Horse Trekking Through the Enchanting Hills of River Valley

It’s our second day at the River Valley adventure lodge. We made use of the Rangitikei River the lodge is based alongside yesterday in a super insane (and unbelievably fun) white water rafting trip. Today, we make use of the hills surrounding this stunning valley in a horse trek like no other we have done in New Zealand.

River Valley does things a little differently when it comes to horse trekking as we are about to find out.

After meeting up in the reception area, we ushered by Rodger, our driver, to the shuttle. Passing rolling green farmland that stretches as far as the eye can see, the conversation with our fellow passengers is that of excitement as we can’t wait to explore these hills by horse – true Lord of the Rings style.

Meeting the River Valley steeds!

Arriving at the stables, we meet our guide for the day, Jess, a chirpy American! Her positive attitude and confidence has a great influence on us, making even the more nervous of riders, *cough* Laura! *cough*, feel more focused on having a good time.

First things first, we are made to look the part with black leather horse riding shoes, chaps and helmets. (We kind of wish we were here in winter so that we could justify wearing the long cowboy coats). Then Jess is introducing us to the five horses we are going to be taking out today. With each introduction, Jess tells us more about their personalities with comments such as, “He is always looking for the answer…” That’s cute, but we’re not sure what that means until this next part. We also can’t help but notice that the horses are not reined up with the usual reins attached to a bit in the horses’ mouth. Instead, a series of ropes are tied loosely around the horses’ head, one rope used as a lead and another used as the reins. It sure seems less intrusive to the horses, which is all part of the natural horsemanship ethos the River Valley Stables works with.

Getting to know our horses Getting to know our horses
On the horse's back and ready to go! On the horse's back and ready to go!
Always walking toward one epic-looking hill or another Always walking toward one epic-looking hill or another
Really getting the swing of things now Really getting the swing of things now

Understanding our horses for a better ride!

Our group has a mix of complete beginners, confident riders, nervous riders and novices, all of which have never ridden a horse with these ropey reins before. Jess clearly goes through the use of different pressures asserted onto a horse by a rider and what they will mean to a horse. With that, your pressures on the horse will have your horse “looking for the answer”.

She goes through owning your own personal space, how the horses like their own space, and most importantly, how confidence reflects on the horse. If the horse has a nervous rider, then the horse isn’t going to feel too great either.

Leading our horses around a paddock is our next stage of showing our horse who is in control. Then we move onto getting on the horse and controlling it through pressure on the reins and with your legs. The step-by-step tuition of understanding how these intelligent creatures respond to humans really helps us get confident on our horses – it’s way of teaching that makes us get the most enjoyment out of the trip.

Rio and RIco

Now that we have bonded with our horses, Robin with Rio, a light brown horse with a bright white tail and mane and legs, and Laura with Rico, a mellow steed with beautiful white and brown patchwork across his body, we follow Jess out into those rolling green hills we have been so desperate to explore.

The moment when forgot all about personal space

A freeing ride through the Rangitikei Hills

Although Jess leads us in a general direction, picking a route as she goes (she admits that each trip is different), she encourages to go to any part of each field we want, whether it’s up a hill, on a track, alongside a track… Anyway! We are free!

With a 360-degrees backdrop of hills getting more dramatic in the distance and creating a stunning layering effect, it’s hard to fight the temptation to take photos every two seconds. Our horses tend to let us take photos for a quick moment but do this too often and they will see that your attention is split – perfect for them to do whatever the hell they want!

Nevertheless, we snap up a few Kodak-moments then enjoy the ride, the scenery and understanding how to control our horses.

Speeding up the trek

Once everyone is feeling more confident, Jess asks if everyone is happy to trot. To the beginner, it’s a bumpy ride to start with but once you use your legs to bob up and down with the horse, it’s a smoother ride. You can righteously say: “Nailed it!”

With an open field ahead of us, some of us even get ourselves into a canter – certainly the more adrenaline-pumping way to ride a horse!

Riding among fields of sheep, we make our way to the highest point of our trek going along a hillside until we emerge at the most stunning viewpoint over looking forested mountains in the distance. Wow! We get the time to get off our horses, stretch our legs and snap up a few photos of this prime spot.

An open field to run free! An open field to run free!
Taking the side-of-the-hill route Taking the side-of-the-hill route
Look who's lagging behind... Look who's lagging behind...

The alternative way home

On the theme of freedom with this horse trek, Jess picks an alternative route to take us in the direction of the stables yet we can still ride at our own pace either with the group or split away to play a bit. By this time, we feel a lot more confident with our horses or, at least, we can predict them a lot more.

Horses with big personalities

Rico is a pretty mellow horse that will be careful going down hills and pretty much understands what Laura wants him to do when Laura is paying attention and not taking photos. (Otherwise, he seems to think that walking straight is a safe bet). Rio, on the other hand, is feeling kind of grumpy today, so tests Robin’s abilities a couple of times when he senses that Robin is too busy filming and not paying enough attention on the ride. Rio will literally, “take Robin for a ride”, speeding up to join the group. Well, you can’t blame the guy – filming with Robin can be pretty boring.

We arrive back at the stables, get off the horse, and finally understand the phrase “walking like a cowboy”. Our last moment with our new buddies is leading them to the stables to tie them up and reward them with hay.

On the way back to the lodge, we talk about how we loved that this River Valley horse trek gives you enough freedom to make the experience your own, whether it’s to feel like Gandalf cantering through the lands of Middle-earth or building your confidence with these fascinating creatures.

Life back at the lodge

Back at the lodge, we have some drinks with the staff in the beer garden with the soundtrack of the river flowing. This lodge really is an awesome place to hang, that’s why we are keen to stay one more day to check out the walks, the games and the food tomorrow. Find out more tomorrow!

Laura and Robin

The enchanting hilly countryside of River Valley
The enchanting hilly countryside of River Valley Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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See you tomorrow!

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