hogsback, e. cape or horse rid­ing

Getaway (South Africa) - - Travel -

The last time I was on a horse was in 2005. With the wind in my hair just like the woman in the Ti­motei ad­vert, I was can­ter­ing (bot­tom firm in the sad­dle, legs strong – hug­ging my horse’s padded tummy) on a cold wet beach in Wales while my jolly hus­band waved from a jagged out­crop, his jest­ing cheers bounc­ing off the waves. I couldn’t re­ally walk the next day. But this wasn’t the end of my rid­ing ca­reer. Now 2016, the years have slipped away and there are many things I lack but never an un­bri­dled en­thu­si­asm for ad­ven­ture. ‘Well, I can do that,’ I told my youngest, Ly­dia (17), horse-mad from age four, who was yearn­ing to go on a horse trail. And when we found just the right one – two days in the sad­dle and a night un­der the stars – the pos­si­bil­i­ties for fun and grat­i­fi­ca­tion seemed end­less. Our des­ti­na­tion was Terra-Khaya, north of Hogsback vil­lage at the end of a dirt road. Its founder, Shane Eades, is an ex­tra­or­di­nary man. Terra-Khaya is his home and menagerie – eight dogs, four pup­pies, nine horses, six cats, many chick­ens, a cock­erel and plenty of pro­duc­tive peo­ple in­volved in all sorts of projects. The week be­fore, Shane had hosted the Fes­ti­val of Trees where over 2 100 saplings were planted and 300 vol­un­teers pitched up to help. The sur­prise was that al­though there’s al­ways a hive of ac­tiv­ity here, a quiet­ness and peace pre­vails, and over the two days we were there I felt I could be as so­cia­ble or as in­tro­verted as I pleased. But I di­gress; I am here to tell you about Terra-Khaya’s unique horse trail where nat­u­ral horse­man­ship, a trust­based re­la­tion­ship be­tween hu­man and horse, un­der­pins the ethos (boy, was I go­ing to need this). Be­fore we mounted, Shane, who would be our guide for the trail, told us that his horses re­spond to voice com­mands: to slow down, you purr ‘whoa’ calmly, and ‘clk, clk’ en­cour­ages the horse to ac­cel­er­ate. These are no beasts of bur­den; the horses are guided by a rope hal­ter with­out the metal bit. I was part­nered with Baloo, a steed of gi­gan­tic pro­por­tions. Weigh­ing 700 kilo­grams, no won­der he ate so much. Two strap­ping young­sters, Gau­thier ‘Gucci’ Ame­dro and Tiziano ‘Titto’ Iosca, were ac­com­pa­ny­ing us on our ride. Their con­ti­nen­tal charm and hand­some pres­ence set the scene – rid­ing like a cowboy, Gucci’s ex­u­ber­ant ‘yee-hahs’ elec­tri­fied the air. We were styling in the Wild West: Gucci in his Hi­awatha jumper and Titto dressed im­mac­u­lately in his pressed Ital­ian at­tire. What mother wouldn’t have been pleased for her daugh­ter? Blaz­ing ahead with them, Ly­dia with poised con­fi­dence dis­ap­peared into the dis­tance while I stiffly held up the rear breath­ing in their dust. Shane moved be­tween the front and the back, guid­ing the party through ex­quis­ite scenery – up hill and down dale, through rocky grooves and open plains. I was con­tented to plod along, as was Baloo. He re­sponded kindly to my ma­tronly pace. At a rest­ing place of breath­tak­ing beauty, I asked Ly­dia if she was en­joy­ing hol­i­day­ing with me. ‘Do you have to be so stickie-outie?’ she replied. My hu­mour tickled, I felt like a creaky Don Quixote on his aged nag, Roci­nante. Gucci and Titto chided her sweetly, say­ing they

‘Ly­dia and I fell asleep to the com­fort­ing sound of the horses munch­ing sweet green clumps of grass’

would have loved to have their moth­ers on the ride. Ly­dia smiled broadly and gave me a know­ing look. I needed to lean far back. We were on a steep sec­tion and I was trust­ing that Baloo would make his way down the moun­tain with­out slip­ping or trip­ping. At one point the gra­di­ent was about 30 de­grees – it was like be­ing in a physics ex­per­i­ment. Baloo, a mas­ter at this, in­stinc­tively made his way down us­ing switch­backs. Due to in­clement weather, Shane de­cided to scrap sleep­ing un­der the stars and to overnight in the vil­lage of Elun­dini. ‘You don’t want to be out here when it’s zero de­grees,’ he said, as I was about to start whin­ing. Be­ing all toasty in our sleep­ing bags out in the el­e­ments wasn’t go­ing to hap­pen. But get­ting to Elun­dini meant more time in the sad­dle and gave us the op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence night rid­ing. I had never thought much about a horse’s vis­ual abil­ity un­til dark­ness fell and we en­tered a dense an­cient forest called Lush­ing­ton to ne­go­ti­ate a rocky path scat­tered with boul­ders and un­even gul­lies snaked with tree roots. Here I sur­ren­dered to Baloo and al­lowed him to get us out of there. I laid my head down on his mane and lis­tened to the sounds around me. Branches brushed past, twigs snapped, hooves plonked. Now and then a spark of white light darted into my vi­sion as the moon found its way in. This was the final leg of the first day. Emerg­ing from the forest, the sky was alive with mil­lions of stars; ev­ery­where else was shrouded in black. Ly­dia said, ‘I have never felt so at peace, Ma. All I can hear are the horses’ gen­tle foot­steps and some­times a trickle of a stream nearby. I’m in awe of the horses’ calm­ness; they’re so aware of their sur­round­ings. They don’t spook, even if I do.’ Elun­dini vil­lage was still as we walked along its main road, then we rounded a cor­ner and a bright burning fire came into view. Lieve Claessen and El­liot Son­jani, own­ers of Elun­dini Back­pack­ers, ral­lied around us weary trav­ellers while their kids, Elena and Lu­cas, ex­cit­edly leapt about. Fall­ing into bed that night, elated from our ad­ven­ture, Ly­dia and I fell asleep to the com­fort­ing sound of the horses munch­ing sweet green clumps of grass. Through­out our jour­ney, the horses would stop for a wee or a num­ber two. Shane said the best way to help here was to rise slightly from your seat. We did a lot of this. And I learnt an­other thing that I hadn’t thought about – horses do a num­ber two to mark their ter­ri­tory. Shane said that Baloo al­ways did one at the end of a trail in the same place, and sure enough as the late af­ter­noon light was stream­ing through the trees, Baloo stopped at the en­trance to his home and I rose ten­derly from my sad­dle.

FROM TOP The pretty boy on the trail, four-year-old Shiva; Ly­dia, Titto and Gucci ad­mire the view from a se­cret water­fall on the trail, its lo­ca­tion closely guarded by lo­cals.

FROM ABOVE Gucci with Ori­gin and Barok; I woke at 6am to find three of the horses fast asleep on the grass out­side our room at Elun­dini Back­pack­ers; early evening on the Men­zies­berg. OP­PO­SITE About to leave the back­pack­ers (from left) Titto, me, Gucci, Shane and Ly­dia.

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