Let me be clear from the outset, I am no kind of a horsewoman. I was never one of those girls who had their own pony, or went point-to-pointing on the weekend in the Home Counties, dressed for all weathers in a Barbour jacket and green Hunters. Until approximately 12 months ago, I believed there were only two things one needed to know about horses and those were, that the front end bit and the back end kicked. End of...
Riding lessons I did, under duress, far too late. I bruised rather than bounced and showed no particular inclination to hop straight back in the saddle. I did two years at Hout Bay riding stables, watching the friends, that I began with, progress from beginner, to dressage, to jumping, while I stayed in the kindergarten, on the lowest pony I could find. Every time someone took a tumble, they had to buy a chocolate cake for the rest of the class. Well, shall we just say that it cost me a small fortune in patisserie and we had to stop in case the horses could no longer carry us. They say that dogs can smell your fear...well let me tell you, ponies can see it a country mile away and take a Machiavellian delight in walking under low hanging branches, grinding your knee into fence posts, or taking off down an empty beach as soon as you give them a free rein.
So, I think you know what's coming, don't you?
We got 7 horses.
2 grey ponies
4 black Percherons
And 1 beautiful, gentle, fumbling, enormous Clydesdale called Mr Parker.
They are working horses. They are being trained by Petrus and Hans to pull the irrigation pods and also carts and carriages. When they are not working, they get taken for rides around the farm to check on the fencing, herd the angus and sometimes just for fun.
Like Petrus says "You leave all your problems on top of a horse."
He's absolutely right. There is nothing more relaxing than plodding down farm tracks on the back of a slow, warm horse in winter.
At first I approached them cautiously, backing away nervously from their hind legs and pulling my hand away sharply at the first twitch or curl of a lip. Gingerly, I swept my hand under their luxuriant manes and brushed the back of my fingers against their noses, marveling at the texture, soft as raspberries.
Then one day, when I was not paying attention - on the phone, moaning at the children to be careful - Mr Parker sidled up to me and started to rub his head on my shoulder. Absently, I responded with a lazy scratch and then he leant into it with his whole neck . Clearly, I had found The Spot. Next thing he had me with both hands and all my weight, raking his fur, going up a bit, up a bit, left a bit, down a bit, covered in horse hair and laughing like a mad child.
And that, was all it took.
I think we are friends now, Parker and I. He indulgently, me awkwardly still, a bit.
I sense that there is a long road ahead of us in terms of learning and experience which I am looking forward to immensely and with some trepidation.
It occurs to me that humans and horses go back a long way together, which is reflected in the language we use. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth...get back in the saddle...hold yer horses...gagging at the bit..give him a long rein...I bridled at that...from the horse's mouth...you're flogging a dead horse mate...he's a bit of a dark horse...ooh look at you up on your high horse...and my personal favorite..slamming the stable door long after the horse has bolted!
In a matter of a generation, from my father's childhood to mine, horses have gone from being a common-or-garden requirement of everyday life, to being the exclusive pastime of a select few. A sport, shrouded in mysterious jargon and obscure categorization.
I feel proud to be a part of a small movement that is bringing these most noble and patient animals back to their rightful place in agriculture, and I encourage anyone who feels intimidated by their bulk, or who perhaps can't tell their martingale from their cavesson, to come and meet our crew of gentle giants at Boschendal and maybe even come for a ride!