As a small girl on a farm in Central Otago I often wandered into the paddock and straight up to this enormous old semi draft horse called Sass and I would reach up and pat her (or him) on the nose! Sass had the very dignified name of Sassanoff which I believe was Persian in origin. There was a pony called Pride in the paddock too, and from time to time my parents saddled her up and we all rode around. This photo from my first ever photo album shows my fear – well I’m hanging on to my big brother very tightly! I rode again as a teenager in North Canterbury where I bit the gravel road quite hard and later I rode a horse alongside the picturesque Hawkesbury River in NSW. But I never really learnt to ride properly; the truth is I am scared of horses! Funny really as I am fascinated by them and think they are majestic creatures and highly intelligent. Now as a grandmother I find myself intrigued with the wild horses in New Zealand.
The Aupori Forest Horses
SOME FORTY YEARS ago wild horses roamed in their thousands across the central North Island, from Aupouri and 90 Mile Beach in the north to Karioi, a location on the Central Plateau. The Aupouri’s famous wild horses, are descended from animals believed to have been brought to New Zealand in the 1800s.
If you are lucky enough to see wild horses roaming the sand dunes of 90 mile beach you’ll never forget just how raw and beautiful this coast line truly is and seeing the horses would be an added bonus. A local pilot (Salt Air) said they see herds that live around the Aupouri Pine Forest from their scenic flights from time to time, now that would be special. It’s estimated that the herd consists of over 300 horses so it’s not uncommon to spot one if you’re in the right place at the right time.These horses have been living wild for over 100 years. Human hands have never touched most of them. Originally the horses escaped from farmers paddocks, but have since bred amongst themselves to form their own individual breed. Apart from the wild horses the entire region of Aupouri Peninsula heading up to Cape Reinga is a remote and beautiful area and simply quite stunning to view from the air or land. In more recent years their numbers were decimated by amateur hunters who slaughtered them for sport, by rodeo and other domestic users, by the shrinking of their range due to encroaching farmland and forestry, and by natural attrition. I haven’t been able to ascertain current numbers. It would seem no one really controls and cares for the Northland wild horses, I hope I am wrong.
Below is the source of the official report on the far north feral horses for those who wish to do further research.
The Kaimanawa Horses
Many of you will have seen this huge billboard on the Desert Road. It is possible to do a public trip, check the website. From Auckland it is about 4 hours to drive to Waiouru; however you must pre book in order to visit the Kaimanawa’sand there are only a few public trips annually. The Kaimanawa’s have their own unique story. In 1979 their numbers were down to an estimated 174 and their range was constricted to approximately 50,000 hectares that constituted the NZ Army’s training ground in the region of the Moawhango River headwaters, near Waiouru, and some adjoining land in the north, east and south. They had de facto protection from the Army as a result of restricted public access to the military area; indeed it is clear that they preferred to take their chances with artillery practices rather than with the general public and its’ amateur gunslingers. But some poaching continued even on Army land, and does so to this day; well so I read.
I have been out to photograph the Kaimanawa horses three times now, once in winter and twice in summer. The winter trip was my favourite despite the sub-zero temperatures and early morning start! A lot of snow on the very high country proved great fun and the scenery was spectacular. I love this snow tussock drooping under the weight of winter. Don’t tell anyone but the Army escort vehicle got stuck in a snow drift and we ‘girls’ had to push them out to the amusement of all but the driver!!
On a recent trip we were guests of Tommy Waara from Raetihi. To me Tommy is the ultimate horse whisperer. He had bought two stallions, now geldings, and within months he was riding them and they were obeying commands etc. “Te One” in particular was docile to the extent he told him to lie down and stay and ‘Te One’ did and he walked off leaving the horse, returning later he climbed on his back and the horse stood up. Tommy told us he just sat and talked to his two horses for three weeks initially, before training and now they are eating out of his hand!
A very handsome Kaimanawa stallion.
In 1981, facing almost certain extinction, the horses were declared protected animals. The main region for wild horses these days, the centre of the North Island. The area the horses inhabit in the central North Island is known generally as “the Desert Road” and it rouses strong feelings of like or dislike. For people who prefer routinely lush scenes of bush and lake, or the undulating green tidiness of pasture, the Desert Road is arid, colourless and vaguely menacing. You can apply to buy a horse email firstname.lastname@example.org check requirements at Kaimanawa Horses.
An ‘outhouse’ for musterers with a million dollar view.
You can support the Kaimanawa Heritage Horses trust by becoming a member:
Family $60.00 Life $300.00 or just a one-off donation.bank 060991006081200 Pukekohe branch ANZ.
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All photos are copyrighted 2015
The trust sell calendars every year to raise funds.The 2015 Kaimanawa Heritage Horses calendar is still available. It has 14 months, from December 2014 to January 2016. Calendars cost $15 + $2.50 postage. go to the website.
If you really love horses check out Kelly Wilson’s new book For the Love of Horses – a great gift for anyone who rides, teenage girls will love this.