From the wild to home
By Shannon Gregory
For the past six months I have taken part in the 2022 Ultra-Mox freedom to friendship Kaimanawa stallion challenge, which is run by Kaimanawa Heritage Horses. In May of this year, approximately 150 wild Kaimanawa horses were mustered by helicopters from the Kaimanawa Ranges and placed in homes around the country. This is done each year to protect the landscape in which the horses live and to prevent herd sizes getting too large. I was invited into the Kaimanawa Heritage Challenge along with fourteen other horse trainers. Each of us was to take on a stallion from the muster, work with them for six months, and then show case them at Equifest in Taupo - one of New Zealand’s largest equestrian events. I took on two ponies from the muster, one of which was eligible for the challenge -Tonto, and a mare, Zatanna, who has since had a foal. When the horses arrived on a stock truck, they knew nothing of people, fences, vehicles, ropes and halters etc. I had to add height extensions onto our yards to prevent them from jumping out! Each month we would submit updates on our progress and what challenges we were facing. This gives insight to members of the public who are considering adopting one in the future. it was during month four, since after being mustered from the wild, that I began to ride Tonto preparing for the competition in Taupo at the end of October. At Equifest, we competed against the other trainers with their ponies in four events; conditioning and welfare (Tonto and I), horsemanship (to show basic requirements for the horses to thrive in domestic life), freestyle (to show what further training we had done with the ponies) and the obstacle class (we placed sixth). The event started 12 years ago and is designed to help showcase New Zealand’s own wild horses, their trainability and to help rehome the ones that get mustered each year. Keeping the numbers manageable is necessary to protect the unique plant life in the area that is at risk of getting trampled and over grazed if the number of horses get too high. History of the Wild Horses
The history of the horses running wild in the Kaimanawa Ranges dates back to the 1870s. The presence of wild horses there was first recorded in 1876. This was 62 years after Samuel Marsden first introduced horses into New Zealand -1814. Between 1858 and 1875, Major George Gwavas Carlyon imported Exmoor ponies to Hawkes Bay. These were crossed with local horses, resulting in the Carlyon ponies. Sir Donald McLean imported two Welsh stallions, named Kinarth Caesar and Comet. They were then crossed with the Carlyon ponies and a small, sure footed, robust horse resulted. These became known as the Comet breed. Over the years that followed, other horses added to the bloodline. In 1941, horses from the mounted rifle cavalry units at Waiouru were released when a strangles outbreak threatened. It was also believed that Nicholas Koreneff released an Arab stallion into the Argo Valley during the 1960’s. So after all these years, the Comet breed is still very clear to see out there and although there are some variances in conformation and build, the calmness and inquisitive nature remains the same.
By Pauline Stewart
Shannon has been around horses all her life. She grew up at Rangihau where horse treks were a part of the rhythm of her family’s life. Her parents led horse treks on the Rangihau farmland right up to the peak at the back of their property. She remembers the first muster of horses in the Kaimanawa Ranges, going with her mother in 2007. “We tamed six horses. I remember having them in the race, and putting halters on them for the first time, and taking them for walks.”
As a young adult, Shannon travelled to the United States where, with her skills and experience, she gained work training horses in New Hampshire, New Jersey, and spent time at Summer camps as riding coach for the young people. The time she loved best in the USA was working with the horses in the desert country of Arizona. Her feeling for wild horses was rekindled. Returning home to New Zealand in 2016, Shannon spent time on the West Coast of the South Island and then four seasons in Gisborne, all the time training wild horses.
She speaks of a special moment with one horse that deepened her understanding of her role in rehoming a horse. “I remember when I smiled, this horse would somehow relax her body. From then on, I noticed even my minuscule movements and facial expressions were noticed by the horse. I started to change my approach. I needed to be more conscious of my actions and movements and began to take things more slowly - how I was breathing and what my attitude was. This work has taught me a lot about myself.
With the six month challenge, you are not working for anyone else but yourself. There is no one to tell you to get up and work with your horse or how to do it. The motivation comes from within and it is between you and the horse. It really is a process of freedom to friendship – no one loses freedom but it transforms into friendship. I have learned a great deal about myself -influencing many aspects of my life.”
Shannon concludes, “I hope to be a part of the challenge again and also to help others who wish to adopt and train a Kaimanawa pony.
I welcome anyone to reach out to me to talk more about our beautiful wild horses we have here in New Zealand. Many people are unaware they even exist and the great effort that people are going to, to protect both the horses and the environment in which they live.” email:email@example.com