It’s a little bit of a cliché I’ll admit, but my only experience with New Zealand was a 10-day spring break trip in college. It’s true what they say about the island – that there are more sheep than people – but it’s also true that New Zealand is one of the most stunning, magical places on earth. Think Swiss Alps meets Bahamian-blue waters surrounded by the hills of Ireland. Living in such a wonderland is the stuff of daydreams.
What if all those years ago when I visited New Zealand I had simply never left? That’s exactly what Eloise Stevenson did.
Originally from Sussex, England, Eloise went to New Zealand on vacation in 2005 at age 23 and literally never went home. For her, “New Zealand feels fresh and free. There is space and opportunity in every facet of living. [There are] relaxed and smiling faces everywhere amongst the vivid green and blue scenery.” Her gratitude for finding New Zealand, a “heavenly country” as she puts it, runs deep. “New Zealand itself is a community, there is a widespread air of gratitude and respect for this country – anyone you may meet here is passionate about beaches, sunsets, flat whites, and good times. I have never known a sense of acceptance and belonging like it.”
"As a team we work so hard in unison, and looking back we really pushed it to the absolute limit."
Eloise and her Kiwi-born husband, Adam, set out to build a dream with kids (two girls, Esmé and Georgette), horses, a hip, modern house, Pierre the cat, and several sheep thrown in for good measure. And when I say, “build” I mean that in a hammer-and-nail kind of way. As a couple, they renovated their home together, fitting in sanding, demolition, insulating, you name it, before and after their nine-to-five jobs.
Photo by Michelle Denniston.
“Adam and I are very much on the same page when it comes to lifestyle goals. After dating for a few months, it didn’t take us long to put our energies and salaries together to create the best possible result for future family life,” Eloise says. “This was our first project and valuable lessons were learned about DIY, renovating, and what it takes to achieve a high standard of finish. We knew this house would be our forever home where we would start a family... As a team we work so hard in unison, and looking back we really pushed it to the absolute limit.”
But she’s honest about the kind of dedication, labor, concentration, and sheer hours that kind project takes. “Find a soul mate, identify the life you want to live, and seek it out. Work for it and be prepared to search for it. Be savvy, frugal, and always on the same page.” With an added nugget of wisdom borne of motherhood, she recommends, “Turn your horse out and renovate before having kids – it would literally be impossible for us right now.”
Value For Us All
Balancing the care for two children, marriage, home maintenance, and the menagerie requires some serious thought and planning. “For the last four years I’ve been mastering the juggling act of a riding, stay-at-home mum. The lengths I have gone to to have my riding fix are quite incredible! 2018 was the easiest year of all as my husband has become a free spirit when it comes to office hours, so we sit down each week with our diaries and identify windows of escapism for [my horse] Rua and I where Adam can be with the girls at home while I ride.
“Sometimes I ride at home but I do enjoy getting out and about to arenas, beaches, and beautiful local surroundings. Riding early in the morning seems to be best for the family. The home dynamic has differed hugely between having just the one child and now two. No season is the same and the demands are ever changing, but one thing remains – sneaking out of a sleeping household and rushing off in the fresh air on your horse is unbeatable. No one is missing you, or tugging at your clothing, and you’re on your own time.”
Managing the demands of motherhood takes tremendous labor and effort. Throw in the requisite desire to ride and, well, that does complicate things. “Breastfeeding and co-sleeping can be a real spanner in the works. I’m partial to a bit of both and this definitely makes things more restricting for away time. My horse is very much used to being bustled, no fuss. We travel light and do all admin like feeding and washing down at home,” Eloise says. “The feeling of returning to a lively kitchen, receiving my babe, and feeding cross-legged in my riding socks – coffee, croissant, and Instagram stories in hand – brings me the biggest sense of achievement. A surreal wave of premature contentment for whatever the day of motherhood brings.”
"The feeling of returning to a lively kitchen, receiving my babe, and feeding cross-legged in my riding socks...brings me the biggest sense of achievement."
Each day in New Zealand is built of Eloise’s hard work, the partnership with her husband, and the setting of that beautiful country. With kids in-hand, Eloise regularly creates favorite outings like “a place where we can all run, splash, and play – the beach! It’s the Kiwi way; New Zealanders are always up for a mission and seem to revel in a sense of activity-related achievement, so the associated logistics of horses and kids at the beach don’t faze us.”
With a partner who’s got her back, Eloise says, “I often look down from Rua’s back at Adam, laden with the front pack, sun hats, baby bag, juggling coffees, and a spritely Esmé, and thank my lucky stars that he sees value for us all in this kind of family adventure!”
It takes a lot of coordination and conversation to pull off this family-riding-working life. “[Adam] is very capable and loves spending time with his girls. He has a huge amount of respect for the passion my friends and I share for horses, and it pleases him to have a wife that is genuinely pleased with her life. Without 100 percent backing from him as a partner, I think it would be a real challenge for me to have this enjoyment with my horse. At the end of the day, the work always pays off,” Eloise says.
“Every afternoon after dinner we step into the barn. The girls go crazy with feed scoops and supplements mixing up delicious pony potions. We then embark on a long walk to where the horses are grazing and take it in turns to sit on trusty old Othello while he eats. Lingering in the setting sun, this task can take at least an hour with a few bounces on the trampoline as we make our way back inside for bathtime. It’s the perfect remedy for two tired young ladies.”
Aztec Diamond is one of Eloise's favorite equestrian brands. Check them out in NF.shop!
Motherhood and horses are a balance one has to constantly titrate to fit life, family, and budget. Eloise has found her fit along with her husband and two girls. She paints a picture of life in New Zealand: “Esmé’s bedroom window looks out across paddocks where two beautiful horses graze. She will never know a life without horses. From the moment she could sit she would ride with me on the front of my saddle and we’d rush to lie with the horses sunbathing in the paddock.”
May we all find such a bliss.
Read this next: Dressage in Paradise: An Equestrian’s Dream Vacation in Portugal
Feature photo by Adam Stevenson.
Written by Courtney Alston
Courtney grew up a stone's throw from Virginia's horse country. What began as a determined love of ponies turned into a devoted competitive spirit as a Young Rider competing in eventing. The rush of eventing has slowly turned into the wows of show jumping and you can now find her astride her Dutch Warmblood mare. Courtney is a mother and wife and lives in North Carolina.