Bicentenary of the Arrival of the Horse in New Zealand
200 years of Service: Bicentenary of the Arrival of the Horse in New Zealand
The arrival of Samuel Marsden’s ship at Rangihoua in the Bay of Islands on 22nd December 1812, marks the first arrivals of horses and some other livestock in New Zealand 200 years ago. In a country that has been largely defined by agriculture, these first three horses (a stallion and two mares) should be celebrated according to NZ Horse Network.
The horse that has been our transport, helped clear bush, ploughed fields, packed supplies and been the drovers workhorse, provided sport and recreation and even sacrificed their lives in wars for this nation. In many cases our small towns have been created based on the distance a horse can travel in a day, or the existence of blacksmith.
“Professor Tom Brooking stated in one of his lectures that we should consider New Zealand to have been created on the back of the horse, rather than the back of the sheep.” Says Vivien Dostine, President of NZ Horse Network. “While the arrival of Christian missionaries is a milestone in our history, it is the horse and other livestock that arguably truly defined and created New Zealand as a nation. 200 years since these first arrivals is something we need to celebrate.”
One of the mares on that first arrival with Marsden was a gift from the governor of New South Wales to the Ngāpuhi chief Ruatara; Maori immediately understood the value of these amazing beasts. From the 1840s, some tribes purchased, or were gifted, significant numbers of horses and owned more than local pākehā communities. Te Maitaranui, an important Ngāi Tūhoe chief, first saw horses in the Bay of Islands. The tribe bought their first horse in the 1840s, naming it Tūhoe to demonstrate its importance to the iwi. By the 1850s, horses were the main form of land transport for Māori, and they were used extensively in the 1860s wars.
Horse racing and other equestrian pursuits were the nation’s first sports. Races were held in the Bay of Islands in the 1830s, and by the 1840s official meetings were organised in Auckland and Wellington. It was in Wellington that the first thoroughbred, a stallion called “Figaro” arrived, and raced along Petone beach in 1841, while the Canterbury Cup was first run in 1866. The first rugby game was not held until much later in 1870, a long way behind equestrian sports. The polo association was established in 1891 and New Zealand’s first hunt, the Pakuranga Hunt was formed in 1872.
The importation of horses, mainly from Australia and to a lesser extent from Britain, and the Americas (both North and South) really began in the 1840s. By the 1880s New Zealanders had six times as many horses per capita as Britons; one for every three people in New Zealand compared to one for every 18 in Britain. Photos sent back to Britain by early settlers frequently show the family with their horse in front of their house, showing their improved circumstances. Importantly horses, and therefore a greater level of independence, were available to women in New Zealand. Women commonly rode astride earlier than their British counterparts, and they were supported by the male population in doing so for safety reasons. By 1900 there were more than 260,000 horses in New Zealand. At its peak in 1911 the horse population reached 404,284. The motor vehicle only overtook the horse in numbers in the 1950s.
2014-2015 are hugely important years for the horse in New Zealand as we celebrate the bicentenary of their arrival this December, and we also commemorate the WW1 centennial when thousands of New Zealand horses were sacrificed on the fields of war.
NZ Horse Network is encouraging all riders, horse owners and those associated in the equine industry to mark the bicentenary of the arrival of the horse on 22/23rd December, and fully supports the initiatives to create a memorial to New Zealand’s warhorses.
For more information on the arrival and impact of horses on New Zealand society you may wish to visit
Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, 'Horses - Introduction of the horse' www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/horses/page-1
Or NZ Horse Network “Culture of the Horse” www.nzhorseriders.info/culture