26 Sep 2017

Wild horses couldn't drag her away

From Nine To Noon, 11:25 am on 26 September 2017

With her two sisters, writer and photographer Kelly Wilson made wild Kaimanawa horses a household name via the TV series Keeping up with the Kaimanawas.

The Wilson sisters have also travelled to the US and Australia raising awareness of the plight of American Mustangs and Australian Brumbies.

The romantic idea of a wild horse is that they're untamed, but they all have an ability to embrace new homes with people, Kelly says.

Every two years, wild horses in the Kaimanawa ranges are rounded up and any horse that isn't re-homed is sent to the slaughterhouse.

In 2012, when the Wilsons first got involved with Kaimanawa horses, half of those rounded up each year were slaughtered.

In 2016, for the first time in 20 years, every single horse was saved from slaughter.

In Australia, there are 400,000 to 1 million wild horses and an estimated 100,000 – 120,000 are slaughtered every year, she says.

"They're shooting them down from helicopters, they're ground-shooting them, sometimes they're rounding them up and putting them on trucks for week-long trips to slaughterhouses, then they get exported overseas as meat."

Last year, the Wilsons spent time working with Snowy Mountain Brumbies – a genetically isolated group of 5,000 horses that were receiving a lot of attention because the government proposed culling 90 percent of them.

Just as New Zealand's public perception of Kaimanawa horses has changed radically in recent years, Wilson believes the Australian public could begin a love affair with Brumbies if they were shown how remarkable they are.

To establish trust with a wild horse you have to be patient and use the right body language, Kelly says.

"The more time you spend with horses you can almost read what they're going to do before they do it. Just by shifting a shoulder or moving a fraction, you can get that horse's confidence and it starts looking to you for guidance – as opposed to scaring it."

As a child, Kelly was a showjumper, but her family had very little money.

Her later work with horses, including writing about them in the junior fiction series Showtym Adventures is based on what she learnt then, she says.

"Because we couldn't afford champion show ponies we got feral rejects or wild ponies from the mountains that were $50. So we had to learn from scratch how to tame and retrain some of these horses.

"I love being able to share our story and hopefully inspire others to work with horses, better their horsemanship and hopefully, save lives."