The Arrival of Our Wild Horses from the June 2018 Kaimanawa Muster
5th June 2018
As I waited for our wild Kaimanawa stallions to arrive, fresh from the latest muster, I was left with mixed emotions. On one hand I was excited to see which horses had been assigned to me and was eagerly anticipating the journey ahead, then at the same time I was greatly saddened that these majestic animals had lost their freedom. But even that sadness was underlined by an overwhelming sense of relief that these stallions, which would normally be destined for slaughter, had been given a second chance at life.
But it’s not just our horses that have been given a repreive. Thanks to the support of the public all 300 Kaimanawas that were destined to be culled during the past seven weeks, as part of the 2018 musters, have been saved. So I am also filled with pride for the compassion our nation has shown these horses and gratitude to everyone that has welcomed a horse into their lives, or sponsored to save the horses that had nowhere to go.
After training 17 wild Kaimanawas from the April muster, less than two months ago, we hadn’t planned to take additional horses; in fact, I was supposed to spend the next three months overseas photographing wild horses for a new book. But life has a way of changing when you least expect it, none more so when working with the wild horses.
Just a few weeks ago there were still 30 Kaimanawas facing slaughter so I changed my winter plans and offered to take in more; leaving the public to decide how many. Together we were able to raise enough, through the Argo KH Fund, to cover the costs of saving seven horses, of which five would come to us (four for me and one for Amanda) and two to Chloe Phillips-Harris of Wild Horse Project.
Our five were supposed to be a mix of three stallions, a mare and a 2-year-old, but on Monday night we got a phone call from Kaimanawa Heritage Horses asking if we’d be flexible; an excess of stallions meant they were desperate for experienced homes to take the older, larger horses. At this point we were just thankful to get any, after we were told on Sunday night that no horses would be coming our way after poor weather meant they had mustered less horses than planned. To go from that, to a phone call on Monday night to say we had six mature stallions arriving within 24 hours, was quite a turn of events.
Not only that, but among our selection would be an old grey stallion, who reminded them of Elder, the stallion I’d saved in 2014. When I heard this I was filled with both excitement and trepidation; I didn’t need two veteran stallions and I could only hope this new boy wouldn’t be as difficult as the old grey that already graced my paddocks.
The next morning we scrambled to get the yards ready in time for their arrival; repairing broken rails that had been broken by our last lot of Kaimanawas, laying out hay and filling up water troughs. We’d been told that the horses wouldn’t be overnighted in transit, like they normally are, and would be making the entire eight-hour drive all in one go.
These horses, who just days before had been roaming wild, would be exhausted on arrival and while I waited for the stock truck to arrive I replayed the many changes the horses would have gone through over the past few days.
Three days earlier they’d been mustered by helicopter, some (including our black stallion, who arrived in very poor condition) for as long as three hours, then sorted and separated from their herds and put in a pen with horses of a similar age and gender. From being at three musters over the past six years, I know that every horse copes in a different way and I wondered if ours had stood quietly at the back of the yards, or spent the entire time stressing and neighing out to their families, or perhaps even taking their fear out on the other horses. Undoubtedly many would be sporting fresh injuries from savage bites or kicks. Then this morning, after three nights in the yards, they’d been loaded onto a stock truck to journey north. Their view, through the narrow slits in the walls, changing drastically from the wide open plains of the Kaimanawa Ranges to crowded motorways. They would have seen more during the eight-hour drive, than at any other time of their lives.
My thoughts were jolted by the arrival of the stock truck. Even with the help of fourteen people we’d barely got the yards set up in time and we hurried get into position to watch the horses unload.
When the door opened all I could see was a solid white rump marred with blood, then slowly a chestnut raised his head and eyed us warily, blood on his eyes and nostrils. For the next 15 minutes the four stallions in the first compartment jostled around in the tightly packed truck, as the driver tried to turn them towards the open door. The black stallion kicked out violently and reared up several times, getting lodged over the other horses.
Unloading wild horses is never fun, but this was one of the worst I’d watched, likely due to the sheer size of two of the stallions, who were two of the biggest we’d ever seen come out of the wild. Finally, though, the horses were facing the open door and were able to walk down the race. The big flaxen chestnut stallion, which I later named Concord, appeared in fine health, but the other three all sported bites and scrapes.
With the first four safely in the yards, the second compartment was opened and another four horses were unloaded. The first one to come off was a young bay stallion for me to train, the next was a chestnut assigned to our friend Yazmin (who would be based at our property for the first month), and the last two were the sponsored horses for Chloe which were quickly reloaded so the truck driver could continue north to her property. The rest of her horses, including a monstrous black stallion, where also on that truck – she would have her hands full.
As the horses milled around the yards it was obvious they were exhausted, hungry and thirsty; some even drinking out the puddles as they were too cautious to approach the drums of water. Relieved we’d managed to get the hay and water down in time, we separated them into pairs and left them for the night. Right now they just needed time to settle; the last thing they needed was further stimulation from people and we knew there would be plenty more time to see them in the coming days.
TOP TIPS FOR YOUR KAIMANAWAS ARRIVAL:
- Have your yards set up well before the horses arrive, with hay and water already laid out so you can minimise the amount of stress on the horses when they arrive.
- Separate the horses into similar age and genders, generally in groups of two or three, depending on the yard sizes. If one of the horses is particularly aggressive then you may need to keep it separate.
- If you only have one Kaimanawa arriving then have a domestic horse over the fence, where they will always be within sight.
- Don’t expect anything from your wild horse until it’s had time to recover from it’s trip. Neural time mucking out, feeding and topping up water is generally sufficient for the first day or two.