Puni Tiakiwai, who hails from the Ruātoki Valley, says he is overwhelmed to become vice-chair of the new National Māori Horse Association Aotearoa Trust, a group of Māori who support the Māori horse riding community with financial support for competitions and teaching horse care.
Brent Job, with his wife Michelle Lee are the founders of the National Māori Horse Association Aotearoa Trust. Its aim is to advance the opportunities and standards of horse riding, breeding, and employment across Aotearoa for whānau, hapū and iwi as a hāpori.
The Māori horse community has been waiting a long time for an opportunity like this by Māori and for Māori.
“I'm lucky to have met and to learn the vision of Michelle and her husband to build a New Zealand horse community, highlighting Māori initiatives”, Tiakiwai said.
“We've got good horses and riders to compete but no money to get there,” Tiakiwai said.
Hōiho are more than just horses to the Ruātoki community.
Embarrassed over costs
Some issues that were identified in the Māori horse riding sector in the past were that some Māori riders became embarrassed that they didn’t have much money to enter or travel to competitions, yet they knew they had good horses and riders. This caused some ridicule in the communities.
“It's the same for me, when I take my boys to bull rides at rodeos, we have to ask the community for financial support. This can be a shame on our families at times,” Tiakiwai said.
Māori riders were isolated without any support such as on how to break in horses. However, all that is about to change with the introduction of this new trust.
Tiakiwai has 12 children, who all ride horses. He also takes people hunting for pig and deer. He boasts he could ride before he could walk. His children are experienced riders and some are national champion horse riders but the struggle with costs is real.
“That is one reason why we have created this community trust to help those wanting to reach excellence in horse competitions and riding. We will try to find the money for them,” Tiakiwai said.
The trust has also been set up to run workshops on marae like horseshoe changing, riding training, and the collecting of Māori medicine for horses and their ailments. “There are Māori medicines in our forests, seasides, and around our cities to help our taonga, the hōiho,” he said.
There are approximately 600 people living in Ruātoki, the majority Māori. Tiakiwai says 597 of them ride horses. "The other three had their horses taken off them."
"The hōiho to Ngāi Tūhoe is more than just a horse. It is a taonga, a family member, a pet for the children and mokopuna and their car to their supermarket, the Urewera forest."
Tiakiwai hopes this initiative continues for his children into the days and years to come. “So that they remember they are Māori and they too have a part to play in the world of horse riding."