord of the Rings (LOTR) movie, I ask if we can meet this former movie star and get his hoof print.
Although it is the weekend, the logging crew is busy harvesting pine trees. Logs lie like toothpicks, pointing downwards into the valley. A log hauler dominates the skyline and somewhere up there, a chainsaw buzzes away like an annoying mosquito. Our relaxed little posse of trekkers makes its way along a grassy plateau. From here we look down on the Mohaka River babbling away in the distance.
As well as trekking, Mountain Valley is a popular place for river rafting, kayaking, fishing, claybird shooting, paintball and mountain biking. Later in the day, when Hugh, Alexander and Glenn go for a dip in the river, a blue double kayak glides past. Its paddlers wave out before rounding a bend in the river.
In the chalet next door to us where we stayed overnight, two fishermen said they had a good day on the river and were pleased with the number of trout they caught. It's the kind of place you can bring the family just to chill out or try the different activities on offer.
Rosey tells us a bit more about how a horse's mind works. "As prey animals, they are basically scared they are going to get eaten."
By what, she didn't say. I presume this harks back eons and is so tightly wound into their DNA it can't be unhooked from their brains. This explains why they are on constant alert. Apparently, their ears tell you what they are thinking. But we need not have worried. Our horses, all well trained to minimise any risks and make the treks as safe as possible, meandered obligingly back along the track home.
By then, the springs in my upholstery (i.e. my rear end) were feeling every haunch move and hoof-step, especially when Jess went downhill.
It had been a lot of fun. Pulling up at the stables and dismounting is an excruciating experience though — every muscle in my lower torso, now melded to horse shape, has locked up. Thank goodness for that footstool to help me reach terra firma. Five minutes of bandy walking (just like a cowgirl!) and I am good to go.
After their dip in the Mohaka River the boys are keen to try out claybird shooting, so book in a session with lodge owner, Doug Batt. Alex had never done this before and thought it was great fun.
All that was left of the day was to go and meet the famous movie horse. There he was, relaxing in mellow pastures. "Boy (renamed before being sold to Rosey) was one of the Rohan horses in LOTR. He used to rear up and fall down on command in the battle scenes, but I don't ask him to do this now as he gets anxious," explains Rosey. Now aged 20, a fella deserves a little peace and quiet, and what a tranquil place to spend his twilight years.
You can find them at 408 McVicar Road, Napier, phone (06) 834 9756 or visit mountainvalley.co.nz.
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