Leanne Hackett & Warhawk
2021 Ultramox Freedom to Friendship Stallion Challenge – Mentor Student Trainer
Trainer: Kelly Wilson
Warhawk is a mature Zone 20 band stallion. He was mustered in with a band of around 8.
Originally we thought he had a much smaller band of just two mares and a foal. However, later on when looking through muster photos we discovered that he was just staying back protecting the foal who was very lame and struggling to keep up.
I didn’t notice Warhawk straight away when the ponies arrived in Kelly’s yards. When I pulled him out of the hat as my Freedom to Friendship stallion, I had to be shown which pony he was. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little excited. He was totally my type. Beautiful dark bay with just enough bling.
He has been a lovely and kind stallion to work with. On occasion, he has reminded me he was a band stallion, and there was a reason he had been able to maintain one of such an impressive size. But I have always felt safe with him.
Hawk is taking on every new and challenging question I ask of him with so much bravery and honesty. He is now leading over obstacles. I cant wait to see what the future holds for us.
My very first Kaimananwa was a colt foal from the 2009 muster. The following year I saved a young mare who foaled. My intention was that I wanted to take one Kaimanawa every muster, train them and then find them their forever homes. That plan went out the window when I realised just how much these ponies captured my heart and them not being a part of my family just didn’t compute.
In 2018 I had an opportunity to take on two mature Zone 20 mares who both foaled. Nova was a more challenging mare and she really stretched my training knowledge to its maximum. I knew I needed to find some support in order to get her to the next stage. I wanted that help from someone who knew Kaimanawas best and that is when I met Kelly Wilson.
The things I learned through Nova with Kelly really motivated me to restart my passion for working with Kaimanawas again and find a way I could help save more lives each muster by becoming the best trainer I could possibly become. This had to include submerging myself in learning. Building on what I had already learnt, and sometimes completely unlearning and starting fresh. The opportunity to be one of Kelly’s interns and work with Warhawk has been life-changing.
For future musters, my goal is to prepare myself to be able to support others with training their Kaimanawas through mentoring and training.
I got my first mustered Kaimanawa about 12 years ago and I was hooked. Over the years I have taken on a foal, a juvenile and mature mares, but I had never worked with a wild stallion before. The experience was going to be life-changing and teach me so much more about being a better trainer. It was a lot less nerve-racking knowing that I had a mentor as support and a team of two other interns to work alongside.
Warhawk and I spent 7 weeks in Taupo, working on the major milestones so I could head back to Auckland to continue with Hawks training and ready him for the Freedom to Friendship Challenge. There were moments of feeling like Warhawk was never going to like domestication, let alone me. I struggled a lot with the emotions that come along from a human aspect around the muster. Seeing photos of him trying to protect his band. Feeling the confusion in him and the obvious grief. Sometimes it would break my heart and id find myself with tears streaming down my face. And sometimes it would be what gave me the motivation to focus my everything on being the best trainer possible for him so his transition to domestication was as easy as possible. The former being of no help for Warhawk. I struggled with this balance for a huge chunk of the initial training time, and I still must check myself today.
Our first couple of weeks of training was simply teaching him to be able to stay still. He really struggled with this. The anxiety was very obvious. Once he was able to do that, I could then work on approaching him. I did have a couple of moments where he reminded me that prior to muster he was a mature band stallion, and he gave me some threats to charge.
There is not a whole lot more to heighten your adrenalin levels than having a wild stallion try to challenge you and you need to stand your ground.
Eventually, we had our first touches. Through patience and perseverance. There was nothing but relief in both of us.
The training was a difficult thing for me to juggle in Taupo. My home and family were back in Auckland, and I was also still working a full-time job which luckily allowed me to work remotely, but it did require a lot of travel. There were certainly times I felt very over-committed and wondered if Hawk was going to be at a stage ready to take home within the timeframe that both my family and work commitments needed me to be.
Over seven weeks exactly we had first touches, haltering, leading, brushing and leading over obstacles. Warhawk had his teeth done and was aged as a 6-year-old. I was so happy with this as at one stage we suspected he may have been a wee bit older.
Then he was gelded successfully. Hawk had his first farm walks, he learnt how to load onto the float and had a couple of short rides with a domestic pony.
End of June we loaded Warhawk up and made the trip to Auckland. He travelled very well, unloaded beautifully and settled into a paddock of grass very quickly.
He had a few days to chill and get used to his new surroundings, then it was time to plan out the next few months in preparation for the Stallion Challenge in October. All was going well for Hawk, then we all received the news of a level 4 lockdown. This didn’t phase me too much at first as my mind went back to the first lockdown and others that followed as they were mostly fairly short and sharp. But as this one continued I became quite concerned with the way lockdown was interfering with my ability to prepare Hawk for the upcoming Stallion Challenge. I rely mostly on outside venues for training, and it became obvious I needed to improvise with what I had on me at home to be able to continue Hawks progression. It’s amazing what you can pull together when you have no choice!
The length of lockdown did mean I lost 3 weeks of planned training time with my mentor and, not having anyone with any sort of training knowledge within my home bubble, I had to hold off on the full backing process. At times this was quite distressing, and more than once the thought had crossed my mind that Warhawk may have needed to be pulled from the Stallion Challenge had it gone ahead in October. In Auckland no facilities were open for us to train at, no events were happening for exposure. We were stuck within the four walls of our property. It was a time of huge uncertainty.
The great thing about lockdown though was that his groundwork became really solid. He had huge amounts of preparation work for backing and when the time came, it was pretty uneventful.
I was able to organise someone to work from the ground with me and we began some neat adventures.
Warhawk has taught me so much more than I ever thought possible. He hasn’t just changed my life, he’s helped me learn so many new things about myself. All my horses will grow from this experience.
Thank you Warhawk, I have such deep respect for you.