Māori have had a long association with hōiho (horses) – close to two hundred years in fact – and a new television series, “Hōiho” on Māori Television on Sunday nights, takes you on a fascinating journey through Māori horse culture. The show is a family affair. The co-producers are Michelle Lee (Poutini Ngāi Tahu) and Brent Job-Iremonger (Ngāti Maniapoto), with Michelle’s younger sister and Māori Television journalist, Annabelle Lee-Harris, is the presenter.
Michelle and Annabelle (daughters of former politician, Sandra Lee), grew up riding horses on Waiheke Island and the show came about when Michelle and Brent Job-Iremonger, owners of the production company Kapu Ti Productions, wanted to tell the story about the close bond between Māori and their horses – the untold story that offers an insight into iwi social, political and economic history.
“Horses still play an important role in the lives of many whānau, wthether they’re transport, doing farm work, or part of rodeos and races,” says Michelle. “Many Māori we interviewed felt a very strong spiritual connection with their horses. We were surprised how emotional many people were about their horses – in nearly every episode, someone cried.”
The first horses arrived in New Zealand with Europeans. A stallion and two mares first swam ashore at Northland’s Rangihoua Beach in December 1814 and Ngāpuhi became the first horse-owning iwi.
Annabelle, who ditched her city high heels and got on a horse for the first time in 17 years, rides throughout the series for Ngāi Tahu; and in episode 6 there’s an interview with Ngāi Tahu horsewoman, Suzy Stewart at the Puhinui International Three-Day event. Suzy is eighteen-years-old and after saving for a year, drove by herself, from Te Waipounamu to Auckland, towing her 17-hand high horse (approximately 700kg), ‘Cowboy’ to compete in dressage, cross country and show jumping.
It’s that kind of skill and determination that has impressed Annabelle. She says some of the people showcased in the show are “some of the most amazing riders you will ever see.” “Because they are learning to ride without saddles, they have the most amazing seat; they can gallop around and you won’t see any space between the horse and the rider. They are so firmly planted on those horses.”
The first series of “Hōihoi” began in the Far North at the Pawarenga Beach Races, an isolated spot on the west coast, half way between the Hokianga and Ahipara. The day included a 600mm beachfront sprint and the ‘stockman’s whip,’ in which riders use a whip to knock bottles off a series of posts. The day ended with a gruelling cross-country race in the nearby foothills.
“What really stands out for me is that Māori horse riders, especially in the Far North, is that they are absolutely courageous,” says Annabelle.
In coming episodes, the show explores rodeos; the whakapapa of the Kaimanawa wild horses; the Otaki Māori Racing Club, formed in 1886; and a school where horses are an important part of the curriculum. There’s also a look into the Whānau Trekkers, in Dannevirke, who saddle up every year for the intrepid 200-km round trip from the small Manawatu town, out to the coast and back again, trekking through places like Owahanga Station – the largest Māori-owned station in the North Island. And Annabelle says they’re hoping to bring the second series of “Hōiho” to the South Island, so hopefully we’ll get to see more Ngāi Tahu horsemanship. Hōiho screens on Māori Television on Sunday nights at 8pm and you can read more about early Māori history with horses at http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/hoiho-horses-and-iwi/1