Growing up on a farm, riding horses became a way of life, an entertainment, a source of competition, even my social life involved horses, and horse people. There was nothing wrong this of course, and now I look back fondly on my memories of the tack shed, the stables and yes, even the countless hours grooming for shows, hunts and equine school.
Somewhere between the first several years of horse riding, dad brought home an old red motorbike. It was more of a wreck than an actual motorcycle. It had a birds nest of wires hanging out from where the motorcycles brains should be, and there was rust where the chrome should have been shining. The bike sat proudly on the back verandah covered by a tarpaulin.
As the years went past, the cold and wet winter riding sessions took their toll. Horses are amazing animals, grounded and therapeutic, but they take a lot of effort. There’s dragging hay bales across swamped paddocks, hard feeding, and plaiting manes when your fingers are so cold you can’t feel what your doing. Then one night at a family dinner I saw a movie. Not just any movie but a movie with Vanilla Ice acting as a main character in “Cool as Ice”. The year was 1991. Jim Bolger was Prime Minister of New Zealand, and suddenly motorcycles, the status symbol of coolness, shone a light on my horizon.
I remember sneaking out onto the back verandah when my parents went out, frantically trying to work out which wires went where, and kicking the crank lever to see if I could get the bike fired up. Without any idea what I was doing, I was doomed to failure. Looking on in amusement from across the lawn were a 15 hands high grey Gelding named Sonny. My show horse. “What an idiot”, he must have thought. “That bike doesn’t even have its ignition coil” !!! I liked the idea of being able to move without effort.
A couple of years later, and long after that old bike had been given to someone that knew what they were doing, I was still high in the saddle, now with an affliction to Western Style riding, I tried to re-enact riding scenes filmed in Monument Valley, Montana and Calgary. Anything to create a little more excitement from my meander tasks that had become routine on the farm. I even had a stick whip, and pretended to be Jim Craig out of “The Man from Snowy River”, and Clint Eastwood out of “Long Plains Rider”. Sure competition days were fun, I even participated in a few mock hunts (there’s not actually any wild foxes in New Zealand by the way) to mix things up as Rodeo back then in NZ was like snowboarding was in the ski fields. Not a viable main stream option. I still however, longed for the feel of fresh air at 80km/hr on a leather seat of a motorcycle.
I guess the attraction more than anything was the knowledge that the exhilaration of speed came without effort. You just swing your leg over the bike, turn a key, and in seconds you would be going fast. No grooming, picking out hoofs, saddling up was required. I was becoming a lazy idealistic youth !!
On my 15th birthday, I sat my drivers license, and passed. It seems those lessons in the paddock steering the old Land Rover while sitting on dads knee, had paid off. Within months I had a shiny red CG105 motorcycle made by Honda. It had a single cylinder, a chrome exhaust and hanging indicators. It cost all of $6 to fill and I polished it after every ride. It was my pride and joy. I never stopped riding though.
Finally I was cool !! I wore dads old oilskin half jacket (the closest thing to real leather I could find) and to top off the coolness, I wrapped a black and white scarf around my neck just like the guy out of “The Gumball Rally” that rode the motorcycle. Suddenly my world had opened up. I could see friends that usually I’d have to wait for school to see (we lived in a country town, my friends lived miles away), and I had the world in front of me. I even joined the local Volunteer Fire Brigade. I was a man !!! The man !!!
With horses, riding is a calculated risk based on experience and skill. It takes years of equine school (Pony Club) the become a proficient rider able to tame even the most difficult of horses (something I actually really enjoy even to this very day). Motorcycles, it seems are very similar. A horse has a personality, a mode and temperament, and a horse can also tell if your mood isn’t right, and reacts accordingly. A motorcycle doesn’t. It doesn’t care if your tired, fatigued mentally after helping put out a scrub fire for the past 4 hours. Exhausted and mentally incapable of making educated decisions – like leaving the fires station, and instead of going straight home, thinking it was a good idea to ride down twisty road to see a mate.
So there I was, sore, bleeding and in shock after trying to take a corner faster than I should have, and riding deep down into the ditch on the side of the road. Now for those of you that don’t know what a country ditch is like. Its nothing like a gutter you see on the side of the road in the suburbs. Its about 4 feet deep and has gravel on one side and clay on the other. So there I was. Still sitting on my pride possession, cheap leather gloves ripped open, helmet visor gone, and not quite sure what had just happened. But man, did I feel strong !! I dragged my bike up out of the ditch, started it up, and continued my ride to my friends house. I had no hand brake, no right mirror or indicators, but like an injured soldier, I couldn’t leave a fellow soldier in the field. I headed for my friends. Dad arrived soon with the trailer just as I was feeling nauseous from the shock and took the bike and I home.
I’d fallen off numerous horses over the years, and always got back on. Reluctantly sometimes, but I did. My bike sat motionless in the garage for months after Dad fixed it up for me. I couldn’t get the thought out of my head that motorcycles are too easy, and that without effort (like you put into horses before riding them), the respect for the dangers encountered by riding a motorcycle were greater than the enjoyment. My next vehicle was a car.
25 years have passed since that night. I’ve had numerous bikes over the years, and have been lucky enough ( I use the word loosely ), not to have relived that night. Luck does pay a huge part nowadays with the introduction of driver distractive devices such as mobile phones, GPS inputs etc that puts a motorcycle rider in danger every time he/she rides.
I admittedly don’t ride as often as I used to, I have friends that ride, and when i visit home, but funnily enough, I’d happily trade the bike in on a horse. I now really enjoy the processes involved in horse riding. Like brewing a good cup of coffee, the walking into the paddock, calling the horse, grooming, saddling up and then, just like taking that first sip from the fresh cup, you climb on and start your your ride, knowing this is the reward for the effort you’ve just put in.
I used to wish for a life of excitement, technology, speed, the more the better. Now grown up, and living close to the city, I have technology, a motorcycle, and access to speed/the fast life, and like many people my age, we look forward to slowing down a little, maybe buying a farm, and yes, of course…. some horses.
How times have changed.