Nicola Megaw

Meet The Horse Whispering Mama

“Mama, Mama”, a slight pause, then the young voice repeats itself, “Mama, Mama, I got a present for you!”

Mama is not always sure that having the grandchildren each Monday morning is that great a present. Janey, their mother breezes into the house loaded with bags, which are quickly dropped off as she heads to work at River Valley Lodge. Mama often thinks that it seems such a short time ago that it was Janey being dropped off to her grandmother.

There is however another side to this Mama, this Grandmother

Nicola Megaw spent much of her youth mucking around with horses. However, marrying young, having children and rearing a family, put a stop to that for many years. Those years were full enough without horses.

There comes a Time to Reconnect with What you Love

But there comes a time when the children have left home, and there is again the opportunity to reconnect with the things that you love.

In Nicola’s case, this rekindled love is working with horses.

In 2005 Nicola and eldest daughter, Janey, set up River Valley Stables, a horse trekking operation that is tied in with River Valley Lodge and the white water rafting operation based from there. The operation initially mirrored other horse trekking businesses around New Zealand, that is not particularly good horses, though old and quiet, and fairly average equipment. The treks did have one advantage, and that was great scenery.

However, for a horse trekking business to better than average, more than great scenery is required. A different road needs to be followed.

What is the road that Nicola and River Valley Stables follow?

The road that Nicola has chosen to go down was not something that was decided over night. Rather it was tempered by the experiences of being a mother, a grandmother, and even for a few years, a white water rafting guide.

This knowledge that Nicola had gained of guiding, of looking after clients, and looking after a family, lead her to want to provide experiences with horses, a connection with them that is special and outside the norm, and in a sense nurturing.

As Nicola herself says, “One of my goals is to have horses that are a pleasure and delight to be around. Horses that are safe and easy to ride. Horses with personality that when ridden by a first time rider, respond appropriately to that persons level of experience. But also, horses that are soft and a pleasure to ride even for experienced riders. Horses that love to do what they do.”

Nicola’s Quest

Getting a herd of horses to anything like the standard that Nicola aspires to is not achieved overnight, it is a journey, a quest without an end, but definitely a beginning.

For Nicola that beginning was watching a demonstration given by a Parelli Natural Horsemanship instructor. The ease with which the horses in the demonstration willingly carried out a multitude of tasks was a revelation. It was the approach to training and working with horses that Nicola had been searching for.

An approach that is based on the way horses interact and communicate in their natural world.

How the way Horses Interact Naturally is the Core of the Knowledge

Nicola would use the knowledge that she would gain from both Parelli, and other instructors, who followed this style of training, to work on the horses at River Valley Stables. In her own words, “My aim with River Valley Stables is to achieve an environment where family, friends, staff and guests, can experience the benefits of being able to interact with our great equine friend, the horse. “

All these lofty ideals about horses can seem a long way away, when Monday morning brings the calls of “Mama, Mama!” But more than the demands of occasionally looking after the grand children, Nicola now finds she has so much to learn, that the more she learns, the more she finds she has yet to learn. This is both exciting, and occasionally overwhelming.

Apart from Nicola getting some Satisfaction, does it make any Difference to You, the Customer and Rider?

The difference to trekking customers is two pronged. One prong is allowing riders more freedom on a trek, the second prong is having horses that you can trust with this level of freedom.

To be able to provide this level of freedom takes a lot of work. Is River Valley Stables at this level yet? The honest answer would be no. However the path has been set, and the road is being followed.

Nicola Megaw has changed roles from, mother, grandmother, retired river guide, and now horse trainer, or as she prefers to say, horse learner. What would she say about this new role in her life? She wishes she’d started it 30 years before. There is so much to learn!

Who has the Last Word?

Nicola would say, “I like seeing the results of what you can achieve by working with horses. I get a lot of pleasure when people can experience these results, benefit from them, have fun and feel something magic about being in that environment for a moment in their lives.”

However, if a horse could speak, maybe one of the River Valley Stables horses could have had the last word. But in a sense those horses can speak. A horse that looks well fed, is alert, is responsive, but also soft and yielding tells its own story. That is the last word, and it is magic.

Next Step – This article first appeared in a Spirit of the River Newsletter. If you like what we have to say, and whether you are an armchair adventurer or planning your next trip, sign up for our River Valley newsletter here –

You can view video of natural horsemanship training of River Valley Stables mounts by clicking here

Further videos are available on the River Valley Film channel on youtube

Being an experienced rider, I just wanted to go with a guide (and maybe a small group), and get out there and just kind of be free.

Hi River Valley Stables

I decided to try River Valley Stables because I really wanted to go somewhere that was going to let me ride how I ride. You know, not go and plod around some field with 10 other people.

I was recommended to River Valley Stables because of the amazing views and how you could stretch your legs a little bit and get out there and do your own thing as well.

And that is what I actually found with this experience.

Lizzie the guide was great. We went for a few good runs, had some fun and explored a bit, which was nice.

It was very very important to me to not go with a heap of beginners. I understand that you’re going to have to do it sometimes, but for me being an experienced rider, I just wanted to go with a guide (and maybe a small group), and get out there and just kind of be free.

That’s what I came to River Valley to do.

I thought the views were absolutely stunning. Beautiful clear, clear sky with no rain.

We also stopped for a cup of tea on the top of the mountain. Just great!

The horses are fantastic. Bling was such a gentleman. He really knew what he was doing.

And also getting a few good runs as well, just running across those paddocks and being able to get the horses to stretch their legs.

I would recommend this Half Day ride to anyone who loves getting out and seeing the country and actually wants to experience what New Zealand has to offer. I would also recommend it to people who just want to enjoy horses and just have some positive experience with them.

Definitely book at least a Half-day ride if you really want to just get out there and fully experience a trek.

I’ll be coming back in summer to go jumping. I didn’t get to do that on the day I went out, but definitely, definitely coming back.

Alex Hoskins-Smith
Auckland NZ