'X factor' of wild Kaimanawa horses

23:52, Apr 14 2014
NEW LIFE: Robin Sisley with two of her Kaimanawa horses.

Once they roamed wild on the Kaimanawa Range but now Robin Sisley's horses can bow, play on a see-saw and perform to music.

With those party tricks Sisley's nine Kaimanawa horses contribute to their upkeep by giving a handful of shows a year at her Glenview property.

Sisley's love of Kaimanawa horses began after the big muster in 1997 when she got her first bunch.

Robin Sisley
NEW LIFE: Robin Sisley with two of her Kaimanawa horses.

"They definitely have an X factor. The wild horses, they've all got very strong personalities. They've got to be smart and savvy and fit to survive in the wild," she said.

"They're just lovely creatures."

She'd never dealt with unhandled horses before and was surprised at the "incredibly strong" bonds between wild horse and handler.


She trained some horses for other people, but when she moved to Glenview she couldn't bear to part with the ones she had left.

So she decided they could contribute to their keep by performing, and The Croft Kaimanawas performances came about.

For wild horses, she felt a natural follow-on was liberty work - where the horses aren't wearing any gear and don't have a rider.

About five years ago she took a "crash course" from a horse master in Sydney and, after plenty of help from local Harley Young, she adapted the art to suit her herd.

A handful of bus groups, normally of 30 to 50 people, visit The Croft Kaimanawas each year.

Each of Sisley's horses has a skill to show off in the indoor ring.

Storm offers a series of yeses and nos before dropping into an impressive bow.

His herd-mates perform to music, set foot on a seesaw, turn on the spot to the twirl of a whip, move sideways in a horsey grapevine, and proudly finish like bookends with their front legs on low tables.

While the horses obey slight cues from the whip in the ring, Sisley wants them to keep their "sparkle".

"We just have a hierarchy that, in the yards, ‘Yeah, she's the boss. We'll do as she says. If we're lucky, we might get a treat'. Out in the paddock they always live in a permanent herd, so the dynamics of a wild horse is there."

And liberty-style displays are not the only area where Kaimanawa horses have proved successful - Watch Me Move from Bay of Plenty took out Pony of the Year in 2012 at the Horse of the Year show.

"You can't get better than that," Sisley said.

The next Kaimanawa horse muster is scheduled for about May 19 and will yield about 180 horses. Kaimanawa Heritage Horses is looking for experienced horsepeople to adopt them. Applications close on April 30.

To find out more visit www.KaimanawaHeritageHorses.org or email muster@kaimanawaheritagehorses.org

Sisley has also written a book about the horses she worked with, called Eat The Wind. It won the 2014 Kobo/NZ Authors E-Publishing Prize for non-fiction.