I'm in the Wairapa again (North Island, NZ) at the base of the Mangaterere valley, standing outside Vicky's ranch, badly hungover. Four months ago I'd asked if I could share a couple of weeks with her. Vicky runs her entire farm on horseback – it sounded incredible. After a good look up and down at me her last words had been “well you better toughen up then!”, laughing. So to some extent, that's what I went away and did.
Now it's exactly how I imagined – I'm back and she wants to find out who I am, and whether I can cut it on a horse. But I haven't ridden for ages and after that beer, wine and rum last night my guts are about to fall out of my arse. Even if I wasn't half dead, she's a professional rider and I'm just a kid with no clue. I learnt to ride on a farm as a kid, and I've spent one year riding a horse once a week, but that was like school yard footy. This appears to be the premiership. The huge steep sides of the valley (/riding country) loom overhead like an arena where inexperienced Pommes come to die.
I turn round to see her expertly clip clop into the yard. Steve makes my excuses for me: "Ed might be a bit vague today, we had a bit of a celebration". She laughs from her western saddle. "Well I guess we better rattle his head then eh! Ha!". My stomach rolls.
She shows me to my ride – Cochese - a nine year old, red stock horse in his prime. He's full of muscle, full of strength, full of speed, salt of the earth. His presence is huge. We make eye contact for the first time – his look is one of supreme intelligence, wisdom and a hint of surprise – who's this new joker? To break the awkward silence I turn away and ask Vicks "His name, Cochese – what does it mean?". I'm sure she enjoys the next few words... "RUNS LIKE THE WIND" she licks. I absorb this for a few seconds. And then that thought kicks in... "tell me you're joking?".
I look at Vicky. I don't think she's joking. Nope. She's not joking. I look back at Cochese. Cochese looks back at me. He's not joking either.