Late flurry of applications needed to save wild horses in NZ muster

Kaimanawa horses on the ranges.
Kaimanawa horses on the ranges. © Kaimanawa Heritage Horses / Suezette Shaw

The charity that supports New Zealand’s Kaimanawa wild horses is hopeful it will get a late flurry of applications to save the majority of the 100 animals to be mustered from the North Island’s central ranges late in April.
If not, there will be no choice but to send half the horses directly to slaughter.

Spirit of Kaimanawa - or "The Brat" being mustered in to be reunited with her mum.
Spirit of Kaimanawa – or “The Brat” being mustered in to be reunited with her mum during the 2014 roundup.

Kaimanawa Heritage Horses spokeswoman Simone Frewin told Horsetalk today that 48 applications had so far been received for horses from the muster, set to go ahead late in April.

She hoped that all applications would be in by this Friday, which would give volunteers with the charity the time to carry out the mandatory checks to ensure those wanting to adopt the horses had adequate facilities and the skills to be able to train them.

The applications so far include 10 animals for the Kaimanawa Stallion Challenge. The inaugural competition, in which the stallions’ trainers are judged on the skill-sets acquired by their animals, was first held after the last muster two years ago.

A television series, Keeping up with the Kaimanawas, which documented the stallion training of the Wilson sisters, Vicki, Amanda and Kelly, had proved to be a doubled-edge sword for the promotion of the breed, Frewin said.

While the show had successfully lifted the profile of the Kaimanawas, feedback to the society indicated many people had been left with the impression that the horses were dangerous.

The show documented some challenging behaviour by the young stallions, and one of the sisters, Kelly, suffered a nasty arm bite that required hospital treatment.

Major teeth issues were also found, requiring considerable remedial work.

Frewin stressed that the competition was set up to encourage the rehoming of stallions that in the past had normally gone to slaughter because of the challenges they posed.

She was quick to dismiss the notion that the horses were dangerous, saying this was not the experience of the many people who had adopted and trained mares and young stock over the years.

On dental issues, Frewin said the society had canvassed a lot of horse dentists who had cared for Kaimanawa horses for many years. They reported that their teeth were no different to other horses in that they required only routine care.

Frewin said she had been taking Kaimanawa horses for 18 years and had never had any major dental issues.

She also dismissed the notion that the horses might be more prone to eye issues. An equine opthamologist had checked 50 Kaimanawa horses and found no eye problems.

The last muster in 2014 resulted in 162 horses being gathered. The charity found homes for 139 animals, another group successfully rehomed eight, and 15 went to slaughter, which was the best result in the charity’s history.

It was successfully completed in a day and a half, and the horses had all left the holding yards by the end of the second day.

The 100 horses to be gathered this April would likely comprise around a third stallions, a third mares, and a third young stock up to two years of age, although it seemed the ratio was starting to change with the target size of the Kaimanawa herd now set at 300. It may take two or three musters to get a firm handle on how the ratio was changing.

Current management levels seemed to be working well, with the mustered horses in better condition than in the past, and the young stock better developed.

The earlier muster meant some of the foals would be younger. It is intended that the helicopter musterers will leave bands behind if they include very young foals.

Mares with very young foals would be left on the ranges if possible.
Mares with very young foals would be left on the ranges if possible. © Kaimanawa Heritage Horses

The adoption fee for each horse is $250, including GST, and applicants are required to provide two referees, preferably one of whom is a vet, as well as undergo an inspection of facilities.

The charity normally moves the captured horses freight-free to four yards in the North Island – usually around the Waikato, New Plymouth, Napier and Levin areas – from which point transport becomes the responsibility of the successful applicants.

Last year, around five horses were sent to the South Island, but the group requires that all horses crossing Cook Strait be halter-trained first. The total cost of meeting those requirements and getting a horse to the South Island can approach $2000.

In the 2014 muster, one horse went as far south as Dunedin.

About 1100 horses were removed in 1997, with the herd permanently cleared from the more ecologically sensitive areas in the northern region of the ranges. That effort brought numbers back to around 500 and the herd was managed at that level. For the last four or five years it has been managed at around 300 horses.

Frewin said the condition of the horses was generally found to improve once management numbers were reduced to 500, although thin pregnant mares with foals still at foot were still seen.

The wild horses’ condition had improved even more once the management level was dropped to 300. The mustered horses were now well rounded, as if they had just come out of people’s paddocks, she said.

Frewin said she was hopeful a late flurry of applications would come in, allowing a great majority to be rehomed. If all went well, perhaps only two or three would go to slaughter, either because they were too old or had veterinary issues.

People can learn more about the muster process here.

The application brochure can be found here.

The application form can be found here.

Questions can be directed to muster@kaimanawaheritagehorses.org.

More useful information can be found on the group’s website.

Those wanting to contribute to the charity’s efforts in rehoming the horses can do so here.

Its Facebook page is here, where you can join the conversation.

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