“A great horse will change your life.
The truly special ones define it…”
Horses are not animals you would tend have today by happenstance – you have to really love them and be passionate about them. They take work and commitment, but the they are beautifully rewarding creatures and on Norfolk they have an extremely important place in history. The work horses of the second settlement were left for the Pitcairners when they arrived in 1856. Having never previously seen such magical creatures they set about learning how to work with them ensuring they remained an integral part of island life – pulling, carting, ploughing and playing.
It’s no secret that machinery and modern technology have replaced a great many things. Even on a small island in the Pacific steeped in tradition, ways of life that were important for so long are constantly at risk of fading away forever – pushed aside by technology and ‘convenience’.
Today we wouldn’t even consider bringing a horse in to do the work that farm machinery has long since replaced and it’s no secret that horses play a different role in our lives now, but they are no less important or elegant. There is something intangible they offer that can never be unsaddled.
The ratio of vehicles to inhabitants and visitors has of course increased exponentially over a long period of time here, though you don’t have to look too hard to find someone that remembers riding a horse to school, and the horse and carriage or buggy as means of island transport.
Thankfully with the help of boutique operators like PJ and Ashley Wilson and their Tea Shire Drive tour, roving around the island under the pull of one splendid horsepower is still possible. PJ and Ashley have both grown up on Norfolk Island and have worked extremely hard to make the Tea Shire Drive a reality. It’s a credit to them, as well as fantastic opportunity for anyone to experience a little of what Norfolk might have felt like in years gone by.
PJ’s life-long love affair with Norfolk and horses began in the 1980s when his mother, Dinty, came to Norfolk to work as a riding instructor for island equestrian Kaye Woods at Silky Oaks Stables. Dinty taught horseback riding there for 25 years and PJ recalls tagging along on tours with his own horse Sannah from as early as age four.
Many breeds have graced Norfolk’s hills and paddocks but as far as PJ understands, there have been no recorded Shires on Norfolk previously. Shires are a British draft breed and present some of the world’s tallest horses. They are strong, statuesque and graceful animals. ‘Lanka’, PJ’s main driving horse, was imported in 2019 and she stands 17.3hh (Hands High). For those unsure how to multiply that out, Lanka is an impressive 1.75m to the top of her withers. Lanka was followed by Gemma who was brought to Norfolk Island in foul in 2021. In October that year Gemma gave birth to ‘Biscuit’ – named by PJ and Ashley’s son, Alexander – and she is most likely to be the first Shire born on Norfolk Island. This is really quite special considering Shires are listed by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust as being an ‘At Risk’ breed with only around 3000 in the world today.
The tour is not simply a trot along memory lane however, and there is a culinary twist to this tale; when you reach the stables you will be welcomed by Gemma and Biscuit and enjoy a delectable afternoon spread of savoury and sweet treats. This is perfectly complimented with a selection of actual Norfolk Island Teas – another passion project from PJ and Ashley. Norfolk Island Teas are an important part of the Tea Shire Drive tour and are the result of yet another tier of commitment and hard work from the local couple. Over a number of years they have worked to source ethical suppliers and create their own wonderful aromatic and unique Norfolk Island blends from English Breakfast to Masala Chai and Earl Grey.
So, while the tour bus might be Norfolk’s people carrier en-masse today, consider seeing the island without peering through glass and come and march to the slow beat of Lanka’ s graceful gait. The Tea Shire Drive is a serene afternoon and a chance to see the island as Norfolk’s settlers did for over a hundred years, and thanks to PJ, Ashley and their years of dedication and perseverance, will do for many more years to come. It’s a unique experience that modern technology can never replace and it’s quite simply a beautiful reward all round.
Image Credit: Robin Nisbet
Article content disclaimer: Article first published in Discover Norfolk, Volume 05 Issue 02, 2022. Please note that details of specific travel, accommodation and touring options may be outdated. References to people, places and businesses, including operating days and times may be have changed. References to Government structure and Government businesses/entities may no longer be applicable. Please check directly with businesses and/or Government websites directly rather than relying on any information contained in this article before you make travel arrangements.