How horse power can make a better world
and Basotho ponies – stamp and snort for attention in the open-sided stables opposite.
Disillusioned with life back home, Frankie came to Malawi to spend time working with her oldest friends, Alice and Nina Pulford. “Their dad is my godfather; we had Saturday jobs in stables together,” she explains. Alice and Nina founded an orphanage in Malawi 10 years ago, which grew into Love Support Unite (LSU), a sustainable model to lift communities out of poverty.
“When you spend time in Malawi,” says Alice, while serving breakfast, “you realise people don’t need charity, but support.” They raise money for LSU through the sale of Love Specs, fun festival glasses that make wearers see rainbow hearts (available at lovespecs.org, from £10). “We want to see a world filled with love, so it’s the perfect message for us.”
Frankie continues: “Just before I was due to go home, Alice and Nina arranged a day riding here at Kande Horse as a surprise. We were having lunch after the ride and daydreaming about all the magical things we could do if we owned it. The manager overheard and told us it was for sale. We had some money put aside for a deposit for a flat in London. But somehow one thing led to another and we ended up making an offer on the ranch! We weren’t looking for a business, let alone 15 horses, a guesthouse and a 60-acre ranch!”
That was in October 2015, and the girls – with help from partners and friends – have spent the past two years loving Kande Horse back to life. “Of course we didn’t realise that nothing really worked, or know anything about the challenge of keeping horses in Africa,” says Frankie. “Or that monkeys would keep eating our pumpkins.” Today people come as guests or, for a smaller fee to cover board and food, volunteers. But everyone receives the same warm welcome.
The guesthouse has had a makeover – wood-panelled bedrooms are trimmed with local textiles. And for volunteers there’s a simple but stylish dormitory as well as bell tents. The girls are working towards creating a sustainable farm and tree nursery, where herbs, fruit and vegetables are harvested seasonally. Guavas, mango, passion fruit, pumpkin, tomatoes, tamarind and cashews end up in meals prepared in the kitchen by Amos the chef. And they’ve just hosted a yoga and wellness retreat, too.
Sleeping in bell tents at the back of the farmhouse means that the day starts when the rooster crows at 5am. In the yard, a soft golden light diffuses the stillness, and Mr Finnigan the cat sits atop a fence post surveying his empire. The grooms begin to arrive at 6am, Nina’s small son Indie totters about collecting eggs, and the ranch stretches into life. I shadow Christopher, who has worked at Kande since long before the girls arrived. I’m volunteering with the horses, which includes working in the stables, grooming and general welfare, as well as exercising and riding them, so good equine knowledge is required and it’s not suitable for novice riders. But, as Frankie explains, they are careful not to let volunteers take work from local grooms, of whom they employ seven.
You don’t have to be horsey to volunteer here, though. Ben – the other volunteer at Kande during my stay – has been here for three weeks, and not touched a horse. He’s been busy building an outdoor bath and wellness centre where Alice will one day offer massages. Previously Jodie, an artist and signwriter, designed a sign for the driveway; someone else built an outdoor pizza oven. Here, volunteering is what you make of it.
We ride out early, before the sun is fully in the sky. Christopher and I talk about the difference the girls have made to the ranch: on his day off he farms maize and rice, thanks to a loan from Kande. The horses bounce along at a lively pace, throwing up clouds of red dust. There are several treks around the property, through the butterfly and bird-filled forest, or through marshland to the beach. I prefer the latter because we pass villages and schools, giving us an insight into local life. Families cook together outside, children play and everywhere, there is music.
Best of all is the gallop as we approach the beach, and the ride along the glorious shore of Lake Malawi. Life here is lived on the lake. There are no sunbathers, but instead families wash themselves and their clothes in the early morning sun. We ride our horses to the wooded area at the back of the beach and dismount, removing their saddles. Then we ride the horses bareback into the lake to cool them down, and drink, and swim.
Each day is different here. There’s