For us, having good quality gear is just as important as having good quality horses. All of our saddles and bridles are made from decent leather and are checked after each ride to ensure that they are safe to use. We have recently replaced all of our saddles with new made to order stock saddles, although all of the older saddles are still in perfect working order due to a high quality product and careful care during its use. We have found that in order to get many years use out of a saddle or bridle it is highly important to look after it properly, keep it well oiled and most importantly regularly checked for any imperfections.
The saddles we use are all of the Australian Stock Saddle design, (All are made in New Zealand) some being Sid Hill saddles, but have all been made to order to our own specifications to make them exactly how we want them. We use a military style tree as this will never rub a horse’s back, with deep seats, comfortable for long rides. When designing the saddles, we have ensured that they are of the same traditional structure as they were 100 years ago, when they had to be of the best quality for constant use.
As part of the design, the saddles have many D’s and rings on them to tie our coats and oilskins onto, and they also provide a place to clip the saddlebags to. We always carry an oilskin and waterproof leggings on the saddle, and any additional objects are carried in the leather saddlebags, as clothing tied around the waist or backpacks can be dangerous when riding. We have riding helmets for everyone’s use, and although this is not compulsory in New Zealand, we recommend if you are any less than an experienced rider that you wear one. This is purely for the safety of the rider, and for the same reason we also match the correct sized stirrup to each rider’s boot, to prevent it from becoming wedged.
On our rides, we also carry First Aid Kits for both humans and horses. These are clipped on to either side of the saddle at the back, and means that we can treat most injuries satisfactorily until help arrives. Each guide always has a current Red Cross, First Aid Certificate so that they can help to the best of their ability if anything should happen, and we always carry a satellite telephone, locator beacon, GPS as well as flares so that we can contact help if it is ever required.
We also have to carry shoeing equipment in case any horse loses a shoe on a ride. Lawrie has always shod his own horses here at Waitohi Downs, using shoes that are built up with hard-faced weld to make them stronger and longer lasting. Without this weld, the shoes would only last for one 12 day trip, whereas with it, they last for two. Most of our horses take size 6 or 7 shoes, but the pack horses need bigger, heavier shoes up to size 9, which we specially shape and design here.
We usually take 8 or 10 pack horses away with us, and each of them have their own pack saddles. We have also helped in the making of these, and again they are the original, traditional design, as used years ago in the pioneering days. We also use the traditional method of packing the horses, always ensuring that the weights on either side are even and well spread out between the horses. They carry our specially designed tucker-boxes, and electric fencing gear to build temporary paddocks for the horses at night. All of our swag rolls are also carried by the pack horses, each swag holding a sleeping bag, clothes and any personal belongings we might need on the trips. Again, all of this gear is regularly checked to ensure that it is always safe for both the horse and the rider.