17 wild Kaimanawas have arrived, including two old friends I recognise from the wild!
18th April 2018
Never, in all of our experiences of working with wild horses, has there been such an aura of calmness in the stockyards. We were fully expecting the first day to be chaos as we unloaded and sorted 17 wild horses, but from the moment the truck arrived there was a stillness in the air.
The first six to come off the truck were the fillies and mares and they steadily walked down the stock ramp and wandered into their yard. Sorting out the two filly yearlings was a breeze and soon they were all settled eating hay. The remaining three mares were supposed to be two year olds but one looks closer to three and the other has just weaned a foal and is probably a little older.
Next were four colts and two foals. Like the mares they plodded down the ramp and were easy to sort into two yards; the filly foals by themselves, and the yearling and two-year-old colts together. So far eleven horses have come off the truck and we’re a little speechless about the selection we’re been assigned – every horse is lovely in their own right and they’ve maintained excellent condition.
These aren’t the wild eyed youngsters we were expecting and while they’re undoubtedly wild, they’re sensible and emotionally seem to be in a better mind frame than anything we’ve previously experienced. We’ve only taken adult horses before, and wonder if their young age is the reason why they seem so accepting.
But then the first four stallions come off; as quietly as they please and they calmly walk to their yards and begin grazing. One or two seem young, perhaps four to six years old, but the rest are all older stallions. One has impressive dreadlocks and since Vicki asked for “an older stallion which might not be able to be rehomed otherwise” it’s decided that he’s perfectly suited for her; he certainly is reminisce of Major and Elder with his impressive dreadlocks.
Also in the yard is a younger liver chestnut and I take an immediate liking to him. He’s smart and beautiful, but also young – the only stallion that will suit our client who specifically requested a two to four-year-old stallion. It’s not my lucky day, as he’s the only one which fits that description. Also among them is a striking stallion, who I’ve photographed in the wild (he’s also on the cover of the 2016 KHH calendar); he has three white socks and lots of bling on his face, so he’s also assigned to one of our clients as he perfectly fits her wish list. The remaining stallion is a chestnut and together with the two stallions still to come off the truck will be for Amanda and I.
As the final two bays unload my heart catches and beats double time. Walking down the ramp is an old friend; a stallion I’ve spent a long time photographing with his herd in 2015. Just yesterday I was looking through photos of him in the wild and I remember wondering if he’d be mustered and thinking, just briefly, how special it would be to win the trust of a horse like that.
As he passed me in the crush the awe of meeting him again warred with my sorrow that he was mustered. He’d been so proud and regal in the wild and I wish he could have lived out his days free; but I’m equally glad, since he was mustered, that he has an opportunity for a second chance at life with me. Like every wild horse I’ve encountered I’ll treat him with the love and respect he deserves and do everything possible to ensure he enjoys this new life among people.
Finally, my gaze leaves this stunning stallion, and I glance up at Amanda with a question in my eyes; will she battle me for this horse, or will she realise my hearts already invested in his ongoing journey. But Amanda is too engrossed in the stallions as they enter the yard and as I watch her I realise she’s not watching ‘my’ stallion, but the bigger, younger and equally impressive one in front of him. This gentle giant is calmly standing facing her, while my stallion hides behind him. She turns to me and begs for the chance to train this horse and my relief is huge. We’ve both got our preferences, and since Amanda is training two, the little chestnut stallion which unloaded earlier is also hers.
For the next hour I sit on the rails assigning the remaining 13 horses among the owners who are either here as part of our Wild Kaimanawa Workshop, or having us do the initial handling on their horses. It’s a huge task, since a lot of the ages, gender, heights and colours don’t match up with their preferences but I doubt anyone will be displeased; there isn’t a bad horse among them.
Soon the job is complete and our workshop riders line up to find out which horse is there’s to both train and own. The excitement on their faces, as they’re introduced to their new horses is priceless. I’m so thankful to everyone that’s training a horse through us for offering these horses a life; without a doubt they all deserve this second chance, rather than ending their lives at the slaughterhouse.
It’s been a huge morning for the Kaimanawas and we leave them for a couple of hours to settle, before returning back at the yards to feed out before the sun sets. A number of the Kaimanawas seem curious as we feed out so Mum and I supervise as the riders hold out grass to their new charges.
The first person to try is 14-year-old Lily, who’s training a three-year-old mare – within two minutes her horse crosses the yard and plucks the grass from her outstretched finger and I’m left speechless. That level of trust and curiosity in a wild horse is rare and I know I have just witnessed a special moment. As Lily quietly backs away and returns to the edge of the fence her eyes are wide with wonder – it is a defining moment in their journey together.
Both foals also eat out of our hands; Mum and 12-year-old Amie sit quietly with them and they wonder over and tentatively eat hay from their hands. Amie too is awed by the experience and even now she’s still smiling. Next I watch as 12-year-old Nina’s white faced pony, which she’s named Thunderbolt (after the Thunderbolt river in the Kaimanawa Ranges), eats out of her hand, then even though the grass is long gone he reaches forward and nuzzles her hand – she is the first person to have touched her Kaimanawa. Or perhaps I should say her Kaimanawa is the first horse to touch a person, because there is no doubt he initiated the contact.
The sun has now set and we finish feeding out the horses before heading home for the night. My stallion has had no contact with me, although Amanda’s bay is eating out of her hand; he’s a gentle soul. My one, not so much. He’s timid and cautious and will need much longer to settle before he’s ready to even consider me a friend. Tonight I’ll leave him to sleep and we’ll see how he feels in the morning.