Story: Horses

Page 7. Horses and the environment

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Transforming the landscape

Horses played a vital part in transforming New Zealand’s landscape in the 19th century.

Millions of acres of forest, tussocklands and swamp were converted into pasture with the help of horse power. Horses were used for stumping (pulling out tree roots) and hauling away logs so the area could be grassed.

Horses carted settlers and their supplies, and provided the power for ploughing and cultivation. They also carted wool and grain to ports and, later, to the railway.

Kaimanawa wild horses

There have been wild horses in the central North Island since about the 1870s. They are thought to originate from both military and Māori horses, as well as some released or escaped from local sheep stations.

In 1979 there were 174 horses recorded in the southern Kaimanawa area. Official monitoring began in 1981, and a protected area for the horses was established. Since then, horse numbers have increased, and in April 1997 there were about 1,700.

The large number and range of the horses caused concern about their effects on rare native plants in the area. In August 1997 the herd was mustered and many were sold at auction. Musters have continued to control the size of the herd.

Boy racers

Boy racers, who race their cars around the streets of cities and towns, are seen as a modern problem, but the phenomenon is not new. In colonial New Zealand young men from farms would come to town on a weekend and gallop their horses up and down the main street. Many were charged with ‘furious riding’ in the Monday sessions of the magistrate’s court.

Horses and urban areas

Many early settlements developed around 16 miles (26 kilometres) apart – the distance a horse could travel in a day. Towns such as Cust in Canterbury and Havelock North in Hawke’s Bay developed from places where stage coaches stopped, and some settlements grew up around blacksmiths and farriers (who care for horses’ hooves).

Until the early 20th century, towns usually had stables and horse paddocks in the suburbs. There were water troughs on the street, and hitching posts on hotel verandahs and shop fronts. Heavy horse-drawn traffic often turned the streets to mud. In summer they dried out, and the problem was dust blowing about.

How to cite this page:

Emma Meyer, 'Horses - Horses and the environment', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/horses/page-7 (accessed 26 July 2017)

Story by Emma Meyer, published 24 Nov 2008