A promising young local leader has become the ‘poster girl’ for a youth-directed award thanks to a special bond she shares with a cheeky rebellious steed called Flyn.
Horse lover and keen rider, 12-year-old Abbie Atkins, is the first Mangawhai young person to be awarded the Mangawhai Community Opportunity Shop Trust’s (MCOST) Youth Achievement Grant’; assistance for a local child or youth whose passion, commitment and future potential for an activity could go unfulfilled due to various factors including financial hardship.
While attending Totally Horse, a social riding facility located in the rural outskirts of Kaiwaka since 2018, owners Judith and Graeme Cochrane nominated Abbie due to the untapped leadership qualities they witnessed ‘awakening’ in the devoted young rider over the last two years, despite her going through some personal challenges, Judith says.
“Abbie has emerged from a cocoon… she’s come a long way since she started, grown in confidence and really stepped up in her leadership role this year… we decided to run with what more she could do if given the opportunity,” Judith says. “Graeme and I now rely on her to help out with tasks and to support others who are not so confident or have some issues going on… she’s such a great leader for them. We’re very proud of her.”
The youth grant will provide 20 weekends of riding for Abbie as well as allowing her to attend the facility’s annual four day ‘Horse Camp’ in January 2021.
Since beginning, Abbie has spent nearly every Saturday and alternate whole weekends learning to groom, ride and, most importantly, discover how to build a relationship with the small herd of mainly rescue horses.
The ethos of Totally Horse is based on ‘not what the horse can do for you, but what you can do for your horse’, with a focus on natural riding aka bareback with no ‘bits’, although saddles are available. In their leadership role of ‘one horse, one child and one leader’, older riders buddy up with the younger girls, helping to build their confidence by showing them how to groom, feed and move safely around their horse Judith says.
“The younger ones really look up to the older riders like Abbie, they want to be like them.”
Riding is obviously Abbie’s ‘happy place’, and the Year 7 Mangawhai Beach School student says both herself and her family are very grateful for the grant, which will allow her ‘freedom’ she says, to not only keep riding but continue to pass along her knowledge and skills.
“Riding is such a good feeling, I even skipped Halloween and other things to come,” she says. “We don’t have competitions here, it’s more about supporting and encouraging each other, horsemanship and learning to respect your horse… it’s a good place to be.”
Besides the thrill of the ride, Abbie is also aware of the life-lessons riding and caring for horses presents, including resilience, perseverance and inevitable loss.
“Riding teaches us that you’re not always going to get the ride you want,” she says. “A friend got thrown off seven times on one trek so she didn’t get much of a ride but she kept getting back on and still had a good time. We’ve also had several horses die over the last two years which was really hard.”
The girls all supported each other and learnt to grieve, she says, ‘in a way this is our second home and family’.
Although she loves and cares for all the horses in the stable, Abbie has a particular close bond with a 15-hand chestnut called ‘Flyn’, who has a cheeky, mischievous, generous nature as well as being a bit of an adventurous rebel.
“He likes to go fast, he’ll trot instead of walk… he also likes to lead, to do it all himself.”
Like their canine counterparts, horses often reflect their rider’s emotions and characteristics and Judith says she recognises some of Flyn’s qualities in Abbie, especially her leadership.
“We’ve seen a huge jump in confidence and personal growth this year especially when Flyn came along, he’s helped her through a difficult personal year,” she says.
MCOST spokesperson Dianne Christensen says Abbie is the poster girl for what the Youth Achievement Grant symbolises.
“Part of the nomination process is the prospective recipient has to write a letter about themselves, and what caught our eye was Abbie had stated that the grant was not just about her, but for Abbie to pass on her knowledge and skills,” she says. “That’s what we are looking for, our future leaders in our communities, doesn’t matter if the grant is for the arts, science or sport, it’s just someone seeing potential in a young person.”
“Riding teaches us that you’re not always going to get the ride you want.”
Abbie and Flyn; a special bond and a peaceful place for the young rider. Riding is freedom Abbie says: ‘To a lot of us girls this is the place we would rather be than anywhere else… our second home and family’. PHOTO/JULIA WADE
Located within riding distance to the Kaipara Harbour, riders and horses often trek down across surrounding paddocks to nearby beaches, for a wander through the water. PHOTO/JUDITH COCHRANE
Abbie and Flyn with Judith Cochrane and MCOST spokesperson Dianne Christensen. “A lot of kids here have stories but with whatever is going on for them personally they can leave at the gate,” Judith says. “In a world full of tech, this is a place to get back to nature, it’s about the horse and rider.” PHOTO/JULIA WADE