‘It’s where I love to be’

Johnny on Penny and Tia on ‘Apache’ at the paddock. Photo: John Borren.

She’s had people gaping and guessing – who’s the young horsewoman riding sidekick to Johnny, the city’s famed horseman?

Last week The Weekend Sun introduced you to 15-year-old Tia Tane, an Ōtūmoetai College student who’s taken to riding a Pinto called ‘Apache’ when Johnny rides the city streets. One has become two.

“It’s my different side,” explains Tia. Her fun, dramatic and expressive side that most people were unaware of.

Tia has also become a fixture at the paddock on Ngatai Rd where Johnny runs his horses. Everyone knows Johnny Dodds, everyone knows the paddock. It’s Johnny’s spiritual home. And so here is part two of our story on Johnny and Tia.


“It’s where I love to be,” says Johnny when he’s not being full-time carer to his ailing Mum. The horse paddock is his nirvana as city life flashes past at 50km/hr on Ngatai Rd.

It’s also a place you’d expect to see hordes of slavering developers. Because the ‘paddock’ is perhaps 6000 square metres, enough for two or three flash clifftop houses with multi-million dollar views all the way to the harbour entrance and beyond. P&O and Maersk could not slip in or out of Tauranga without Penny and Apache noticing.

It’s gilt-edged city space and it’s being minded by a ‘humble’ man, munched by two horses and enjoyed by all three. Tia makes it four now. Johnny delightfully understates their lot. “We’ve been here 11 years. It’s good. We’re lucky.”

So too are Ōtūmoetai’s dahlias, roses, pumpkins and peas lucky. Because $5 will buy you a bag of horse poop at the road’s edge. The bags fly out of the paddock – it’s fertilising local gardens before it stops steaming. ‘Penny’ and ‘Apache’ might struggle to keep up with demand. A friend chuckled when he saw it. “A fertiliser factory in the middle of the city…really?” Yes, really.

A shrine to ‘Sid’ 

And if it’s a paddock, it’s also a shrine. A shrine to ‘Sid’. There’s no marble headstone but there is one of ‘Sid’s horseshoes hanging from the fence wire, alongside some artificial flowers.

“I rode him everywhere. But he was very sick and I wouldn’t let him suffer.”

People who know the man well say the loss just about broke Johnny. He was devastated. And so he was allowed to bury ‘Sid’ right there in the paddock. “Right where you are standing,” Johnny says to me. ‘Sid’s gone, but he’s not. You can sense a horse’s spirit still lingering around the paddock, a place where a horse got respect.

The ‘sidekick’ has gotten to know and understand Johnny very well. “He’s very quiet, he’s kind and he’s genuine,” says Tia. “And very loyal to those who do good by him.” He also knows his stuff, she says. “I am the student. He wants to improve my skills and I want to learn. He is my mentor, also my friend.” And a creative inspiration.

The face paint, the quills, the beads and embroidery, the quiver and shafts, aren’t just theatre. It’s part of him because Johnny thinks, reads, breaths Native America. “Ever since I climbed on a horse when I was about 13.” Chatting, he reels off events, dates and places. “Little Bighorn…June 1876, just after the end of the American Civil war. 1865.”

A happy horse 

‘Apache’ maybe Johnny’s horse, but Tia has ‘Pache’s’ future mapped. “She won’t be a show jumper or some seriously insane trick pony. I just want her to be a horse, a happy horse.” 

And together they will ride, have fun, create fun, make people happy and make Tauranga a brighter, more interesting place.

I toot Johnny every time I see him, on Chapel St, on The Strand, at the Mount, the top of my drive. And I always get the raised cocked arm in return. “Hau!” he mouths at me as I drive past. I like that. I enjoy my connection with Sitting Bull. “Hau!” back at you Johnny. Ride well.


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