Since 2012, the Wilson sisters have worked with 27 mustered Kaimanawa horses and a 17-year-old rescue stallion who was destined for slaughter, with the aim of helping them transition well to domestication while raising public awareness about the plight of these wonderful animals. Through the top-rating reality TV show Keeping Up With the Kaimanawas, the documentary Wind Eaters directed and filmed by Amanda, and Kelly’s best-selling novels For the Love of Horses and Stallion Challenges, they have made Kaimanawas a household name in New Zealand. New Zealand’s Kaimanawa horses are found on the North Island’s central plateau. Descended from army horses, farm escapees and those ditched on the roadside, Kaimanawa herds now roam free on the Kaimanawa Ranges. Unfortunately, herd numbers outweigh the food sources available, and every second year the Department of Conversation musters up to 200 of the horses to keep the numbers at around 300. The horses are re-homed if possible – or sent directly to slaughter if there are not enough homes available. At one time the majority of the Kaimanawas mustered were sent to the abattoir, but in recent years the increased publicity the Wilson sisters have helped generate has made a huge difference. In the 2016 muster, every horse was saved from slaughter – the first time this has ever happened in over 20 years of mustering. Follow our journey with the Kaimanawas from the latest muster here.
Vicki, Kelly and Amanda, along with two of their friends, Kirsty and Alexa, were based in America for four months in 2015 to tame wild Mustangs for the Extreme Mustang Makeover. This prestigious event attracted some of America’s best horse trainers, with a total of 38 trainers being assigned mares to train. Once, two million wild horses roamed the West – now only 30,000 can be found on public lands. Each year, ‘excess' wild Mustangs and Burros are mustered and – because of an anti-slaughter policy and a lack of people interested in re-homing them – are stockpiled in government holding facilities run by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Since 1971, when the United States Congress first recognised Mustangs as ‘living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West’, over 270,000 wild horses have been removed from the range despite the outrage of activists. Today, 35 years on, 50,000 wild horses are currently languishing in holding facilities across America, costing taxpayers US$80 million a year to feed and manage. Only a fraction of these are adopted. In 2007, in a bid to raise public awareness and increase re-homing rates, the Mustang Heritage Foundation (MHF) launched the Extreme Mustang Makeover (EMM), a national training incentive very similar to New Zealand's Kaimanawa Stallion Challenges. Over 5000 horses have been saved through this programme – but each year thousands more are captured, and supply continues to outstrip demand. The majority of these captive Mustangs will end their lives in the holding facilities – a far from ideal existence for these once-wild horses. Nothing seems about to change: the musters keep happening, wild Mustangs end up being held captive, and good horses are wasting away in prison-like environments. During the 100 days of taming their assigned Mustangs for the event, the Wilson sisters and their friends travelled 5000 miles by road, riding through National Parks in nine western states (Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado) in search of adventure. Only two of the five Mustangs were eventually able to compete in the event, due to soundness issues with the horses, but these two finished 2nd and 6th overall in the Extreme Mustang Makeover – in competition with some of America’s top wild horse trainers. The entire journey was captured on camera for a new documentary, Mustang Ride, which is due out together with the book of the same title in late 2016. Vicki, Kelly and Amanda hope that their work with the Mustangs will inspire the re-homing of horses from the BLM yards. The sisters are campaigning to improve horse welfare on a global scale, hoping to make a difference by setting a positive example and educating people about the talent and trainability of these horses. Follow our journey with the Mustangs here.
In 2016 the Wilson sisters received an invitation to compete in the Australian Brumby Challenge, a similar event to both the Kaimanawa Stallion Challenges and the Extreme Mustang Makeover. Vicki, Kelly and Amanda were already aware that the management of the wild Brumby population was highly controversial, but the invitation led them to rearrange their lives so that they could dedicate the winter of 2016 to taming wild Brumbies and learning more about their plight. With an estimated 400,000 to 1 million wild horses in Australia, the sheer numbers of horses captured and culled each year is hard to comprehend. Each year, tens of thousands of Brumbies are meeting undesirable ends – an uncontrolled number of horses are slaughtered for meat, others are shot down during aerial culls, and yet others are severely traumatised during the infamous ‘Brumby running’ where the horses are chased until they are too exhausted to continue, then caught by roping. Only 20 trainers throughout Australasia are asked to compete in the Brumby Challenge each year, and Vicki, Kelly and Amanda feel honoured to be the first New Zealanders asked to participate. As part of the 150-day challenge, which concludes in November at Equitana Melbourne 2016, the Wilson sisters have been assigned three wild Brumby mares who they began training on 19 June. Follow our journey with the Brumbies here.