Amazing April: Introducing Carolyn – Retiring to ride…

I am sure you all appreciate the Icelandic horse world is very small and possibly the Internet is making it smaller, but when friends of mine and members of Tölt.Club in different countries have friends in common, it all gets slightly unbelievable.  Abigail Morris (lives in France and comes to Oakfield for clicker training courses) and Julia Reeves (now lives in New Zealand but was previously involved in the UK Icelandic horse community. Liz, her daughter, owned and competed on Rispa before Harriet Vincent) are both friends with Carolyn Mincham.  Carolyn’s  horse is half brother to Julia’s mare and they live about 4 hours apart, which is quite close in New Zealand!

Abigail was visiting New Zealand earlier this year and went pony trekking with Carolyn. She asked Carolyn on my behalf to introduce herself and tell us a little about herself as we hadn’t made contact directly at that time.

Carolyn’s PHD was on the history of horse and man and she has subsequently published a well received book in New Zealand called “The Horse in New Zealand“. Apart from her in depth study of the relationship between horse and man she used to be a serious mountaineer and has climbed Mt. Cook twice. She treks with a small group of mostly retired people along with a few ranchers & musterers etc. They are all on big horses, the New Zealanders like a Cydesdale/ TB cross, but Reykir, her Icelandic horse, has no problem keeping up.

Carolyn kindly sent us this article introducing herself and talking about how she keeps herself fit as the years pass and how she prepares for her horse trekking adventures:

I live in the Mackenzie Country, a high inland basin surrounded by mountains and marked by glacier fed rivers and lakes. From the 1850s, a high country horsemanship tradition has evolved on the on the Mackenzie’s vast sheep stations with some aspects retained on properties that still use horses to muster sheep and cattle. The last five years since I retired, I’ve been fortunate to ride out with some of these station owners, managers and shepherds who make use of their working horses to explore the many trails through other stations and publically owned conservation land. I ride my Icelandic horse, Reykir, who has won hearts for his forward walk, stamina, intelligence and courage.

Given the distances involved, our outings are often weekend or longer trips. We are fortunate to have Department of Conservation huts dotted throughout the back country with a few having horse paddocks. We also tent, constructing temporary fencing for an overnight stay. Sometimes we have a support vehicle with supplies but more often than not, we have to be self-sufficient, carrying all that we need on our horses for the duration of the trip.

On day five of this six day trek we are travelled lightly to climb from our camp on the Shotover River up and over a high saddle into the next valley. The final day we stopped the traffic by riding through the through the popular tourist destination of Arrowtown, before making a paddock for the horses and then going to the pub for lunch (Jan 2018).

Reykur carries my personal food, camping gear, extra clothes for wet or cold weather, horse and human first aid along with items such as a small spade to dig a latrine. Since mobile phone coverage is limited to population areas and tourist routes, I also carry a personal locater beacon (PLB) in case of emergency.

We don’t carry food for the horses, where we camp depends on finding enough grass and water for the night. We often have a few pack horses along that carry standards and tape for fencing as well as farrier tools for shoeing repairs. Axes and saws are also brought for track clearing in dense bush.

Being the only Icelandic Horse on these treks, Reykir doesn’t get to demonstrate his tölt very often. With heavily laden horses, we travel at a walk and depending on the terrain, may only cover 20 – 30 kilometres a day.

Fitness of both horse and rider is an individual responsibility and after a winter break, I spend a couple of months preparing by riding longer and longer day treks, including some steeper hill work. In the high country, we always get off our horses to lead them down the steeper inclines so particularly as a rider in my late 60s, I have to work out regularly to keep in shape for trekking.

All our horses are used to river crossing but here we take to the lake to avoid a bluff. Experienced trekking horses become very good at taking new challenges in their stride(Jan. 2019).

We put a great deal of trust in our horses to carry us across swift rivers and over high mountain passes. I have learnt that the safest way to negotiate a river is to give Reykir his head to pick his own course. Being shorter than the other horses, he often has to swim part of the way but he has never been known to panic – the legs just work faster until he regains his footing.

On this five day trek Reykir carried all my gear in a pack attached to the back of the saddle as well as wither bags. My 1.1 kilo tent is attached to the top of the wither bag. We take lots of breaks to allow the horses to graze and to drink. I wear gloves and a long sleeved shirt to protect myself from the intense Antipodean sun. (Jan. 2019)

We prefer to ride in groups of about ten riders. The main image was taken as we negotiated a headland above the beautiful Lake Wanaka. ( Jan. 2019)

While we ask a lot of our horses, I’m convinced that they enjoy these outings. They bond well with each other and also with us. It’s amusing how after a roll and a feed at the end of a day’s ride, the horses will come looking for us, hanging around camp as we enjoy a beer and a chat. It’s seldom that the horses aren’t at camp the next morning ready to be saddled and packed for the new day’s adventure.

Horse trekking is a terrific way to experience the wonders of our natural environment and to socialise with like-minded people who have time to spend enjoying their horses. I feel fortunate to live in a part of the country where I can pursue this alongside my ideally suited Icelandic Horses.

Carolyn Mincham

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