They do things a little differently at Falling Creek Ranch. Mel and Zane Scott take horse treks, bring children, teenagers and adults out for equestrian camps, and do a lot more besides - but it's the philosophy behind it all that makes the difference.
Falling Creek was the product of a lot of hard work, including seven years' dairy farming in Southland. They bought the 91-hectare property at Okoia to fulfil a dream, a dream they're living every day.
Just 15km from Whanganui, the farm has about 35 horses, but also runs beef cattle, buys in and rears 300 calves in the spring, and there are sheep, chooks, working dog Bruce, and two pet miniature fox terriers, Mr T and Lulu.
With aspirations of working the farm full-time, Zane also works at a racing stable in Marton and does hoof trimming around the district. His speciality is breaking in horses, but the way he works, there is no "breaking". He "starts" them.
While Mel was raised in Kai Iwi and is very much a local, Zane grew up in the Waikato and got his first horse at age 10 or 11.
"I like starting horses, so we were looking for a bit of land where we could do that and run horse camps," says Zane. "The aim was to live the life of our dreams while we were still young enough to do it."
As well as the 35 horses of their own, Mel and Zane also have 10 to 12 horses in for work.
"They're getting started or they're here with problems, so they're getting restarted," says Zane. "Natural horsemanship is the style we use."
"We feel it's a better way," says Mel.
"I've worked with horses in lots of different contexts," says Zane. "What clinched it for me was when we went to a friend's camp, and they had just got into working horses in this style. We took about 50 kids on horses two and a half hours across the mudflats across to an island out from Mt Maunganui / Tauranga area, and they were just so well-behaved, better than anything I had ridden traditionally.
"The guy running it used to go up 90 Mile Beach, lasso and catch wild horses, and within five minutes you're riding them bareback and they never bucked."
Zane says he was a bit sceptical, like most people would be, but went with them to see for himself.
"Not one of the wild horses we caught, bucked.
"The natural horsemanship philosophy is to communicate with the horse in the language he already understands. It's easier for us to learn his language than to force him to learn ours."
He says it's the job of the human to take the place of the alpha in the herd and establish dominance. A dominant mare only has to look a certain way and a submissive horse will do her bidding.
"As soon as it does the right thing, the pressure comes off: that's the reward," says Zane. "I'll ask them to do something and there's a little bit of pressure. It's light and subtle … I want them to read my body language and do it [turn in a certain direction, for example] without physical force."
The traditional way is to fit the horse in a bridle and bit, with the bit's job to inflict pain to get an appropriate response.
"If a horse can feel a fly land on it and twitch enough muscles to make it fly away, why don't we ride it that lightly and that softly?
"I try to make the right thing easy, and I make the wrong thing hard work," says Zane. "A horse that chooses to yield to me gets a peaceful life. The horse that challenges everything you do, sweats more.
"Reward what you want to see more of: discourage what you don't."
Having worked that way with the horse, Zane's next job is to teach the owner.
Mel and Zane seldom use bits and bridles, except on other people's horses. They ride in a rope halter.
"When I put a halter on a horse, he's working, and he needs to focus on me. How do I help Zane get the job done?
"I don't expect him to be a world-beater, but I want his best effort every day. We don't cover our horses, we don't shoe our horses," says Mel.
Only old or sick horses get a cover, if needed. Metal shoes inhibit the natural action of the hoof.
"There are some benefits to having a horse shod, but I think the negatives far outweigh the positives," says Zane.
He talks about the hoof spreading, gripping the ground, and the fleshy part underneath, the 'frog', coming into contact with the ground and pumping blood up and down the leg.
"Then everything is functioning as it's designed to function. I'm trying to, holistically, look at what's best for the horse," he says. "A horse with a belly full of food, long, natural, shaggy hair, and somewhere he can get out of the weather …"
There are rules in competition that conflict with natural horsemanship. A horse can't race in a rope halter and with no shoes, but Zane will start racehorses off that way so the rider has a compliant, sensible, responsible mount on the track.
"This way we do things is not the be-all and end-all, but it suits the style of riding and the type of horses we want to have here," says Zane. "For the bulk of horses they are better behaved, happier, more responsive, they give you a whole lot more for riding them a lot more naturally."
Mel and Zane met through Bible College in Waikato. They were married at Bushy Park 24 years ago and have three children, aged 18, 20 and 21. Their youngest son, Casey, has been helping out with the horses.
As well as Zane's work with horses, Mel takes people for riding lessons at Falling Creek Ranch.
"It started with word of mouth, a few people have heard about us and ended up coming here," says Mel. "We do kids' camps in the holidays."
Their house has a large common area with bunk-rooms attached, so there is plenty of room for people to stay.
"We have some kids who have been to every single kids' camp we have run," says Zane. "As soon as we advertise new dates, generally within two or three days it's booked out."
The kids' and teens' camps are church-based, but not "preachy".
"We do a programme but it's interactive, fun and creative," says Mel. "More moral based. The adults' camp we don't have anything 'official', but it seems to come up in conversation."
"A strong component of the dream was to share our love of horses, our love of being on the land, how our lives have been impacted and changed through that, and one thing leads to another," says Zane. "It's part of who we are."
They'd like to do kids' birthday parties and themed events too.
Their adult horse riding camps attract people from all over the country, including Christchurch, Invercargill, Tauranga and Wellington as well as local.
Mel and Zane offer farm and beach treks, riding lessons, hoof trimming, starting/breaking in horses, reschooling, float training, QH stud, horse camps and clinics and can tailor a package to suit. On horse treks, they use Western saddles.
Falling Creek Ranch has a website - fallingcreekranch.co.nz - and a Facebook page.