Episode 26: The Last Ride
On the next episode, screening 15 September at 7pm on TV ONE:
Episode 26, The Last Ride
When self-confessed cowboy Neil Hersey was asked to return to Northland's Aupouri Forest to count wild horses, he jumped at the chance.
Twenty-five years ago, Neil was in a group that acted as guardians of the Aupouri's famous wild horses, which are descended from animals believed to have been brought to New Zealand in the 1800s.
The cowboys would chase the wild herd through the forest onto Ninety Mile Beach, catch the best horses, break them in and use them for mustering in Northland.
The veteran horseman recalls the day he came face to face with a stallion called Bluey. "He came right up to me and stood on his hind legs and screamed his head off. Yeah, they are special, they get inside ya," says Neil.
Neil has written many ballads over the years but there's one song that has a special place in his heart. Aupouri Angel was inspired by seeing the wild horses running free all those years ago. "The words were all there," he says. "All I had to do was write it down and record it."
The owners of Aupouri Forest recently wanted to pinpoint where the horses lived to ensure they are kept away from logging activities. They got in touch with Neil who gathered together a group of the old cowboys and experienced stockmen who had always wanted to ride with the wild herd.
Neil saw the trip as a last big adventure before hanging up his spurs. Another original, Terry Gordon, now in his mid-60s, also had riding with the herd one last time on his bucket list.
"It's still pretty amazing to see so many wild horses running free," says Terry. "It's a stunning feeling."
The men camped on an old airstrip at the edge of the forest and each day tracked the wild horses to find out where they were living and observe their health.
It needed skill and experience as Neil says the moment they were spotted, the horses would break away and disappear into the forest.
"It's not the first time these horses have been chased," he says. "They've got a plan, they know where they are going."
On the final day, the cowboys worked together to run the herds into open country to get a closer look at their condition. With cowboys and horses on the move in every direction, it was a spine tingling operation in which the herds, directed by their stallions, frequently got the better of the cowboys.
Overall, Neil's men counted more than 300 horses in the forest.
"It's good to see the stallions are still strong after all these years," he says.
A sense of freedom was at the heart of what it is to be a cowboy and riding with the herd fitted with that. "It's very special to be so close to that wild spirit. It's what we'd all like to be."
find out more about Neil, visit:
listen to Neil's music, visit:
'Aupouri Angel' written and performed by Neil Hersey, recorded & produced by Dave Maybee, Karioi Sound, Raglan