The hand that feeds

Kelly Wil­son and her sis­ters, Vicki and Amanda, are New Zealand show jumpers and wild horse ad­vo­cates, star­ring to­gether in Keeping up with the Kaimanawas. Kelly, who is a best-sell­ing author, is pic­tured with Gun­dara, a wild brumby saved from slaugh­ter i

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“We were tam­ing wild horses just out of Mel­bourne; we headed up to the moun­tains to see where the horses we were work­ing with had roamed wild in Kosciuszko Na­tional Park. Our very first ex­po­sure to wild horses – long be­fore we worked with the Kaimanawas – was the Aus­tralian brumbies. As chil­dren we read The Sil­ver Brumby se­ries of books and watched The Man from Snowy River. For us, the Aus­tralian brumbies are re­ally iconic for ig­nit­ing our love of wild horses. See­ing them that day, it was like liv­ing out of the pages of a book.

We were over there tam­ing horses and show­cas­ing what was pos­si­ble, tak­ing them from the wild and into do­mes­ti­ca­tion. It was re­ally in­ter­est­ing to see how they dif­fered from the wild horses in New Zealand that we’d worked with, and also the mus­tangs in Amer­ica.

The Kosciuszko brumbies were going through a con­tro­ver­sial time, with the Aus­tralian govern­ment propos­ing to cull 90 per cent of the wild horses in the Snowy Moun­tains.

Unlike in New Zealand, where they round up the wild horses with he­li­copters, the horses in the Snowy Moun­tains were trapped with bait – hol­low logs filled with mo­lasses and min­er­als – to en­cour­age the wild horses to gather and eat in th­ese ar­eas, and they build up fences around them over a few weeks. They’re trapped and trucked to hold­ing yards.

There’s cur­rently be­tween 400,000 and 1 mil­lion brumbies in Aus­tralia. More than 100,000 are culled each year. In this par­tic­u­lar re­gion, there’s only about 6000 wild brumbies. About 11 per cent of them are saved; the rest go to the meat works.

There were 11 saved from the cull that day. The stal­lion that I’m pic­tured with was one of th­ese. This is his first day ar­riv­ing at the Vic­to­ria Brumby As­so­ci­a­tion sanc­tu­ary, he was to­tally wild, had never been touched. We called that horse Gun­dara and the horse hid­ing be­hind him was named Mo­lasses. His whole face was cov­ered in mo­lasses – it ba­si­cally sym­bol­ised how he’d lost his free­dom.

Gun­dara was be­ing saved for a com­pe­ti­tion. The Vic­to­ria Brumby As­so­ci­a­tion saves horses as part of train­ing ini­tia­tives. It’s train­ing horses for the Aus­tralian Brumby Chal­lenge. That’s a 150-day com­pe­ti­tion where train­ers get a wild horse – to­tally un­touched – and they have to be­friend it, work with it and tame it over the course of sev­eral months. And then com­pete in one of the big­gest eques­trian events in Aus­tralia: Equi­tana. Britt Mann


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