The Tiniroto Hunt

By David

The last article Jane wrote for Swimwatch was about the end of her swimming career. What she didn’t tell you, because I kept the statistics, was that she competed for eleven years. In that time she swam 27,548 kilometers (17,218 miles). Excluding holidays that was an average distance of 53.28 kilometers (33.30 miles) per week for 517 weeks. She normally averaged 14 strokes per length which means her arms completed about 15 and a half million strokes in the eleven years. I was pleased to see in her Swimwatch article that she complained only of a sore hip.

In the same years she lifted weights on 1522 occasions. She lifted 7914 tonnes, which, for those of you who have trouble imagining that weight, is the equivalent of one 747 aircraft every two months for eleven years. As I said, I was pleased to see she complained only of a sore hip.

With that work load you can appreciate that there is little time for modern swimmers to indulge in other sports. That was not always the case. In the sixties and seventies we swam, played a little rugby or soccer, ran cross country and took part in the Tiniroto Hunt.

The Tiniroto Hunt tried very hard to emulate the fox hunting traditions of our ancestors; a pack of hounds, scarlet coated horsemen, trumpet calls, the cry of “tally-ho” and polished leather bridles and saddles. No effort was spared to faithfully copy the sport’s British heritage. Unfortunately in New Zealand, one fairly important ingredient to a successful fox hunt was missing. You see, in New Zealand there are no foxes. Instead our hounds hunted down unfortunate rabbits and hares.

I rode in the Tiniroto Hunt. My horse Nehaw was not as impressive as some of the fine steeds owned by the well-off Tiniroto farmers. However, Nehaw could run fast and was a sure-footed beast, crucial qualities for a successful hunt. The night before a hunt, Nehaw’s mangy coat was clipped into a sleek pattern and his tail and mane braided and combed.

I also needed to prepare. Carefully laid out in my room was a black Harry Hall velvet riding hat, riding boots, crop and breeches all bought from the saddler across the road from the Mahia lighthouse in Wairoa. My jacket was bought from Williams and Kettles three or four doors up from the saddler. It looked close to a formal hunting coat, but wasn’t. By midnight I was ready to go.

At six in the morning our club gathered in a frosty field on Dave Berry’s farm and waited for the hounds to pick up a scent; the older club members were already sipping Scotland’s national drink from expensive silver flasks. Eventually the hounds found and ran howling after a scent. With absolute faith in their expertise and honesty we set off in pursuit. At this point I must admit to you that Nehaw knew far more about what to do than I did. As long as I stayed fixed in the saddle he had an uncanny knack of finding the lowest fences to jump and the shortest routes to maintain contact with the speeding dogs.

On more than one occasion I almost left the saddle as Nehaw decided to change direction without warning the driver. I can remember falling only once when Nehaw galloped at full speed down a beautiful smooth slope towards an open gate. A most unfortunate gust of wind swung the gate closed as we reached the opening. Nehaw did the sensible thing and stopped. I did not. In fact I cleared the closed gate at some speed and with several feet to spare.

After galloping around for fifteen minutes or so, the hounds caught the rabbit and quickly murdered the poor animal. I remember clearly the ritual of my first hunt. The Hunt Master said a few solemn words. Blood from the first kill was painted on my cheeks and one of the rabbit’s feet was given to me as recognition that I was not longer a virgin in the hunting business. I kept that foot for years.

Once the first rabbit was killed we waited to do the same thing again and again and again. I sometimes thought we only gave up when the amount of whiskey consumed put the hunt’s older members in danger of falling off their horses at a gentle walk. Nehaw enjoyed the whole experience far more than I did. He was clearly disappointed when it was time to head for home. Usually I couldn’t wait to get home. I don’t know how many of you have done much riding. But let me assure you there is always a buckle somewhere that finds a bit to chaff.

I’m not sure why I went back to each hunt. Perhaps like Jane who swam because that’s what she did. The Tiniroto Hunt was there and that’s what I did. I had more time than her. I didn’t swim 53.28 kilometers every week.