Kelly Wilson has saved a lot of horses over the years, but there was no happy ending for the orphan foal she found south of Ahipara last month.

Her initial assessment was that it would be a miracle if the filly survived, but hope began to grow as the animal, believed to be around 3 months old, responded to care.

It wasn't to be, however.

"Last night we said a very sad goodbye to our wild orphan Lioness," Kelly posted on her Facebook page on Thursday.

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"After 12 days battling for her life we made the decision for the vet to put her down at 3am. It's not the outcome we were expecting or hoping for, but thanks to everyone's support and donations we were able to give her the best care possible and a fighting chance, and that's all anyone can ask for ...

"A huge thank you to my family, friends, the amazing SPCA and DOC personnel, and the vets that worked with Lioness ... You fought a good fight little girl, and without you (a second orphan foal) Lion wouldn't be alive today, so in him your spirit will live on."

Earlier she wrote that everything possible was being done for the foal, but after two difficult days she really needed to start fighting for her life again.

"It still breaks my heart that she was most likely left orphaned from someone shooting her mother. Humans really are the worst sometimes," she added.

Kelly was holidaying with family and friends when she found the filly south of Te Kohanga on December 29.

Named Lioness, partly for her fighting spirit and partly because she was immediately given water from a discarded Lion Red bottle found nearby, she was severely dehydrated and so weak she was unable to stand.

She was covered in pressure sores and riddled with ticks and lice.

"The vet and SPCA officer thought she wouldn't make it. But she's really enthusiastic, and never stops eating and drinking. Because of her healthy appetite I've always been quite optimistic. Every day she gets stronger and stronger," she said.

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Kelly, well-known as a showjumping rider, for her tireless efforts to tame and rehome wild Kaimanawa horses, as a photographer and author, was photographing the wild horses when she saw a mare and foal. Following them on foot led her to the dying orphan.

"We were about to head back when a horse appeared coming out of the dunes. I tried to photograph her, and, as she turned around, I saw a suspected bullet wound on her wither," she said.

Reports from locals indicated that the filly could have been without her mother for up to two weeks. Her mother was likely dead, as she could not be found, but Kelly could not be sure whether she too had been shot.

The filly drank eight bottles of water before she was lifted on to a tarpaulin and dragged and carried 500m to Kelly's ute. From there she had a 40-minute off-road trip along the coast, before they were able to get help.

She was taken to Kelly's Hukerenui property, and responded well to treatment, including IV drips, electrolytes, painkillers and eye treatment. Friends and family helped feed her every four hours, and regular turning to alleviate further pressure sores. A hundred "huge ticks" had been pulled off her.

More than $3700 was raised via a Givealittle page, with any money left after vet bills are paid going towards saving wild Kaimanawa horses from this year's muster.