When you think of New Zealand, what movies immediately come to mind? When you think of the greatest trilogy in written and cinematic history, what comes to mind? The answer is one and the same: Lord of the Rings. Now, for those of you who have either read the books or seen the movies, what was the most common form of transport? It wasn’t cars or scooters. There were no hobbits on Harley’s. No elves skiing down the mountains. The best way to get around Middle Earth was on horseback! So, with that in mind, Courtny and I decided to book a tour with Dart Stables, located in Glenorchy, New Zealand.
Before we get started, let’s get this out of the way. No, neither of us had ever ridden a horse before. And yes, it was one of our favorite activities on our honeymoon! The wonderful people at Dart Stables have Lord of the Rings location tours available for riders of all skill levels. They have an amazing knowledge of each individual horse; its tendencies, preferred pecking order, and personality all go into consideration when you’re assigned a steed.
If you’re unfamiliar with horse-based tours, they are almost always done in a single-file line. The horses that are higher in the pecking order, the ones who have been around a while, are toward the front of the line. The younger, less experienced horses hang out more toward the back. We were in a group with seven other tourists. Courtny’s horse was named Pete, whom we affectionately called “Stinky Pete”. There wasn’t any real reason for this—it’s not like he defecated any more than all the other horses (spoiler: their bowels move often on these tours). Mine was named Bombay. Yes, like the gin. Stinky Pete was 5th in the line; he’s been around the block a few times, but he’s still tolerant of the younger horses. Bombay was 6th in line; he’s a youthful go-getter who likes to move awkwardly close to the horse in front of him. As our tour guide told us, “Bombay will be nose-to-bum the entire tour.”
The tour started with us getting helped onto the horses and acquainted with them. Before we knew it, we were leisurely moving through Middle Earth. The intense saturation of Glenorchy and Paradise surrounded us at every turn. Whether we were trotting through the open fields or walking amongst the trees, the world we were traversing seemed too colorful to be real. About 20 minutes into the tour, the horse in front of Stinky Pete started getting a bit lazy. At every opportunity, he would eat whatever plants he could. Sometimes he would just stop walking because he felt like it. With that in mind, we went ahead and each moved up in line. Stinky Pete: 4th. Bombay: 5th. Trust me: these details are important.
Our journey continued to what was undoubtedly the highlight of the day: the river crossing. Our guides went first, finding the safest route through the roaring waters. At one point, the water was splashing against our boots—far too deep for any people to walk through. It was an indescribably awesome experience to cross this river on horseback. And, as always, the Dart Valley was the perfect backdrop.
When we had made it through one of the river crossings, Stinky Pete started to slow down, and Bombay was ready to step up to the big leagues. After checking with our guides, Bombay and I moved up one spot, while Courtny and Stinky Pete slid behind us. Bombay: 4th. Stinky Pete: 5th.
So why is that important? Well, remember that these horses have unique personalities. Also remember that the top of the pecking order is the “vets”—the horses who have been around for a while and earned respect, so to speak. Now keep in mind that Bombay was a “nose-to-bum” youth. Well, after our final river crossing, with 10 minutes left in the 2-hour tour, Bombay finally butt-sniffed the wrong horse. The more experienced steed had enough of Bombay’s proximity, so he gave my horse a quick kick with his hind legs.
What happened next is a bit of a blur. In my mind, Bombay sprung onto his hind legs, body going nearly vertical. Again, in my imagination, I suddenly had a cowboy hat on, no saddle, one hand clutching my horse’s flowing mane, the other hand taking off my cowboy hat and bidding the town adieu. Bombay then went full gallop into the sunset. In reality, Bombay probably didn’t get very high off the ground. Bombay DID run off extremely fast, though it wasn’t a full gallop. So did I look as cool as I imagine? Not likely. I bear hugged Bombay’s shoulder and neck area. I’m fairly certain he only took about 8 steps at what felt like warp speed, and the whole time I begged him to relax and not throw me off him. I offered to let him stop and eat whatever grass he wanted if he would just chill out and slow down. He eventually stopped, I turned him around, and we got back to the group.
A few people cheered me on; some breathed a sigh of relief. My wife laughed uncontrollably. One thing is for sure: our time with Dart Stables was one we’ll never forget. And I can confidently say it is one of the best times you’ll have in your life. Just remember that horses are very similar to humans: they don’t like anyone getting too close to their bums.