Little girls love Kelly Wilson; really love her. Horsey kids who dream of riding ponies and taming wild stallions just like she does will stand in long queues to have books signed or beg their parents to drive them up a kilometre or so of rutted gravel road to seek her out at the Northland property she lives on with her family.

There's one here today with her parents. Wilson's father got talking to them in town after they'd spotted the Wilson sisters' branding on the side of the SUV he was driving so of course he had to bring them home to meet his famous daughter, because why wouldn't he make a kid's dream come true.

Wilson takes it in her stride. She isn't put out at the intrusion but nor does she seem especially flattered by the attention. The star-struck kid gets a tour of the property, a pat of Daminos the £41,000 ($76,000) stallion, a photo with Wilson and then she's on her way.

This kind of thing has become routine at the Wilson place since she and her sisters, Vicki and Amanda, starred in top-rating TVNZ show Keeping Up With The Kaimanawas. The first time it happened Wilson was surprised by fans while still in her pyjamas but posed up for a photo anyway.


"I think I looked okay," she says.

Almost certainly she looked gorgeous. She and her sisters are all big toothy smiles and long swishy hair, and being photogenic hasn't hurt them. The high profile that the television show brought has led to other opportunities they've grabbed with both hands. For Wilson, 28, that has meant a career as a best-selling author, first writing non-fiction books about the sisters' adventures with wild horses, then a kid's picture book and now a series of children's novels, again based on their real lives.

She finds writing a breeze. "I do 1000 words an hour and it's normally good enough to go straight to an editor," she says, matter-of-factly.

Her first attempt at producing a book took her a grand total of eight days. "I never planned to be an author,' she recalls. "But when our first Kaimanawa horse, Major, died, I decided to jot it down his story just for our own memories - what he achieved as an 18-year-old stallion coming out of the wild was remarkable. And then everyone said it was really good and I should send it to a publisher.'

That story ended up being re-shaped into her first book, For The Love Of Horses, which details the sisters' hard-scrabble rural childhood. She revisits those years in the first of her Showtym Adventures novels, Dandy, The Mountain Pony, describing picking grass from the roadside because there was no money for horse feed and being mocked by other kids at ribbon days for having feral ponies and ratty old gear.

"For a long time I was embarrassed by our childhood," says Wilson. "We had nothing. We'd go round horse shows and collect leftover slices of hay to feed our ponies because we couldn't afford to buy any. We were rugged-as but our parents taught us that if we worked hard and were determined to make things happen then they would. Now I look back and I'm so proud of where we come from."

Both her parents are artistic - father John sculpts in metal, mum Heather did the illustrations for Dandy, The Mountain Pony. They brought up three daughters with a fierce work ethic that is underpinned by a strong Christian faith. Wilson attends the Arise church in Whangarei and says her religion forms a foundation for so much of what she does.

"It's been hugely beneficial in how we treat people," she says. "It's taught us to be generous with others, generous with the knowledge we have. It's been fundamental in our training methods with horses, too."

All three sisters are famously clean-living. They're not into partying and drinking - Wilson will have a glass of bubbles at a special celebration - and there have never been lots of boyfriends on the scene. At their Showtym Camps for young riders they're all about old-fashioned values. Kids have to put away their screens and get muddy, playing outdoor games like tug-of-war and bush-bashing, just like the sisters once did.

"We've become, by default, role models and I'd like to think we're pretty good ones," says Wilson. "The way we were brought up was valuable and if we can communicate some of those lessons to kids today that's good."

Training flighty and reactive wild horses has paid dividends when it comes to wrangling difficult people. "If a horse is rearing or bucking, rather than assuming it's being naughty, we try to work out why it's behaving that way," says Wilson. "Does it have an injury or issues with its teeth, is the saddle fitting properly? That translates back to the people we've met. When someone's being difficult or misbehaving, we always question what's happening under the layers to cause them to act out that way? The more we learn about horses, the more we learn about people."

Although she grew up riding, Wilson describes herself as the least horsey of the sisters. She even had time out from country life while working as a graphic designer in Auckland but now she's firmly back in the fold. All three sisters live on the family property, Amanda in her parent's house, the others in separate dwellings. In Wilson's case that means a comfortable but plain farmhouse with a washing line by the front door and the classic Kiwi barn, full of rusty old equipment, beside it. She may be earning a good living from the bestselling books and all the endorsements and sponsorship the sisters have attracted but the money isn't being splashed about here.

Anything truly flashy that the Wilsons have is out in the paddocks - in particular the three expensive horses they bought last year at auction in the UK, two stallions and a mare that are part of a mission to put the showjumping sisters on podiums at the Olympics and the World Equestrian Games.

Because while New Zealand riders have had international success as eventers we haven't done as well in other equestrian disciplines and the Wilsons are determined to change that that. Their innovative plan involves raising $1.25 million from a syndicate of up to 250 owners to buy and compete an elite team of 10 sport-horses. They've branded themselves Team WS and they're well on the way, with plans to do more horse shopping early next year.

Team WS is a hugely ambitious project and has had its setbacks. Currently Vicki is grounded after suffering a serious concussion as well as a series of dislocations that require surgery (earlier this year she won US$100,000 in a Western-style competition that saw her training a wild horse in under three hours while nursing a dislocated shoulder).

Being a Wilson sister is all about resilience and pushing on. People get hurt, beloved horses die, dreams are thwarted, "But you've just got to bounce back and focus on the positives rather than get sunk by the negatives," says Wilson.

While she's a big part of Team WS, Wilson isn't aiming to be up on those podiums with her sisters. Showjumping at that level doesn't interest her anymore. "It scares me jumping big. I just don't like it," she says.

Still, being a Wilson sister is also about facing up to your fears so she borrowed one of Vicki's champion horses and jumped it over a 1.5m fence (for context, that's slightly less than the height of the average New Zealand woman).

"I like to challenge myself so I wanted to do one jump," she says. "It was terrifying and I never want to do it again."

Generally she isn't interested in being limited by her fears. To conquer an issue with heights for instance she booked in to do a skydive.

"Now I'm kind of an adrenalin junkie: wing walking, ice-climbing, bungy jumping, snowboarding, pretty much anything. Life is supposed to be lived and you can't be doing things half-heartedly in fear of injury."

Her mother Heather describes her as someone who has a strong drive to excel at everything she does.

"Even as a child everything had to be perfect and done to her best," she says. "I remember once she asked a teacher what she needed to do to get an A rather than a B for something and the teacher said, 'For goodness sake, Kelly, can't you be happy with a B?'"

Her parents could see their daughter was struggling to keep up with elder sister Vicki, a super-talented and completely fearless rider, so they helped her to develop her own strengths.

"She's always been artistic," says Heather. "She can create beauty out of everything whether it's laying a table or wrapping a parcel. So we got her first camera to encourage her in that direction."

That creative talent is paired with a smart business brain and Wilson is very much the driving force behind Team WS, says Heather. "Her willingness to support her sisters is incredible."

The more we learn about horses, the more we learn about people, says Kelly Wilson. Photo / Guy Coombes
The more we learn about horses, the more we learn about people, says Kelly Wilson. Photo / Guy Coombes

At 17, she wrote a bucket list of 100 things she wanted to achieve and experiences she aimed to have. So far she's ticked off 95 of them.

"What's left? Getting married. And a few silly things I don't care about anymore. I wasn't that adventurous when I started it and I am now. So I've created another list of 100 and I'm probably a third of the way through that."

Getting married remains on her agenda but she just hasn't met the right guy yet. "I want someone I can have adventures with and live an awesome life," Wilson says.

Her Mr Right doesn't have to be horsey. It's more important that he shares her values, her love of travel and extreme sports, and enjoys a country lifestyle. Plus it would be helpful if he got on with her sisters.

"I already have a great life," she says. "Someone who can add to that, make it even better, that's the guy of my dreams."

Wilson once told Horse & Pony magazine that she and her sisters are the type of people who like to go for the impossible and push the boundaries. So if they get asked to tame wild mustangs in the US, or brumbies in Australia, or stage a theatrical horseback extravaganza, they say yes first then work out the logistics later.

"There is so much you can get out of life if you make the most of opportunities," says Wilson. "I see people that have so much potential but are too busy on PlayStations or social media; they need to get outside and start living life." Not her. She says she recently deleted all the social media apps from her phone and is staying away from Facebook and Instagram. "My quality of life has improved dramatically. I think it's been one of the highlights of my year."

It's meant more time to train her horses and also more for writing, which given that she's halfway through a four-book deal with plans for at least four more children's novels, can only be a good thing.

The pony book phenomenon is nothing new. In the 1950s little girls were hooked on Ruby Ferguson's Jill books and novels by the prolific Pullein-Thompson sisters kept them going through the 20th century. For the past decade Auckland writer Stacy Gregg has made a living from the international success of her Pony Club Secrets and Pony Club Rivals series and her stand-alone novels. And now the genre is becoming even more popular according to Debra Millar publishing director of Penguin Random House.

"It's purely a hunch but I think that's because it's more difficult for city kids to have a horse of their own," she says. "They live vicariously through the books and insert themselves into the story. It becomes an absolute obsession for children of a certain age - switching on at about 7 and running until 12 or 13."

Penguin Random House has sold 20,000 copies of Wilson's first book alone. It was seeing kids in the signing queue for what was meant to be an adult title that inspired the publishers to sign her up for the children's stories.

Writing is now her main source of income. She tells a story about flying in from Australia and writing down author as her occupation on the arrivals card.

"Customs pulled me up and grilled me for an hour. They must have seen the TV show because they said I should have written horse trainer and that it was a legal document and I was breaking the law if I lied on it. But I'm 100 per cent an author. I make all of my money from the books. I only train horses for fun and actually they just cost me money, rather than making me money."

Getting rich isn't the point of it all anyway, says Wilson. Her pleasures in life are simple; cantering horses round the farm and swimming them in the river. What the money does is allow her to reach more people with the Wilson sisters' message about horse welfare and the need to find homes for tens of thousands of wild brumbies and mustangs that are destined for slaughter.

She's also a talented photographer - her images grace her latest non-fiction title. Saving The Snowy Brumbies. Sister Amanda is a photographer, is also writing a book and shoots documentaries. Vicki is in demand internationally for horse training clinics.

But don't they ever fight and get sick of each other? "Yes, of course. All sisters do at some point," says Wilson. "But we all respect each other's individual skills and we're all absolutely aware that none of us would be where we are today without the support of each other. That's been phenomenal. If I look back at the major milestones of my life I'm always there with my sisters."

Saving The Snow Brumbies (Penguin, $45) and Dandy, The Mountain Pony (Puffin, $15) are published on October 2.