When Pakiri resident Sharley Haddon started her horse riding business more than 20 years ago, a woman running a rural business was still a novelty. Some stock feed firms wouldn’t extend her credit and one even asked, “what happens if you get pregnant?” These days, Pakiri Beach Horse Rides includes rides from one hour long to seven days, offers accommodation, operates a café and bar, and sells merchandise. It attracts riders from all over the world, has featured on the cover of the Air New Zealand inflight magazine and was listed as one of the world’s “must do” activities by BBC authors Steve Watkins and Clare Jones. Jannette Thompson squeezed herself between saddles and other riding paraphernalia in Sharley’s office for a chat ….
What’s your first memory of horses?
I grew up on a sheep and cattle farm at Wharepapa South. Dad was an Aussie who’d been with horses all his life and I think I was riding from about 18 months onwards. Horses were our main form of transport – we went to school on them and used them to run errands and visit neighbours. There was also pony club, and we did all the showing and eventing activities that go along with that sort of thing. I’d once had ideas of entering the Olympics in endurance but the horse I was training on staked her knee and that was the end of that.
Did you plan a career with horses?
Never. When I went to school, a girl only ever thought of becoming a teacher, a nurse or a secretary. I taught primary and secondary for 25 years including Leigh, Warkworth, Mahurangi, Rodney and the one teacher school here in Pakiri.
So where did the horse riding idea come from?
My husband Laly runs Taurere Park, an 800ha cattle and sheep farm. In the early 80s, the farming industry was depressed so I had to come up with a way to keep my horses. I started with two fat ponies and it just grew from there. Today we have around 130 horses on the property, the business runs seven days a week all year round, and we employ four fulltime staff and two part-time staff at this time of year, almost doubling this number in summer. As well as the horses used for trekking, I’ve got about 25 Arabian stud horses. I don’t show them as much as I used to but they’ve won their share of ribbons. I’m working on breeding a certain type of horse, akin to the desert Arab – clean fine bone, large eye, good confirmation for long distance and beautiful temperament.
Is it a hands-on business?
Definitely. The shorter rides I usually leave to staff but I still go on the long treks such as the Coast to Coast which goes from Pakiri to the west coast via Matakana, Wellsford, Kaipara and Glorit. And, if any staff gets sick, I’m the replacement. I think a major factor in our success has been our great location but it probably doesn’t hurt that I’m as stubborn as hell and don’t give in easily. Like any business, we’ve had hurdles to clear and plenty of challenges. The roads were appalling when we started and its taken nearly 22 years to get decent signage erected. Compliance costs for ACC and RDC are also a problem. For instance, this year our rates have trebled because RDC without any consultation has decided to levy a portion of our property at a commercial rate. Everything we do is on one title and we have no services, not even a rubbish collection, and the road outside is still dirt.
It’s obviously hard work but do you enjoy it?
Lots of people whom we’ve taken on rides become friends. The social side of the business is really a lot of fun. We’ve often had men in their 80s who come here for one last ride to remind them of their days mustering and working on horses. The oldest rider was around 92 and one lady on the Coast to Coast ride was 78. I once had a Japanese man say he could ride “a little bit”. People often exaggerate their riding abilities, especially young men, so I put him on a thoroughbred in the arena where I could keep an eye on him in case he got into trouble. It was amazing. He was a brilliant rider. I think he could have stood the horse on its head if he’d wanted to. When he dismounted I asked him where he’d learned to ride. It turned out he’d represented Japan in the last Olympics. Not everyone exaggerates! On another occasion we had an Englishman bring along “an Australian boundary rider” who we were led to believe was pretty experienced in the saddle. It was the middle of February and the guy turned up in his Drizabone coat which looked like it had just come out of the packet and a hat with corks hanging off it. Unfortunately, we never got to see him ride because he said the rough road on the drive in had hurt his back.
Are your children interested in the business?
Both Olivia and Ben are good riders but Olivia is raising a family in Auckland and Ben is shearing in Western Australian. I still enjoy the entrepreneurial side of the business, coming up with new ideas like the black tie dinners where everyone gets into evening wear and dines in the middle of the bush with candles and flares. We get a lot of weddings on the beach, Germans in particular seem to like this idea. I’m also exploring other ways to attract corporate clients and I would love to see more people from the local area coming on our rides. We ride through some beautiful country, visiting lovely places that would ordinarily not be accessible to the general public.
* Pakiri Beach Horse Rides are past Auckland Tourism Award winners and last year, Sharley was a finalist in the HerBusiness Business Woman of the Year Awards – Outstanding Business Citizenship Category.