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Girl denied a horse is udderly charmed by bareback cow jumping instead

The Guardian logo The Guardian 29/12/2016 Eleanor Ainge Roy in Dunedin
Hannah Simpson rides her cow Leila © Heifer Leila Hannah Simpson rides her cow Leila

When 11-year-old Hannah Simpson was told she couldn’t have a horse because it was too expensive, she decided to jump on the next best thing instead – a dairy cow.

Now 18, Simpson and her seven-year-old Swiss Brown “best friend” Leila have become a regular sight on their daily rides on the outskirts of the South Island town of Invercargill, in New Zealand’s deep south.

She said: “Leila was only six months then and I was just a midget. It was a dare from my brother to jump on and she seemed OK with it so we kept going. Before then I’d only ridden a pony twice, and a sheep.”

Recently, Simpson taught the heifer to jump, and said Leila could now scale obstacles up to 1.4 metres high – although only when she feels like it. “She is a cow and I can’t expect her to ride like a horse. Without a bit of prodding she wouldn’t really do anything, she has a very chilled-out nature.”

Leila doesn’t like cantering, said Simpson, or going up or down hills. But bush-walks, long river swims and jumping she seems to find fun. “I have always loved jumping, I always wanted to do show-jumping on a horse,” said Simpson. “And Leila was always jumping out of the cow shed when she was young so I think she likes it, too. We started her off with stepping over logs and it just got bigger and bigger.”

Simpson tried Leila with a horse saddle once but she didn’t take to it, so now she rides bareback with a halter and a small stick to give the old girl a nudge when she needs it. She said Leila had bucked her off “countless times” ever since Simpson first climbed up.

Simpson has no plans to ride her professionally, or compete in show-jumping events with her faithful steed. “I don’t think she would behave if we took her anywhere but home. And I don’t need to compete. She is more special than a horse, more rare.”

Simpson, who works on a Southland dairy farm, has attempted to ride other cows, though without much success. Leila, she said, was undoubtedly “special”.

Two years ago Simpson got a horse – Sammy – but she still prefers to ride her cow. Their rhythm is ingrained now, said Simpson, because they grew up together.

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