Wilson sisters aim to take on brumbies in follow-up show

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Vicki Wilson and her Kaimanawa stallion, Argo KH, just a few months out of the wild.
Vicki Wilson and her Kaimanawa stallion, Argo KH, just a few months out of the wild.

New Zealand’s horse-loving Wilson sisters have launched a fundraising campaign to produce an online show about Australia’s brumbies in a follow-up to their popular television series, Keeping up with the Kaimanawas.

Funding was unavailable for a second season of Keeping up with the Kaimanawas, in which the sisters, Vicki, Kelly and Amanda, would work with brumbies.

The trio want to raise public awareness about these wild horses and, with financial backing for a second series unavailable, have committed to bringing a web series, Keeping up with the Brumbies, to the public. They today launched a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to fund the project, with a target of $150,000.

Amanda, Kelly and Vicki during the filming of the hit rated television show Keeping Up With The Kaimanawas.
Amanda, Kelly and Vicki during the filming of the hit rated television show Keeping Up With The Kaimanawas.

Keeping up with the Kaimanawas was watched by more than 500,000 viewers across New Zealand and Australia. It followed the sisters as they saved 12 wild Kaimanawa horses from slaughter and then trained them in an effort to raise awareness about the plight of New Zealand’s wild horses.

Since then, they have continued to advocate for wild horses around the world.

Last year, they spent 100 days taming 11 wild American mustangs in the West, which will be documented in the forthcoming book and documentary Mustang Ride.

They will begin their work with the brumbies on June 19, in which they will prepare horses for the Australian Brumby Challenge, run in a similar view to the Kaimanawa Stallion Challenge which was the focus of the first TV series.

However, in the Australian challenge the horses can be either mares or stallions.

Most of those to be used in the challenge were mustered from the Kosciuszko National Park last year and have since been held in 50-hectare paddocks under the care of the Victorian Brumby Association.

The stallions have been gelded and the mares have had their foals weaned.

The sisters’ plan is to do the initial two or three weeks of training in Australia. Then, the brumbies will be flown back to New Zealand so they can continue their work with them at home, along with Kaimanawa horses in the care after the recent muster in the central North Island.

The brumbies will be flown back to Australia in November to compete in the Brumby Challenge final at the horse expo, Equitana.

A herd of wild Brumbies. © Christiane Slawik
A herd of wild Brumbies. © Christiane Slawik

The sisters are keen to generate some positive publicity for the brumbies following the controversial announcement in late May by the New South Wales Government of plans to cull 90 per cent of the estimated 6000 brumbies in Kosciuszko National Park over several years.

When it comes to the problems the brumbies are facing, the planned cull is just the tip of the iceberg.

The Wilson sisters have been concerned about the plight of these horses since Kelly first visited the Victorian Brumby Association in 2013.

“With an estimated 400,000 to 1 million Brumbies running, almost totally unmanaged, in the wild, Australia has a serious problem,” she says.

The horses are being slaughtered for meat and aerial culls occur regularly. There is also the infamous practice known as Brumby running, where dogs are used to keep the horses moving until they are so exhausted they can be caught and roped.

Kelly, Vicki and Amanda with their mustangs during the 100 days they spent taming wild horses in the American West.
Kelly, Vicki and Amanda with their mustangs during the 100 days they spent taming wild horses in the American West.

Thousands of brumbies are meeting an undesirable end every year, they say. They hope the online series will raise the profile of the brumbies, as the TV show about the Kaimanawas achieved.

The sisters strongly believe that the general public has a crucial role in helping the beleaguered brumbies.

Keeping up with the Kaimanawas was a successful series — the first or second most-watched evening show across all channels for the entire eight-part series.

It was then sold to the Australian network ABC, where it received strong reviews.

They say more than half a million people now know about New Zealand’s wild horses as a result, with “Kaimanawa” becoming a household name. The recent Kaimanawa muster resulted in all of the 100 or so suitable horses finding a home – the first time this had occurred in more than 20 years of mustering.

The original series, they said, was fully supported by state broadcaster TVNZ. However, funding for the second series has not been forthcoming.

That being the case, the sisters decided to do it themselves.

Their plan is for a web series, which has the benefit of immediate accessibility — the content will be readily available worldwide. Another advantage is that the episodes will be available just weeks after they finish filming, rather than months, meaning that viewers can watch the horses’ journey much closer to real time.

The sisters need $150,000 to fund the web series, a fraction of the $800,000 needed for a full television series.

Wild horses being mustered by helicopter.
Wild horses being mustered by helicopter.

Crucial to the fundraising is the Kickstarter project. It would, in the words of Vicki, “enable the public to help us, help these horses”.

The money raised on Kickstarter will be used to create at least eight 7 to 10-minute web episodes, complemented by behind-the-scenes footage and extra tutorials, so that the Wilson sisters’ work with the brumbies can educate and entertain as well as advocate for the horses.

A wild Brumby in Australia.
A wild Brumby in Australia. © Christiane Slawik

The Kickstarter campaign will run until the end of June. A budget breakdown of where the crowdfunding will go is available on the Kickstarter project page.

Vicki, Kelly and Amanda say they won’t be seeing a cent of the money: All of their work with the brumbies in Australia and New Zealand, including flights, time, food and accommodation for both them and the horses, will be self-funded. The Kickstarter backing is solely for the purpose of filming, with all pledges going towards production.

The sisters fly into Melbourne on June 19 and head to the home of the Victorian Brumby Association in Glenlogie, where they will be based for their stay.

Once there, they will receive the horses they have been assigned to train for the challenge, and will begin the task of domesticating them while also assisting with other wild horses at the sanctuary, observing and documenting horses in the wild, and seeing first-hand the trapping and sorting of brumbies.

All of the training with the horses and the Wilson sisters’ adventures will be captured on camera by the same film crew as Keeping up with the Kaimanawas. They hope the fun and personality-driven feel of the first series will be retained.

For those interested in supporting the project, there are of incentives on offer on the Kickstarter page.

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