The Kaimanawa Horses

Visiting the Kaimanawa horses had been a dream of mine for an exceptionally long time, as long, as I can remember. I am passionate about the environment and about all creatures big and small that live in these wild and desolate areas surviving such extreme conditions.

"Keeping Watch" by Helen Knight

"Looking after his mares and making sure that they are okay."

I lived in Ohakune in the 80’s and went to school there and so I know how severe the weather can be. I have camped over night on the mountain and even in November, a snowstorm can come out of nowhere and surprise you. So yes, the weather can be harsh and wild and unpredictable. With dangerous winters, summers are the opposite with intense temperatures in the 30’s.

So, you have to wonder how such a majestic creature as the wild untamed horses which have never interacted with humans can survive not only on an active Army base that is used for training but in such wild conditions too. They say you can get four seasons in one day but here it is four seasons in one hour. It can change at the blink of an eye.

To photograph these majestic horses I was luckily enough to have a 150-600mm Tamron lens on a 5d m4 Canon full frame camera. Patience and an understanding of the nature of these wonderful animals is a must, keeping quiet and still, not disturbing them helps when photographing them too. As with all the animals I photograph, birds especially, patience is key. I can stand in a field for hours waiting for something to happen. I find that quietly watching nature and the way she displays herself is important. A calm stillness and being at peace with nature listening to what she says and being in a peaceful state of mind helps in any situation. Learn to interact with nature and just be with it, take the time to understand her because she may just surprise you one day and you will get that shot that will surprise you and astound others.

"Mother" by Helen Knight "A mare and some foals by her side, Yes it's tough but that's why they try and keep the numbers down so they have enough food to sustain the heard."

As I travelled through the area, I found that each corner we turned held a surprise, the scenery astounding me at every turn so that I never tired of the scenes that were unfolding before my eyes. I was in awe of the majestic ruggedness of the landscape, its wilderness opening my eyes even wider. The majestic mountains rising above the clouds, the deep blue skies, the rugged hills, the desolate landscapes all making me believe I was in paradise, in gods’ zone. The belief that such beauty could exist astounded my mind and I had an awareness that mother nature is a better architect than humans can ever strive to achieve or be. The natural sensation of beauty that lies in front of you on this journey astounds the senses and overwhelms your belief that we are small and have no idea what it is we are really doing but destroying this beautiful planet.

"Stallion" by Helen Knight

"This young stallion was chasing the bachelors away from his own mares and was kept busy."

The Kaimanawa horses have such respect and mana they command the very presence of wonderment. Doc, the Army, and the Kaimanawa Heritage Society look after these horses making sure that they will be here for future generations. They manage the horses by working with organisations including the Kaimanawa Wild Horse Advisory Group, the Army, the Kaimanawa Heritage Society, and the Department of Conversation. They cannot fence the area and so the horses are free to roam inside the army's training area. The Kaimanawa people respect and love these creatures just as much as I do if not more and work hard to protect them because they are our future, after all, what future do we have if we have nothing left that is wild and free?

"Curious" by Helen Knight

"They are wondering just what these silly creatures are doing getting in and out of a bus and all they hear is click, click and click."

The Kaimanawa horses are diverse in breed ranging from thoroughbred to hack horses, even Clyde’s Dale horses that have somehow escaped and made their way here. They are managed by horse sensors and an annual muster which helps keep the population at a sustainable number so that they can breed healthier and stronger offspring. No one knows where they came from, but they were first recorded in the area in 1876. Today's horses have inherited gene pools from land wars, cavalry, and Exmoor Ponies. The most popular area for the horses is the Argo basin, which is a widespread valley where the horses roam.

"Peek a boo" by Helen Knight

"Peek a boo I see you, trying to hide in the grass not wanting to be spotted."

I had many plans this year to travel overseas and do my photography and was privileged in January to go up to Norfolk Island and down to Akaroa before Covid hit. But as with everybody else, plans were suddenly changed and abandoned. They say 2020 was hard for a lot of people and yes rightly so but for me the last five years have been extremely hard, the last two suffering majorly with depression and anxiety but I am slowly moving forward and I found lockdown a time I needed as it enabled me the time to contemplate on what has happened and what could happen.

"Roaming the hills" by Helen Knight

"The first of many wild horses to roam the ranges in the army base."

I have come to the conclusion that even though some doors have closed for now, others have opened and I will continue to explore this beautiful country until my heart is content. I was originally going to get a motorhome and who knows I may still get something one day but in the meantime I have brought a 4wd that can go off road and I will convert that to overnight camping. Its about the adventure about going of the unbeaten track and taking either the high road or the low road and turning that corner so that you can view the wonderment and beauty of our country.

As I returned from my journey to see the Kaimanawa Horses, I took the long road home through the back country and the back roads less travelled, bopping away to 80’s music, I realised my mood, for the first time, was absolutely awesome. Having travelled down a dark dusty road of depression and loneliness, I was suddenly free like the stallions that roam the Kaimanawa’s. My mind, free at last from turmoil and pain, was able to see the road ahead, soaring high on my own adventures.

"Mount Ruapehu" by Helen Knight

"Taken from the Kaimanawa Ranges, you can see Moun Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe in the distance."

No matter how you are feeling or what you are going through, know that with each turn of the corner something new, something better, is just in front of you. It's about getting out, being grateful for being alive and being happy with yourself – Accept yourself for who you are and don't let people tell you any different, its your life, enjoy it and just be.

I came up with a saying last year that goes

“Ride life like you’re on a stallion, you may fall of from time to time but that’s life, you get back up on that stallions back and ride like the wind. Free and wild.”

That is what my life will be like from now on, living life on a stallions back and riding like the wind.

To see the whole collection please click here.

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