15 Feb 2019

Wild horses go under the hammer in Hanmer

From Country Life, 9:38 pm on 15 February 2019

Perfect South Island weather drew a crowd of about 400 to the St James Station horse sale near Hanmer Springs.

Twenty horses, all aged two or three years old, were mustered from the isolated Ada Valley and sold by auction at cattle yards in the St James Conservation Area, where there was once an 80,000-hectare cattle station.

The two-day biennial muster is a family tradition.

Hugh Dampier-Crossley, a sheep and beef farmer near Cheviot, has been mustering the horses since he was ten.

"The Stevensons owned the property. Jim Stevenson was my grandfather, they bought the place in 1927. He taught me how to break in horses and shoe horses so it's become a bit of a passion," he said.

In 2009, the government bought the high country property from the Stevenson family and now it is managed by the Department of Conservation, while the Dampier-Crossley's own and manage the horses that roam free.

DOC operations manager for North Canterbury, Kingsley Timpson, said an agreement allowed for up to 80 horses to be retained on the land, with no more than 30 breeding mares.

"To make that work we've got to keep a lid on numbers and so a biennial sale is part of the process," he said.

Buyers need to know what they are doing if they buy a St James horse as they are untrained, have had little human contact and need to be broken in. That process takes months.

Whiterock horse-breaker and part-time farmer Lyndon Morris is helping out at the sale and was on the muster to bring the horses in.

"'These horses haven't been played round with, haven't been messed up. You're starting with a clean slate, so if you mess a horse up it's not the horse's fault, you've done something wrong."

Going, going, gone.

The horse sale attracted bidders from around the country and all the horses were sold.

Prices were down on the last sale in 2017 and ranged from $1,200 to $5,600.