Kelly Wilson & atahu
Atahu is a rising 4-year-old stallion, by Rangatira (meaning chief) and out of Kuia (elderly women). He roamed wild in the Home Valley of the Kaimanawa Ranges and I first crossed paths with him in January 2020 when I was photographing for my Wild Horses of the World Tour. While photographing Rangatira’s band in the distance, I heard hoof steps sneaking up behind me, but not wanting to startle whoever it was, I remained photographing and didn’t look to see which horse had shown such curiosity. My sister Amanda, who was with me at the time, snapped a photo from the moment; it had been a dark bay yearling whose behaviour that day earnt him the name Atahu in the database (meaning curious, or to charm or enchant).
Nina months later, when I hosting the KHH Photography Trip, I crossed paths with this young colt again. He was now 2-years-old and living with a bachelor band of five colts. Once again Atahu showed uncommon curiosity, approaching within a few meters of me while I sat in the tussocks, with 30 people watching on.
When he arrived in my yards, I knew immediately that Atahu was one of the curious bachelors, but didn’t make the connection that he was also the curious yearling until a week later when I was going through archive photos from the @Wild Kaimanawas in the Ranges database. From the moment our interactions began, however, I felt a deep connection with him. He was bold and curious, well and truly living up to his namesake.
Within nine days of handling he’d passed all the taming milestones at liberty, including facing up, drawing in, hindquarter yields, eating grass from my hand, sniffing my hand, paddocked behind standard-height fencing, touching all over the body and down to all four hooves, picking up front hooves, following me in a figure-eight pattern, crossing obstacles at liberty, and being haltered in the round yard.
From there he progressed to the handling milestones, and within a week had learnt to lunge, lead beside my shoulder, be groomed all over, went out on adventures around the farm, was crossing more advanced obstacles, wearing a saddle blanket, and learnt to load on the truck.
Three weeks after he was mustered, much to my surprise, he progressed to ridden milestones and was backed for the first time and has since had three very short follow up sessions (finishing with walked with a rider on, bareback and in a halter).
More recently Atahu enjoyed an adventure at the National Equestrian Centre, where he got to lunge down banks, play in the water jump, and jump a few cross country jumps. On top of this, he has also been seen by the dentist (and his age is confirmed as rising 4-years) and he had his first hoof trim.
Atahu is by far one of the most amazing horses I’ve worked with and he’s teaching me a lot. I am loving my time with him and can’t wait to see what our future together holds!
Back in 2012, when their journey with the Kaimanawas began, Kelly had no idea where her affinity for wild horses would take her. Now, alongside a list of bestselling books and award-winning photographs of wild horses, Kelly is the only trainer in the world to have achieved top six finishes in the Extreme Mustang Makeover, Australian Brumby Challenge and Kaimanawa Stallion Challenges.
In recent years, she has continued to advocate for wild horses on a global scale, tamed a further 60 wild Kaimanawas, and from 2018 to 2020 spent six months living out with wild horses in Canada, America, Australia, Portugal and New Zealand to observe herd behaviour for her bestselling book Wild Horses of the World. She now has 18 books published.
Kelly also has a passion for training domestic and wild horses at liberty, winning Equidays Top Talent in 2018 and going on to perform at many of the nation’s leading equestrian events. Her extensive knowledge of wild horses, equine behaviour and horsemanship has gained her international recognition and she has become a popular guest on television shows, renowned equestrian podcasts and in magazines.
At her property in Taupō, New Zealand, Kelly spends her time writing; taming wild horses from the annual Kaimanawa Horse Musters; hosting wild horse, liberty and photography workshops; and advocating for the welfare of the Kaimanawa herd both on the range and in domestication.
Highlights from 2021 Stallion Challenge
Kelly Wilson – Wind Drift & Conquistador
2021 Ultramox Freedom To Friendship Stallion Challenge – Professional & Mentor Student Trainer
Students: Morgan Chandler-Bruce
Instagram: @KellyWilsonNZ – @WilsonSistersNZ
Since Kelly’s journey with wild horses began nine years ago, she has competed and placed in wild horse competitions on three continents (including 6th overall in the 2015 Mustang Makeover, 5th overall in the 2016 Brumby Challenge, and winning the 2020 Freedom to Friendship Freestyle). She has now tamed over 50 Kaimanawas, Mustangs and Brumbies for both herself and students on her Wild Kaimanawa Workshops.
Although she has show jumped to pony Grand Prix level and competed with success across the disciplines, it is her work with wild horses that have shaped Kelly into the horsewoman she is today; not only giving her valuable insight into equine body language and enhancing her horsemanship but also giving her a love of liberty and bridleless riding (which is something that carries through to my team of performance horses).
While the horse’s Kelly tames have become some of her greatest teachers, so much of what she has learnt comes from her observations photographing them in the wild. From 2018 to 2021 she spent six months living out with wild herds in America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand studying herd dynamics for her bestselling book Wild Horses of the World.
Kelly’s families work with wild horses features in many of my books (with 15 now published in total), as well as the TV show Keeping Up With The Kaimanawas, and two documentaries.
Once again, during the upcoming Kaimanawa Horse Muster, Kelly will be offering students the opportunity to tame a wild horse alongside her as part of her hugely successful Wild Kaimanawa Workshops, which have seen 29 Kaimanawas smoothly transition to domestication alongside first-time trainers. For more information about applying email email@example.com.
I first saw Drifter in the wild in early 2020, as part of my Wild Horses of the World tour. He was photographed with his band from a very great distance, which included a satellite stallion named Long Shot (who is also here in our yards), and they had one mare and her foal in their band. They were then photographed in the wild several months later, and given their names, by the New Zealand Defence Force, with an additional two satellite stallions shadowing them, and all six were still together almost a year on when they were mustered.
Wind Drift has been aged at about 10-years, and is proving to be very challenging. He’s not only from Zone 20, where the horses are less habituated to people but has a very strong flight instinct and is quick to snort and spin away. Although very overwhelmed by everything, he tried 110% in all situations and is actually my more advanced stallion. He eats from my hand, has been out in a paddock for weeks, reaches out to bump my hand, does hindquarter yields, follows me in figure-8 patterns at liberty, and has had first touches on the head.
Conquistador was well known to the army, as a prominent band stallion in Upper 14; their first photos of him were documented in 2018, and in 2020 I also saw him in the wild on two different occasions. Both times he had a huge presence about him. As one of the biggest stallions to be mustered this year, he is a sight to behold and has the arrogance and mana of a stallion that has spent his life wild, fighting to both win mares and protect them.
Unfortunately, his first few weeks were marred by lameness, and being sore made him quite surly.