Rider (86) prepares for the 30th cavalcade
That’s how Chris Bayne describes fellow rider Alice Sinclair (86) who is preparing for her 30th consecutive Otago ride next month.
The 15-year-old adventure-loving great-grandmother has ridden every cavalcade since the inaugural event in 1991 and is something of a legend on the track.
She may regret that her knees are “starting to give in”, but she has made few concessions for her age, including bungee jumping at the age of 85. When contacted last week, she was about to pull thistles from the hay pen at her Taieri estate.
Ms Sinclair didn’t start riding until she was 40, when her late husband Len gave her the money to buy her first horse. Growing up, her family never had a lot of money and “couldn’t afford that stuff”.
A woman down the road had a truck and Mrs Sinclair had access to chainsaws, through the long-established family business Sinclair Saw and Mower, and the couple cut firewood from willows. The product purchased his first saddle and bridle.
Mr Sinclair later joined her in the saddle and the pair became heavily involved in the Otago Pleasure Horsemen Club, becoming life members in 2005.
Ms Sinclair has covered thousands of miles and won numerous ribbons, certificates and trophies and it was her involvement with the club that led her to participate in the first cavalcade.
After the death of her husband in 2015, she did not expect to participate in the following year’s cavalcade. But her family cheered her on and her daughter Janette Philp, an adventure trek leader, traveled from Australia to provide backup.
Ms Philp has since returned every year, and after four months of applying online in the random voucher lobby, she was awarded a MIQ hotel quarantine voucher for this year’s event, much to her mother’s delight.
“Janette loves it, she has to know everyone…she’s just one of us now, one of the family. It’s one big happy family,” Ms Sinclair said.
The main attractions were the landscapes traversed by the participants and the people involved.
“Every year you meet the same people or new people. It’s wonderful,” she said.
Having spent many years on the Tussock Creek Light Wagon and Horse Trail, she had come to know the regular participants of this trail quite well. And then there were the delicious meals prepared by longtime caterers, the Oamaru Scouts, which she enjoyed.
Ms Sinclair’s mount, Keira, had “a bit of a spirit” in her – “she can move quickly” – and was kind.
“Now I’m getting a bit older, I like to stay on my horse more or less. I used to go down and down the hills.”
Ms Bayne, a former longtime ringleader, described her friend as ‘the most amazing woman’ and ‘an inspiration to us all’.
“I never had to grumble at Alice. She was always up on her horse ready to go; she loves the country we’re going through.
“Everyone in the morning would be looking for a bank or something to get on their horse. Not our Alice – foot in the stirrup and more.
“A girl’s stirrup fell and [she] said ‘God, I can’t come down, I just came up’, so Alice leaves, gives it to him, reappears in the early 80s. We call him our Energizer bunny.
“She only growled at me once and that’s when I told her to get off her horse and get in the truck. It was gusting, it was pouring rain, we had traveled 25 km and we still had a long way to go.
“She said, ‘oh and my horse?’ [I said], ‘don’t worry Alice, I’ll find someone to direct it’.
“She gave me a mean look but hey, at 85, it was fine…I won, she got in the truck.”
Ms Philp, who said her mother seemed to get younger as she got older, described her as ‘the hardest working, kindest and most generous woman’.
She fostered a child at the age of 41, spent 20 years as a volunteer paramedic, taught cake decorating for 10 years at Taieri High School, volunteered with Good Samaritans for many years, and was involved in the Wyllies Crossing Tennis Club for 40 years.
At 70, she walked the Milford Track and 75km on the Camino Salvado Trail in Western Australia.
The following year, she cycled the Otago Rail Trail, then cycled the Routeburn and Kepler tracks consecutively. She walked the Heaphy Track in 2017.
She went skydiving when she was 65, took a glider flight for her 83rd birthday and described bungee jumping as “a bit scary but great”.
Seeking adventure was something of a family trait; his grandmother Alice Mitchell cycled from Gore to the North Island in 1895, although Mrs Sinclair preferred the saddle of a horse to that of a cycle.
She has two favorite vehicles – her six-wheeled Polaris motorcycle which she used daily – and her riding lawn mower which she used regularly to mow her sprawling, pristine lawns.
When asked the secret to keeping it so well, Ms Sinclair, who grew most of her own vegetables, said the diet was ‘just regular food’.
One thing she looked forward to during the cavalcade, which ends at Millers Flat on March 5, was not having to cook.