Horse Power

A post and rail wooden fence in a quiet street in Wai-O-Taiki Bay conceals a very special community place – two-and-a-half acres of land where horses graze peacefully and visitors can enjoy sweeping views across the water to Half Moon Bay.

There’s a flourishing neighbourhood around the horse reserve; this largely undiscovered gem is a tight-knit coastal community that is re-inventing itself as a great place to live, with its mix of new family homes, executive dwellings and well-established, older homes. Wai-O-Taiki residents enjoy several local nature reserves, coastal walkways and cycle paths right on their doorstep, while the cafés and restaurants of Auckland’s popular Eastern Bays are a few minutes down the road, and the city itself is a short train ride away.

Danielle Bergin, who runs the Island Child Charitable Trust in Point England, has been the unofficial guardian of the paddock in Inglewood Street for close on 28 years, and another nearby horse paddock in Kiano Place, both of which link with Wai-O-Taiki Nature Reserve. The Inglewood Street paddock, she says, was bequeathed to the Crown by an old lady who owned the land and lived there. She wanted it to be used by local people as a horse reserve, so Danielle has taken on the project to do this, and now grazes up to six ponies in this and the other nearby paddock.

“We are trying to create a good community, bringing diversity and community spirit to the city. The horses have a calming effect on everyone who lives in the area and people often stop as they walk by.  It is a lovely spot here, one of the last horse-grazing reserves in the city".

"Few other suburbs in Auckland have a facility like this."

Danielle says it is heartwarming to see the young families in the neighbourhood who visit with their children on their way home from school and on the weekends to look at the horses, pat and feed them handfuls of grass.

Danielle Bergin - unofficial guardian of the paddock.

Danielle Bergin - unofficial guardian of the paddock.

Local mother Linda Reid, whose daughter, Amber, enjoys the opportunity to hang out with the horses, says generations of kids and parents round here have been stopping by to see the horses after school. “It is a great thing for mums to do with children in the afternoon. The kids love it, and the community is really supportive of it, too,” she says.

There has also been support for the reserve from Forest and Bird Auckland, partly because of the link with the nature reserve on the edge of Wai-O-Taiki Bay. Danielle says they often see rare birds, like the grey heron , as well as families of pukeko and their chicks. “We sometimes find birds’ nests made from horse hair, and ducks take up residence here in May during the hunting season,” she says.

The horses are really “community ponies”, says Danielle. “We have several different sizes, for different levels of riders, but the key thing is all of them are very calm and very quiet, with children and adults alike; they don’t buck, kick or bite, so they are suitable even for people who aren’t confident around horses.”

There’s a roster of young people (and their parents) in the area who visit the horses daily to check on their wellbeing, ensuring they have feed and clean water, as well as grooming and exercising them. One of the girls, Rosie, says she and other girls come up every day to check the horses, and they ride every second day to keep them fit and healthy. It’s a commitment for the girls, but, says Rosie, “it’s easy to do something you love.”

Danielle is passionate about the value of these reserves for the community in and around Glen Innes, and has had several run-ins with Auckland Council over the need to preserve the paddocks for the benefit of local children. “This has only made me more determined to embrace diversity for our community,” she says.

Now, about a dozen local children enjoy riding the horses regularly, and Danielle says she also arranges to host visits from local kindergartens, pre-schools, and homeschooling groups, and organises visits for around 60 children who live in the trust’s residential shelter. “These children come along to the reserve, and we offer them a chance to experience a ride on a pony, for free,” she says.

Keeping the facilities going is an ongoing task.  The horse paddocks need regular maintenance, fences need constant repairs and there are other costs like equipment and food for the animals. Much of the funding for the horses comes through philanthropy and occasional grants from the Lotteries Commission, and the Tamaki-Maungakiekie local board also provides support.

“We find ourselves begging and borrowing, and only buying equipment that’s on sale. It’s really hard to get funding for the horses. Our horse truck came from an American family leaving to go back to the States. They sold it to us at a price way below market value,” she says.

“Having a good truck means that now we can pack up the horses and go off to holiday camps, and take the kids on treks and other adventures.”

The ponies are owned by the Island Child Charitable Trust and have a more serious purpose as well; they are also used to provide animal-assisted therapy for children in the care of the trust, which provides shelter, support and opportunities for people who are experiencing a housing crisis.

“It started when we realised the children in the shelter were sitting in their rooms in the weekends, and the horse paddock was somewhere that we could take them,” says Rosie. “The ponies are all very calm, and when the children can come and stand near them they find it is very therapeutic.”

As well as informal visits to the paddocks, the trust has also developed a therapy programme for children. “Our Animal-assisted Learning Programme is an integral part of our 12-week programme,” she says. “For city kids, learning to ride is an opportunity they never imagined would be possible. We’ve noticed that these young people not only learn new knowledge and skills but also develop a healthier attitude and a more positive, forward-looking direction,” says Danielle.

“To accommodate different learning needs and provide a range of learning experiences, the trust has 11 small animals – cats, dogs and guinea pigs – as well as the six therapy ponies. The personal growth and life skills gained by children gives them and their whānau a huge boost.”