Wednesday 7/01/2015 January, 2015 by Rialto Admin
“An engrossing study in the communication possible...between man and beast...” said Variety of the exquisitely filmed, unabashedly sentimental documentary WILD HORSE, WILD RIDE, a tale of nature vs. nature in the form of some true equine beauties.
It has been said that the best so-called “horse-y movies” are especially successful when they manage to seduce those members of the audience who have never really identified themselves as horse lovers, as opposed to their usual captive fans. Alex Dawson and cinematographer Greg Gricus have created such a film, with this incredible portrait of just a few of the individuals who train fully wild mustangs (described as “never been touched” horses) in just three months. It takes the viewer on an unforgettable journey across the American Southwest where cowboys and cowgirls still reign supreme, astride their trusty – and breathtakingly beautiful – steeds.
At the heart of WILD HORSE, WILD RIDE is the story of the Extreme Mustang Makeover Challenge, an annual contest that dares 100 people to each tame a totally wild mustang in order to get it adopted into a better life beyond the usual federal corrals. It is Dawson and Gricus' debut feature documentary and immediately leaves you wanting more with its gorgeous big-sky, all American vistas, amazing shots of the majestic mustangs and intimate moments between trainers and trainees.
Which all made me think about the plight and the uneasy future of Aotearoa’s own wild mustangs, the Kaimanawa. New Zealand's only true ‘wild’ horses, they have grazed the rugged Kaimanawa Ranges south of Lake Taupo for more than 100 years, but their future existence remains threatened by the Army and the Department of Conservation.
Back in seventies the Kaimanawa population had been decimated by amateur hunters, pet food suppliers, local rodeo outfitters and others, to the extent that in 1981 the horses were finally granted Protected Status under the Wildlife Act and listed by the Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations as a special herd of genetic value. The horses continued to happily flourish despite their harsh living environment, but their spirit of survival was to prove their undoing by the early nineties. This was when they were said to be “inconveniencing” the New Zealand Army, on whose training ranges they graze, as well as threatening the survival of certain endangered plants in the area.
The Department of Conservation's management Plan for the Wild Horses was adopted by Parliament in May 1996, and the horses' Protected Status was lifted. All horses were removed from the "ecologically fragile" Northern Ranges, and the herd size in the Southern Ranges has been drastically reduced "to protect the environment". This is an environment that can apparently withstand damage from army tanks and vehicles, as well as from other grazing animals, but not from horses. Go figure.
After the public naturally opposed the government’s decision to cull the horses by shooting, then-Prime Minister Jim Bolger decided against taking such drastic action, and instead there was a muster of around 1000 horses in May-June 1997 and a second smaller muster in June 1998, to reduce the horse population to the Government Approved figure of 500, as quoted by the 1996 Management Plan.
The latest biannual muster was completed at the end of May with the muster of 172 horses, and now the wider community is also actively involved, with partner organisations such as the Kaimanawa Heritage Horses Trust and the Kaimanawa Wild Horse Preservation Society integral in re-homing 157 of the mustered horses. The management approach for the horses aims to keep herd numbers in the management area to 300, but horse lovers claim that if the population falls below 500, or if the number of horses in the wild does not include enough mares of breeding age, the Kaimanawa could officially become extinct in the wild.
In addition, there are reports of Kaimanawa in captivity that have not been so lucky as to be successfully re-homed. Sixteen of them starved to death in June 1998 on a Central Plateau Farm, waiting for Massey University to carry out immuno-contraception trials. There was an ownership dispute between the University, the grazier and DoC, and no one took responsibility for feeding. The Ministry of Agriculture held an enquiry into the tragedy but decided in December 1998 that there was not enough clear evidence of criminal liability for a prosecution. So once again the horses are the losers. Of the 1100 or more horses removed from the ranges in 1997 and 1998, at least 500 are known to have gone for slaughter, and some are known to have died. The survivors are at private properties all around New Zealand.
So anyway… watch WILD HORSE, WILD RIDE and enjoy every beautiful moment – but don’t forget our own wild beauties close to home.