The Kaimanawa horses – New Zealand’s wild horses living in the Kaimanawa ranges – hold an important place in New Zealand’s post-colonial history. With the first horses introduced into New Zealand by Samuel Marsden in 1814, the horse population steadily increased under the efforts of people like Sir Donald McLean, who did his bit to bolster the local breeding by importing two Welsh stallions, and then releasing one of the progeny stallions and several mares on the Kaingaroa Plains in the 1870s.
This first small herd of feral horses are said to be some of the ancestors of the horses that roam the ranges now, in an area that is used by the New Zealand Army, and looked after by the Department of Conservation. The bi-annual muster of these horses ensures that the horse population does not exceed three hundred, and for many years this muster – organised by the Department of Conservation – has meant the wholesale slaughter of many horses, who were mustered down from the ranges without a place to go. In recent years awareness has grown around the need to protect the horses, and thanks to organizations such as the Kaimanawa Heritage Horses, a wide-spread effort of re-homing (and re-training) these horses has been increasingly successful.
Then in the 2012 muster the Wilson sisters – Kelly, Vicky and Amanda Wilson – adopted eleven mustered Kaimanawa horses and created their Facebook page “Keeping up with the Kaimanawas” to publicly show their re-homing of the wild stallions and mares. The response to the Facebook and YouTube posts was a huge surge in interest and fascination, as New Zealand and the rest of the world followed the sisters’ journey from the very first day of the muster. Now, the story of the saving of those eleven Kaimanawas is re-told in Kelly Wilson’s For the Love of Horses. The book is accompanied by beautiful photographs, and tells the story of the Wilson family from growing up struggling to make ends meet, to the three very different journeys of the sisters growing up and finding their place in the world.
The first half of the book deals with the early years, where a love of horses bound the Wilson family to their goals of owning some land for the horses and themselves. Kelly Wilson makes it clear that they were not born with a silver spoon in their mouths, and the story takes the twist and turns of the typical “kiwi battlers”, yet all three – especially Vicky Wilson – managed to succeed at the highest levels in horse competitions around New Zealand and other parts of the world.
In the second half of the book the story of the Kaimanawas gives an honest and moving account of the trials and tribulations of re-homing these horses, who had only ever known the wild, into a domestic situation. The often quite dramatic reality of this situation is highlighted by the narrative, as Kelly Wilson describes the emotional and practical ramifications of their (actually spontaneous) decision to adopt all eleven horses.
This book is not a “how –to”, or technique book, in the sense that the narrative does not make any grand declarations on “the best way of working with these horses,” but rather, charts the various different approaches as a trial and error process, which only stresses that these special horses can become wonderful all-around riding horses and companions, as long as they are treated gently, fairly and with a large dose of patience and strong-mindedness on the part of the trainer.
For the Love of Horses is a beautiful read for horse fans and non-riders alike, as it charts the inspiring and relevant journey of discovering who you can become, by allowing and facilitating a horse raised in the wild to become all it should be.