The River Valley Ride is our newest and most intrepid horse riding holiday in New Zealand. Taking you on this eight-day journey across the hills and glens of the North Island are Nicola Megaw and Tommy Waara, two guides with very different backgrounds who are both passionate about their homeland, their horses and sharing this beauty with others. Nicola and Tommy kindly took the time to tell us about their fascinating backgrounds, how The River Valley Ride came about, and why they think it’s the perfect horseback adventure!
How long have you been running your riding outfit? And what was the background, history, reason for starting?
Horses were Nicola’s childhood and early teenage craze (her husband would say they still are). She grew up on a farm where there were always horses to ride. At age 10, she joined the local pony club and would ride her pony 16 miles across country to get there, and then ride home again the next day.
Tommy, who grew up on his ancestral land, started guiding treks through that countryside 40 years ago, taking people into the hills on horseback to hunt wild deer and pigs. He started breaking-in (as it was called back then) his own horses while working on the land as a musterer and shepherd.
River Valley Stables is owned by Nicola and her daughter Janey. They have been operating for 15 years, focussing on having well trained, happy horses in their role as trekking mounts. Achieving this was a challenge for Nicola, and it meant growing her horsemanship knowledge and exposing herself to new ideas and ways of doing things. The feedback from the horses now is so rewarding – they’re happy and giving, doing their job well, and getting better at it each year.
In 2014, Tommy was asked to enter the first ever Wild Horse Challenge in New Zealand. This involved taming two wild Kaimanawa stallions and having them under saddle in 100 days, ready for the first competition. Then five months later, they were ridden at the Horse of the Year show. Of the 10 competitors in the finals, Tommy was the only one to take two stallions all the way. That was how Nicola became involved with the Kaimanawa horses: Tommy needed someone to ride one of his stallions. Since then, Tommy and Nicola have independently taken Kaimanawa horses from the annual musters and tamed and trained them.
The project of an eight-day ride took three years to come to fruition. The aim was to put together a world class ride traversing the countryside they both grew up in, unearthing the delights within their different cultures and landscapes. Guests have the opportunity to ride and learn about New Zealand’s unique wild horses and experience the ‘Kiwi’ way of life while adventuring in an enchanting part of the country.
How many guest horses do you have?
Sixteen, including both Tommy’s Kaimanawa horses and the River Valley Stables horses, which are a mix of Kaimanawa and New Zealand Station Bred.
Describe your herd of horses in four words.
‘Unabashedly suss you out!’ Each has their unique traits and personality, and it’s pleasing to see them feeling confident to express that politely with their new human partners.
What is the philosophy or ethos behind your horse riding experiences?
To learn how to work with the horse mentally and emotionally first – to get that right before you address the physical. Everything we do is either building our relationship or tearing it apart. It’s not about tolerance; it’s about confidence, acceptance and understanding. Setting horse and rider up to get the most enjoyment out of each other during their time together.
What do you love most about your job?
There is SO much to love about this job! Where to begin? We’re the luckiest people in the world to be able to make a living out of what we love doing most: being in a beautiful landscape amidst nature on horseback, leaving the trappings of the world behind. Not to mention the coming together of everyone at the end of a day’s riding and making friendships for life.
What is the most challenging part?
The balance between keeping it safe for our riders and letting them have the ride of their life. Training the horses to be trustworthy is paramount. There is always a challenge in every horse – some horses more than others!
Why should globetrotters sign up for this ride?
Excuse me, but seriously, why wouldn’t you! What’s not to love about eight days of adventurous bliss upon beautiful horses in enchanting, faraway lands?
A tip that every globetrotter must know before signing up for this ride:
The more riding fit you are, the more enjoyable this adventure will be. Also, we are in the high country and the sun can be VERY intense when it’s shining, and the air can be chilly when the weather changes.
Finish this sentence: Don’t leave home without…
Leaving any preconceived notions of what lies ahead on your adventure there – at home. New Zealand can have four seasons in one day, so pack your sunnies with your raincoat and your thermal underwear with your sun block.
What has been the most memorable or significant moment of your guiding careers?
Oh Gosh! There have been a few, and no doubt there will be some more.
The feedback from our riders. They make it SO memorable!
Something common in both Tommy’s and my guiding career was being asked to guide our local area of the Great New Zealand Trek for eight days. This trek started at the top of the North Island and finished at the bottom of the South Island. We guided over 200 people on that ride. An epic trip.
And the Wild Horses… but that’s a story for the campfire.
Anything else you would like to add?
‘Ride that horse like you just stole it!’
We are SO excited to have Nicola and Tommy on board and can’t wait for you to experience their Kiwi hospitality for yourself! Click here to learn more about The River Valley Ride.