From galloping after hounds and cantering around her stunning North Canterbury farm, to watching sunsets and chewing the fat over a gin with friends – Sam Wilson thrives on living life in the fast lane. Sam has not only raised two active, sporty teenage boys, but played a hand in influencing hundreds of children’s lives after spending the last 20 years in the classroom teaching at her local school. A true equine lover, she enjoys breeding and breaking in her own line of horses, passing on her knowledge through lessons and has had the privilege of riding alongside the likes of Mark Todd, Blyth Tait and Andrew Nicholson on a global stage in England’s eventing ring. An avid adventurer and an eternal go-getter, Sam is well known for pushing herself outside her comfort zone, conquering gruelling challenges such as the Coast to Coast and the Coast to Coast Mountain Run to prove to herself that she can achieve things she never thought possible. Caring, loyal and adaptable, Sam has used the COVID-19 global pandemic to remind herself just how lucky she is to be a rural woman, based on a beautiful farm with her solid family unit.

When asked what concerned Sam about the health, safety and wellbeing of those in rural industries and communities, she highlights just how dangerous machinery can be once people are thrown in the mix. Reminding everyone to treat tractors, augers and power take-off shafts with respect, she also emphasises the unpredictability of animals and the importance of reminding people of the simple things, like bending your knees in a tight race to avoid losing a kneecap, as opposed to making the assumption that people already know to do this. With three families working together on their family farm, she also strongly reinforced the need to communicate regularly and create an environment that enables honest and relaxed discussions. Every morning over smoko, they get together to discuss the plan for the day, activities completed and any issues arising which allows them to deal with any problems straight away, rather than putting it off until later.

How would you describe yourself in three words?

Caring, loyal and adaptable.

Tell us something interesting about yourself...

I grew up on a sheep and cropping farm in a small rural community in North Canterbury, New Zealand. I had a wonderful childhood riding ponies, playing sport and working on the farm. I have a twin sister and a younger brother. After finishing a teaching degree at university, I set off on an overseas excursion for two years. I travelled with my boyfriend (now husband) and another friend throughout the USA for six months in a beaten up old car. We arrived in England with no money and in desperate need of a job, and we quickly found work on a farm in Scotland doing the lambing. This proved to be a great learning experience, as we experienced an intensive farming system. While away overseas we worked in France on a ski field and travelled through Africa, Europe and Asia. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to ride against Mark Todd, Blyth Tait and Andrew Nicholson in the eventing season in England and hunt with the hounds for two seasons. On returning home I started teaching at the local school and continued for 20 years. I now have two beautiful teenage sons who are very sporty and active. I have enjoyed playing tennis with my boys, sister and husband all in the same team. I have recently started doing some multi-sport events (triathlons, half iron man and mountain running) which is a great way to spend time training with my boys, sister and husband. When not teaching, training, riding or playing sport, I love spending time in my garden.

What achievements are you most proud of?

Completing the Coast to Coast Mountain Run in 2019 is the achievement I am most proud of, because I am not a natural runner and initially I thought it would be something that I would not be able to do. However because I had completed the Coast to Coast the previous year, I knew that it was achievable with hard work and dedication to my training regime. A key factor in making it successful was having the support of my trainer and family around me, who encouraged me daily and even came on training runs with me to get me going. For me, I prioritised this over other things I would usually do, so instead of riding my horses, gardening or playing sport I would go for a run. The long runs were taking me three hours to complete so I had to make the time where I could!

What makes you truly happy?

Spending time with my family and friends and setting goals and achieving them – some really outside my comfort zone. This makes me happy because I’ve proved to myself that I can achieve something that I never thought that I could do, and because of the amazing support around me, it makes it all possible.

Riding my horses and working in the garden are two of my favourite pastimes and I am particularly passionate about breeding my own line of horses which I have successfully completed over the years and now focus more on hunting and giving lessons as it works around my family and the farm better, time-wise. Hunting enables me to get out with friends and not only enjoy a wonderful sport but also have social time with friends who share the same passion and watch my horses develop into great animals who I love forming a bond with.

What do you love the most about being a rural woman?

The wonderful outdoor life style that allows me to ride my horses over our beautiful farm, as well as working on the farm with my husband and boys. Being able to go for a training bike ride with my husband and sister and picking up friends along the way who join in too, and then stopping for a cold gin at the end while chewing the fat and watching the sunset. Having the luxury of living rurally and not feeling isolated while being able to go to town and go out for a nice meal for someone’s birthday, which is something that our family makes an effort to do. I have felt lucky that Covid-19 has not affected my life as much as others due to the fact that we already live day to day as a family unit on the farm – however I have loved having my boys home from boarding school for family time. I feel privileged that we were able to continue with our normal lifestyle compared to those in urban areas and it’s a good reminder of how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful rural setting.

Tell us about a time when you felt worried about your own or someone else’s health, safety or wellbeing.

My husband is on a four wheel motor bike everyday, we have no cell phone coverage so I do worry about where he is during the day (especially if he’s away all day). Quad bikes make me nervous because although they are a great machine, they are highly represented in farming accidents and not necessarily through the rider’s lack of skill, but due to other factors like terrain, mechanical, decisions or taking risks due to time pressure and complacency. You can do the same thing everyday, but then one day you take a short cut. My husband told me one day he was in a paddock with a gully in the middle and he was working his dog watching the sheep and drove straight off the edge. A perfect example of having your mind on two things at once. There is machinery, the big tractors, augers and PTOs and it’s not the machinery itself, but the things that you do around the machinery while you are dealing with it. It’s big gear, complex and it’s dangerous if it isn’t treated with respect. With stock, the main concern is the injuries that you come across while working with sheep. Mostly with stock, it comes down to work in the yards and you can’t assume that if we had someone come to help us that they know to bend their knees and keep sheep tight in the race, otherwise you risk losing your knee cap! Even knowing the right place to stand when you are trying to get stock through a gateway is important, and everyone’s yards are different so sheep will run differently in our yards compared to someone else’s.

We have had in the past one or two sheep dogs that have not been very good with new people coming into the yard, so we have learnt to be aware that if someone arrives in the yard like a rep/stock agent, to make sure that they are tied up as a biting dog is never handy.

What practical things did - or could - you or someone else do to prevent yourself or someone else from getting hurt?

We always try to communicate where we are going to be and what our expected route is. We are very particular about using safety equipment and being conscious about using machinery safely. We find that the best time to have conversations about what’s happening on the farm is during smoko. This is the only time of the day where everyone comes together, off the farm from their jobs and can discuss what has been completed or any issues or problems that they have had. It’s an environment where anyone can comfortably discuss their feelings about something due to the positive nature of the banter.

"Don't be shy to tell someone if you aren't comfortable doing something on the farm, it's not a sign of weakness!"

Is there a time, place or scenario when your partner or those you work or spend time with are more willing to make changes to the way the work is done, or are more open to making safer, healthier choices?

We live on a family farm that is run as a partnership, with three families working together on the farm. Everyday we get together at morning tea time and discuss the plan for the day, activities completed and any issues to consider. This is a great time and environment to have regular, honest discussions about what’s happening on the farm and we can deal with anything that comes up immediately rather than it being put off until later. It shows the importance of it when it’s dealt with straight away. 

On a personal note, it’s a better time to talk about issues/stress in the evening because for us it’s the most consistent time of the day where I see my husband given I am often away at work teaching. During dinner time, we have a catch up about the day and make an effort to talk and communicate, sitting down while we’re having a meal is our time to chat. We don’t have a TV so it allows us to spend this time together. We have found that talking at this time is far more effective than say at bedtime so you are fresher and more able to be present in the conversation. 

If you could give any advice to another rural woman about health, safety and/or wellbeing in rural industries and communities, about influencing change in business - or just in general - what would it be?

COMMUNICATION!! Talk about what you are doing, going to do and have done. Have a habit of telling someone where you are going and what you are doing. Don’t be shy to tell someone if you aren’t comfortable doing something on the farm, it’s not a sign of weakness!

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

It is wonderful to see such a great way to address farm safety and positive changes in health and safety because it doesn’t need to be hard or complicated.

It should be about people, relationships and respecting what they feel capable of doing and caring that they come home alive at the end of the day.

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30 years ago no-one wore seatbelts. Today we do it without even thinking about it.

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