hogsback, e. cape or horse riding
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.