As our fabulous news series Keeping up with the Kaimanawas comes to a close, we caught up with Kelly Wilson to find out more about the sisters and their incredible journey.
Did you expect this challenge to be so hard?
Having tamed wild horses previously, the time and patience required was no surprise. But what we couldn’t anticipate were the injuries we had to work with, which can make the taming process more challenging. Elder and Honor’s hoof issues, Hoff’s teeth and cracked skull, Doc and Argo’s teeth problems and of course Nikau, who was sore through his withers and shoulder (most likely from stallion fights in the wild). He was retired from ridden work not long after the challenges.
Normally horses that come out of the wild in pain are the ones that are the most challenging to work with, but unfortunately these are often the ones that need the most work. In an ideal world we’d leave them in a paddock or give them the time they need to adjust, but when veterinary or dentistry is urgent, to improve their quality of life, we have to persevere so they can be handled enough to help them.
What was the toughest thing about it?
There are times when working with wild horses can be frustrating, especially with the older and more difficult horses, but we became so entangled with each horse’s personality and journey that it continuously inspires us to keep trying. We treat every horse as an individual and never compare them to the others or place expectations on them. Instead we allow them to develop at their own time, which is very rewarding. Eight of our wild horses from the 2014 muster were working under saddle within six weeks, but even four years later the oldest stallion is still in the most basic stages of training.
What was the best part?
The bond with the Kaimanawas is very special. To take a wild horse, win his trust and achieve the types of things that we have is incredibly special. We develop stronger bonds with the wild horses than we do with our showjumpers, simply because of the time we have to invest in them in those initial months.
What did you learn from the horses?
Every wild horse we have worked with has enhanced our timing and feel. We are significantly better trainers than when we first tamed wild horses from the 2012 muster, or in 2014 when Keeping up with the Kaimanwas was filmed. Since then we’ve tamed and trained 11 wild mustangs in USA, 11 wild brumbies in Australia, another five wild Kaimanawas in New Zealand and also started dozens of our own showjumpers and horses for clients.
In 2017 Vicki was invited to compete is the World Championships of Colt Starting, as the first New Zealander and the first rider ever to represent the English discipline. She won in convincing style – standing out for her holistic and gentle approach to colt starting. For her to be recognised on the world stage alongside the world’s leading horsemen and women is testament to the lessons the wild horses have taught us. Not only about timing and feel, but also a greater understanding on anatomy, as we strive to produce happy, sound horses that genuinely love their work.
Did you think you’d end up as TV stars?
Never in a million years. Our focus has always been to pursue our love of horses and improve horse welfare. The television exposure was never something we wanted. We did eventually agree to it though to raise awareness about the plight of our nation’s wild horses, in the hopes that the public would fall in love with them as much as we had. It was the only way slaughter rates would decrease and it was hugely successful. In the following muster in 2016, every horse was saved from slaughter – the first time in over 20 years of mustering.
Why do you love working with ‘problem’ horses?
Originally, troubled and difficult horses were the only ones we could afford and over the years we have developed empathy for them. We love to offer horses a second chance at life and have found so many diamonds in the rough this way – not only with the wild horses, but also many of our showjumpers which others had given up on. The results we get once these types of horses are rehabilitated are very rewarding.
Some of your methods in the show seem quite tough.
The television show is edited to create drama, so people need to remember that footage is shown with little context and they can’t appreciate all the patience and rewards the horses are getting along the way.
I would consider us to be very empathic and gentle trainers who really do look out for the best interests of our horses. We have tamed wild horses on three continents now and still find the Kaimanawas to be the wildest. We have to be 100% focused, because there is always potential for things to go wrong, most often by outside influences, such as a car driving past or another person moving. We try to keep the interactions between the horses and ourselves as stress free as possible and are always aiming to build trust and friendship, rather than to create conflict.
As sisters, how do you differ in your training?
We all differ in our training, but I also think we compliment each other. There’s a lot you miss if you’re riding and training alone and it’s nice to have an extra pair of eyes to watch and provide advice.
Which British riders do you admire?
We hugely admire every showjumper at the top of their game and are constantly live streaming events like the Olympics, Nations Cup and Global Championships. There are plenty of world class riders in the UK that we watch and learn from, and we loved watching Nick Skelton win gold.
What are you working on now?
I have just had my seventh bestselling book published. I have previously written four adult non-fiction books about our work taming wild horses around the world, and a junior fiction series, based on our early lives with horses. I also have another 15 books in the planning stages.
Vicki returns to America to defend her title at the World Championships of Colt Starting in a month, and is also producing a team of world-class jumpers, including horses imported from the UK, Belgium and Scotland.
Amanda has a team of showjumpers, right through to World Cup level and is also a highly sought after coach, teaching showjumping clinics around the country.
We are also mentoring eight riders in April, as they tame their first wild Kaimanawa horses from the 2018 muster.
Can you imagine a life without horses?
My passion for photography and writing equals my love of horses; one couldn’t exist without the other! Likewise Vicki and Amanda couldn’t imagine a life without horses – in particular their love of showjumping, with both of them competing at World Cup level.
You can watch the last two episodes of Keeping up with the Kaimanawas online when they premiere on 4 March at 7pm on Horse & Country TV and Amazon Video. The series is also available to watch now on On Demand.