From the 19th century, horses were vital for transport between Māori communities and nearby towns. They were also used in farming. Most Māori lived in rural areas until the 1950s, so remained reliant on horses. In the 2000s, horses were still used to get to school or town in a number of rural Māori communities.
Tribal competitions involving horses have often been held. In the early 2000s, Ngāti Porou’s inter-marae competition, Pā Wars, included horse contests. Rodeos have significant Māori participation, often involving several generations of the same whānau (family).
Māori have long been involved in horse racing. In the early days, these were often informal events run on beaches. Māori also often took part in events organised by Pākehā.
In 1842, a horse race for Māori was included at a race meeting in Auckland. A similar race was run in 1851 in Christchurch, and there was even a 'wahines race' for Māori women at the 1877 Ōhinemutu races.
Māori riders and their horses also often took part in the main events. In the 1870s, horses owned by Māori won the Hawke's Bay Cup, the Tauranga Plate and other important races.
Māori also organised their own races. In the 1850s, race meetings were held at Katihiku Pā in Ōtaki. Meetings under the patronage of the Māori king were held in Ōtaki in the 1860s, and in Karioi in 1870. This led to a desire by iwi to set up their own racing clubs.
Māori racing clubs
Clubs included the Ākura Māori Racing Club (later renamed the Kotahitanga Māori Racing Club) near Masterton, Waiōmatatini Native Jockey Club and the Tūranganui Native Club at Gisborne. However, none of these lasted very long. The Ōtaki-Māori Racing Club, formed in 1886, is the only Māori racing club still operating in 2008. Its first president was Hoani Taipua, who was also a member of the House of Representatives for Western Māori from 1887 to 1893. The club’s first race meeting was held at Rikiriki on 18 February 1887.
Wairarapa Mounted Rifles
From 1899 to 1907 there was a Māori company within the Wellington (Wairarapa) Mounted Rifles. B Company (Wairarapa Mounted Rifles) was based at Pāpāwai, near Greytown. It was supported by Ngāti Kahungunu leader Tamahau Mahupuku, who supplied a large number of horses.
During the 1901 visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York to Rotorua, the Wairarapa Mounted Rifles acted as an unofficial escort. The journey up to Rotorua was arduous, and a large number of the horses died on the way.