The last horses

Saturday January 25, 2020 Written by Published in Weekend
Bella, left, Kanela and Beauty may be the last survivors of what was once a thriving culture in Rarotonga, but their owner Brynn Acheson-Nooroa certainly hopes there will be more to come. 20012431/20012432/20012433/20012434/20012435 Bella, left, Kanela and Beauty may be the last survivors of what was once a thriving culture in Rarotonga, but their owner Brynn Acheson-Nooroa certainly hopes there will be more to come. 20012431/20012432/20012433/20012434/20012435

As a horse rider, journalist Moana Makapelu Lee knows what it is to care for such proud animals. Up the Turangi valley road, she discovers Rarotonga’s last three horses – and meets the woman who is helping them live out the rest of their lives in calm and dignity.

Deep in the valley of Matavera’s back roads, an idyllic lowland sits at the foot of a mountain.

Here amongst lush overgrown swamps and lined coconut trees graze three ponies amongst long green grass.

It is picturesque here and exactly the kind of place where one might imagine majestic animals roaming.

Their names are Bella, Kanela and Beauty. A remnant of what was once a thriving culture here in Rarotonga.

For owner Brynn Acheson-Nooroa, she has little a bit of history in her hands as perhaps the only horse-owner left in Rarotonga.

“That’s quite neat and quite a pressure as well but I don’t think it will be the last,” she says.

Mother and daughter duo Bella, 23, and Kanela, 14, are her newest additions. She’s only had them for a little under two weeks so the trio are still readjusting as a herd when Brynn takes me out to visit them.

For Acheson-Nooroa who is originally from the United States, her love of horses goes right back to her child growing up in the agricultural “cowboy” state of Montana.

“I had horses that we boarded in stable so for me I think getting into horses was something that stemmed from a very young age.

“My aunty was very much into horses and studied dressage and equestrian sports in England, so for me it was deeply instilled this love and passion for these majestic creatures.”

It’s that same passion that led Acheson-Nooroa to take action when learning of a mare, Beauty, who needed to be rehomed a year ago.

Despite the challenges of having “not thought it out”, with support from her husband the yoga instructor made an executive decision to give the horse a better life with what she could.

“When it came about that there was a horse that needed to be rehomed, I honestly didn’t even think twice. It was almost like – I don’t have kids - but maybe this intuitive mother nature told me I needed to help,” she says.

“So I did.

“I approached the owner and thankfully she was so willing.

“You could truly see in her eyes that she wanted the best for the animal and that she wasn’t able to provide that so thankfully with the support of my husband I told him I was bringing home a horse, so that’s sort of how it began.”

Fast forward a year and now she has a “horse family.” But like their mysterious nature, it’s hard to know what their story is.

Once used as trekking horses, over time they became family pets. Although there is limited information on where they came from or when they were imported Acheson-Nooroa is determined to give the middle-aged mares the best rest of their lives.

“I love that there’s a harmonious relationship between human and horse. They need us much as we need them and to me they are almost like children.

“They see the world as it is and they are untainted in a way and they really want to build that trust and they need us to establish that trust just like a child would. They are majestic, they are spiritual.”

Owning a horse isn’t as easy as you might think.

It’s a task she’s taken on with a lot of bravery, especially in a country with limited resources to care for an animal that requires a lot of time, money and effort.

As a rider myself, this I know!

There’s health, dental and hoof care to consider as well as feed, supplements, grooming and tack. And that’s just the beginning.

Grazing, fencing and transportation is a whole other cost.

But she’s thankful for a generous landlord who has allowed her to graze free of charge, the donations-based veterinary service on the island, Te Are Manu, as well as an importing business that has created the perfect climate for her to care for them.

“Te Are Manu have been pivotal in helping me stay on top of the health of the animals and giving me guidance as to what I should do and I feel like I’m quite lucky because they are actually in fairly good health and don’t require, or at least at this stage don’t require, a lot of expense.”

And she’s calling on locals, young and old, interested in learning and giving a voluntary hand too.  

But although they may be the only horses left, she certainly hopes they won’t be the last.

With help and sponsorship, she hopes to eventually start her own therapeutic horse clinic to help at-risk youth, the disabled and those keen to revitalise horse culture on the island.

“They can teach us a lot more beyond our own personal pleasure of going out and taking them for a ride,” she says. “And I would love to be able to share that with people.”

It’s raining on this day as I go out to meet these majestic creatures of Rarotonga and they are certainly a wonder to behold in these tropical lowlands.

They are walking tupuna of this land in their own special way.

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