Aspiring wild horse trainers pass their first test with Elder!
17th April 2018
The past 48 hours have been a blur as we prepare to take on 17 wild Kaimanawas and 10 guests, aged 12 to 23-years, to mentor through the process of taming their very first wild horses! The stockyards have been fixed, additional portable yards have been installed, a truckload of woodchip has been spread and we’ve bucketed 400 litres of water out of the river.
I’d like to think the brutal workload is over, but I know we’ve got many long hours and days ahead of us. Tomorrow afternoon we’re expecting more wild horses than we’ve ever trained at one time. Fortunately, as each of our mentored riders proves themselves capable, they’ll assist in the training of their own Kaimanawa, then after four to six weeks will take them home.
With Kaimanawas it’s vital that every new experience is a positive one, so to prepare these aspiring wild horse tamers we’ve enlisted the help of every wild and wary horse we have on the property. Fortunately we have a number of barely handled horses, as well as rescue ones, which are proving useful for providing our riders with the opportunity to practise approaching a ‘wild horse’ for the first time.
Their first big test is working with Elder, my 21-year-old grey Kaimanawa who came in from the wild in 2014. If he allows them to approach, then touch him, they’ll be able to start working with their own Kaimanawas. But it’s not as easy as it sounds though; I might be able to ride Elder, but apart from me he’s only let two others touch him (while unhaltered) since he was mustered four years ago.
Today the first four riders worked with Elder and to my pleasant surprise all were successful, doubling the number of people he’s let close enough to allow this. Each rider took between five to twenty minutes to be able to touch his forehead as I talked them through the timing of when to approach and when to wait. Even six months ago, having strangers around Elder would have been detrimental to his training but today he remained relaxed the entire time, just backing away, or swinging his head sideways to dodge someone when he felt uncomfortable. When the riders were able to touch him, it was just for a brief few seconds – but if you’ve followed Elder’s journey from the beginning you’ll understand what a big deal that is. I’m so proud of him for assisting these riders; the experience was invaluable for them in the lead up to touching their own wild Kaimanawa's for the very first time over the next week.
It was awesome to see everyone applying the lessons we covered in our practical session yesterday and adapting to what the horses needed. All of the riders who worked with Elder showed huge improvement as their session progressed; by the time he allowed them to touch him their timing and feel was impeccable. Tomorrow another four riders will work with Elder, while we wait for the new Kaimanawas to arrive. Then the real fun begins!
When I dreamed up the Wild Kaimanawa Workshop I hoped the training initiative would save additional lives, allowing people lacking the required facilities or experience the chance to rehome and train their own Kaimanawa. Not only has it saved an additional 13 horses, it will also have an ongoing ripple effect as these riders and Kaimanawas serve as ambassadors for the wild herds. By inspiring and educating others, the number of horses able to be saved in the future will be far greater than anything any one person could do alone.