By Farida Master
Ninety-one-year-old Marie Morgan is a reluctant retiree, about to give up the reins to her riding school after teaching horse riding to generations of families.
This week marks the end of an era as hundreds of students over the years, have passed through Fairhill Riding School and previous to that Croft House Riding School with Sue Bason.
Used to working 12 hour days, seven days a week on the farm and teaching, Marie happily offers us a ride on her quad bike to view the 7h property at the highest point of Mission Heights.
At one time, the family owned 60 acres of land on Jeffs Rd and rode over much of the surrounding countryside on horseback.
“None of the fancy stuff of taking horses for competitions in horse trailers, we would just ride to them,” laughs Marie who steps out of the barn to have a quick chat.
The last of the riding lessons will be held this Saturday.
The mother of five children (three of them represented Auckland at the NZ Pony Club Championship); Marie is now moving from her farm and home to be nearer her daughter Jenny Barnett in Karaka and to have a bit more time to spend with family.
The horses will move to a property near daughter Rachel Walsh’s farm in Hunua. Marie, who started riding at the age of three, plans to continue being an equestrian consultant.
On Sunday afternoon, thanks to a Facebook post by Jenny, more than 130 past and present pupils turned up to share their stories of how Marie, who has taught riding and horsemastership for the last 48 years, had changed their lives.
One of them described the camps at Duders Beach as the best childhood memory. Riding bareback and swimming with the horses, followed by music in the evening as Marie played the piano accordion — is something she will never forget.
The physically active and mentally sharp nonagenarian has also been instrumental in introducing the Riding for the Disabled (RDA) movement along with her business partner at the time Sue Bason in the late 1960’s at Ramarama. This was prior to Ambury Park taking over the RDA movement.
In 1980, Marie and Sue moved the riding school to East Tamaki (now Mission Heights) since the majority of students travelled from the city.
Marie has a great knowledge regarding horse. “Each horse has a personality and you need to know how to work with it. It is not just about riding but everything from your demeanour when you catch a horse, grooming and saddling, mounting and dismounting, learning how to handle an unscheduled dismount and to keep yourself and your horse safe. It’s equally important to learn about caring for the horses health and wellbeing,” she says.
Marie admits there have been a few difficult horses over the years like the naughty ones that have come to be re-schooled. She’s helped sort them out.
“Horses are mammals with a brain. It’s not like riding a bicycle!
A love of horses and music has filled her life. Having passed her Trinity College London Grade 8 music exams in piano and violin, Marie has performed in orchestras and taught music over the years.
Now she is ready to diversify, she says.
“I am going to play the piano and remind my fingers how to behave. I will spend time with my 13 grandchildren. I feel that everyone who learnt through the riding school is part of my extended family. It is time for the Riding School side of my life to be reduced,” says Marie who needed years of convincing from her children to give up the reins.
So how will she cope with the change?
“Oh, I’ll just get on with it, like I’ve done with everything else,” she smiles.