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Hyundai Country Calendar


Special Hyundai Country Calendar Episode 2

Country Calendar Special - Episode 2, screening 20 October at 7.30pm on TV ONE:
The second episode in a special series of 10 one-hour programmes in which we revisit some of our favourite recent stories. 

This episode is about people with a passion for horses.


Horse Heaven

Northland's Vicki Wilson is regarded by many budding show jumpers as the equestrian equivalent to All Black star Dan Carter.

"She is such an inspiration to girls setting out on a show jumping career," says 16-year-old Skye Alexander from Hawke's Bay.

Vicki and her younger sisters, Kelly and Amanda, run a holiday programme from their home at Hikurangi, just north of Whangarei, giving young riders and their ponies the chance to spend five days in 'horse heaven'.

Fully kitted out in jodhpurs and riding boots, the Wilson girls look like they are off the set of the television programme McLeod's Daughters. These are confident, competent young women who are committed to sharing their horse wisdom with young riders.

Vicki, a 24-year-old who breaks in and shoes her own horses, went straight from school to the stables. Every weekend during the show jumping season, she drives her big horse truck to events all over New Zealand.

"Since I was 14, I have fully funded our show jumping operation - I paid for my sisters until they were 18. Now, everything we earn at home, from the riding camps to shoeing and breaking in horses, goes straight back into our Showtym Show Jumping team. There is not a cent left over," says Vicki.

The Country Calendar crew got to witness Vicki, clad in bare feet and shorts, breaking in a spirited young horse using her own well practiced methods.

Having the previously unbroken gelding trotting in an open paddock in less than 30 minutes is testimony to Vicki's skills.

"We've got to get the horses feeling very comfortable with us so they will accept a leg or our body lying all over them," Vicki tells her students, as the gelding licks her toes and looks to his new mistress for the next instruction.

Vicki's mother, Heather Wilson, says her daughter has a natural feel and energy with horses.
"When she was younger, I thought everyone could do what Vicki does with horses. Now I realise she has a very special gift."

Young riders at the holiday camps enjoy numerous sessions in the arena with Vicki and younger sister Amanda where they learn how to get the best from their horses.

"We teach riders to train their horses like athletes. I love seeing the results and seeing the kids improve," says Vicki.

But horse riding is not the only skill the young riders pick up says Amanda.

"We encourage them to try out new things. After five days, a lot of the shy girls are almost more confident than the ones who started the week with a lot of confidence. We meet some pretty amazing girls."

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Winner's Circle

David Ellis has an eye for picking future racetrack champions.

He's one of the shrewdest bloodstock buyers in the world and, every year, spends millions of dollars on thoroughbred horses he believes will turn out to be winners.

David, who farms at Te Akau near Ngaruawahia in Waikato, has been buying horses at the annual Karaka Yearling Sales since the 1980s.

In the 2011 sales he was the top New Zealand buyer.  His Te Akau Racing syndicates bought 33 yearlings for $4.7 million.

Within days, most of the shares in them had been sold to the many owners who trust David to buy on their behalf.

Over the years, David has perfected his bidding style and there's barely a nod or a wink as he secures the horses he wants. He pays anything from $20,000 to this year's top price of $875,000 for yearlings that he judges will make the cut.

He's looking for horses with "big hearts and confident, intelligent minds".

David knows it's a punt but he takes his business seriously.

Each summer, while most New Zealanders are on holiday, David travels the country to inspect every yearling to be offered at Karaka. "We've got to make sure we get it right," he says. "We are prepared to put a lot of time into making the right decisions to buy athletes that turn out to be top horses."

Despite keeping a poker face at the sampling parades. The inspection is David's chance to work out exactly what he is going to bid on at the sale.

David headquarters his bloodstock operation at his 1600 hectare farm at Te Akau where he also breeds Romney sheep and finishes cattle.

Racing business regularly takes him away to his stables in Matamata, Rangiora and Singapore but when he's home he likes to get out on the farm. "I love working with the people we have here. It's fun going out every day and seeing the stock develop," he says.

David also enjoys spending time with his horses which thrive on the well fertilised and tranquil Waikato pastures.

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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."

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