I didn’t know that I was different from my family. I didn’t know that a passion for horses existed in me that was foreign to my parents and siblings. My earliest memories around horses are associated with a pair of cart horses that pulled a man’s cart through our neighbourhood. He used to do a regular delivery to a house across the road from us. I was very small and we lived on a busy road, but I disobeyed adults and my own sense of safety when I heard the “clip-clop” of the horse’s hooves coming down the hill.
I would rush to the kitchen, grab a carrot or an apple and dash out the gate and across the road to give those horses a snack. They weren’t particularly friendly horses and I was afraid. They didn’t show any appreciation for my generosity. Sometimes all I saw was teeth, and rolling eyes inside the blinkers. I think they found me more annoying than rescuing, but they ate the carrots.
I never questioned the state of poverty that the man lived in. I never questioned the state of neglect, semi-starvation and cruelty that those horses existed in. One of them had a piece of wire in its mouth where the bit should have been on the bridle. I gave those horses carrots and all I saw was horse. If they came down the hill and stopped across the road at the neighbour’s house, I had a chance to engage with them and that was the ultimate highlight of my day.
Until one day the man finished his delivery while I was still feeding the horse and the horse bared its teeth at me and the man was furious (because he would have been in so much trouble if that horse had bitten me… but I didn’t know that) and he threatened me so that I never had the courage to cross the road and visit the horses again.
But I learned that something inside of me was drawn to horses, and I had the courage to cross a busy road alone just to be with them, even if it meant being scared and possibly even bitten. To me, being close to those horses was so wonderful, nothing could keep me away.
A PRINCE FOR A PRINCESS
Just about every 15 year old girl wants to be rescued by a charming Prince. Mine was a horse, who came into my life as a gift from my uncle. “Student Prince” or “Student”, as I and my cousins called him. He was a solidly built South African Boerperd cob with a Roman nose. I loved and adored this horse, who lived on a farm where I spent my holidays. Every opportunity that arose, I embraced with enthusiasm, off to the farm to spend a weekend or a week in the company of a dearly beloved horse.
My riding lesson days were at an end and the horse on the farm was my only opportunity to be close to one. I was so excited about being able to turn all the information I had learned from books into real experiences. To my uncle’s delight, my visits were not just about tacking up a horse and going riding, we cleaned tack, groomed the horses, picked out their hooves and mucked out their stables. Sometimes the old leather saddles and bridles were mildewed and stiff from months of no use. Those were the best days of my youth. My cousins and I rode out on the farm and the neighbour’s farms. We rode the hill country and knew all the gates between the different farms. We took the farm roads towards Belfast and Machadodorp, getting to know the different ways that were possible. We also rode along the main road, which was the principle artery from Johannesburg (and Pretoria) to Nelspruit and Mozambique.
I believed that I taught Student to jump and to navigate rocky hillsides and streams. In retrospect, he probably had very good foundation training as he managed anything I asked of him. We generally had loads of fun with schooling and outrides. Once we took the Dalmanutha road to the neighbour’s farm across the highway. It was an epic full day ride, several hours there and then the short way back over the hills.
One night my cousin and I crept out of the house, caught the horses at midnight and saddled them up, going for a ride up on the crest of the hills behind the farmhouse. The hillside was covered in thick mist. Our intention was to see if the ghost of the old Lydenberg stagecoach would appear on the rutted remains of the old coach road that still cut across the hillside on the farm. Unbeknownst to us, if there were going to be any ghosts, they would likely have been the ghosts of soldiers who died in the South African War in the battle of Berg en Dal. Needless to say, we saw no ghosts. We got lost in the mist in the middle of the night. When we came to a fence we followed it until we came to the farm gate and rode home. It was cold, dark, damp and dreary, but not so dark that the horses couldn’t find their way. After that we were happily convinced that ghosts don’t exist.
Towards the end of my final year at school I wasn’t able to visit the farm at all. For 6 months I did not see Student Prince. In the summer of my 18th year I heard that he had contracted a severe form of African Horse Sickness and he was gone from the world.
Nothing compares with the joy that horse gave me as a teenager, I was completely obsessed with everything horsey, but once I left school and went to Uni, it seemed that horses were not so important and I had finally, to my parent’s relief, “Gotten over “ them. I was happy to believe that too, but it wasn’t to be.
A FIRST HORSE IS FOREVER
When Student Prince died, I thought I was over horses and was never going to look back. I had developed a keen interest in mountaineering and rock climbing and my interests took me on other journeys. I moved directly from a degree in biology to a degree in veterinary science. I married and had a daughter. Our second child was born while we were living in Utrecht for a year. Every day I would take our eldest to Kindy and pass a field with a horse. Sometimes the horse was not there and I felt disappointed. When we returned to South Africa, I vowed to get myself a horse.
I found a place where I could go riding on a small game reserve. The owner was a riding instructor and also ran private liveries. After a few months of searching I found a horse for sale at a nearby place and brought him to live at the stables. His sire was a Namib Desert Horse, a wild horse from one of the world's most arid deserts. The wild father had been captured and domesticated for a research project, and was then integrated into a captive breeding program as he could not be returned to the wild. My horse's mother was a Cape Boerperd, so he carried the genetics of two of the emerging breeds of horse in Southern Africa.
He was a bright bay colt of three years old, with two weeks of training, when I tacked him up for the first time and climbed on his back. That's when the fun began. He took off at a bucking gallop down the fenceline and did a 180 switch when he got to the end which left me sitting on the fence with my right leg woven through three strands of wire. I was bruised, my ego was bruised, and I was beginning to realise that this horse was going to have to be restarted from scratch. He was my first horse and training him was one of the most rewarding journeys of my life. He taught me so much.
We trained for endurance rides and completed endurance rides. I rode him while I was pregnant with my third child. When I had more work and family commitments he was ridden by my daughters. He won rosettes at fund-raiser days and riding school events. He was a formidable trotter. He did dressage and showjumping. He was the first horse that my youngest child rode (and fell off). He was solid and dependable and a little quirky.
Born in 1990 on 5 October, he came to me in November 1993. I committed to him fully, and he was committed in return. He had one injury in 2014 where he ruptured a tendon sheath below the hock, an injury that took several months to heal. When we made our decision to move to New Zealand in 2014, it was an inevitable and unavoidable parting. He found a place in an Equine Assisted Psychotherapy programme and to the best of my knowledge has just celebrated his 30th birthday.
Being a staunch romantic and a person with strong loyalty and commitment, I chose a name for him from the Louis L'Amoure novel "Hondo". In this story, an Apache marriage is recounted, and the couple say just one word: Varlebena. It means "forever".
Anne Vogel is inspired by horses. She has been engaging with horses since her childhood. Her life journey has been about finding balance between the aspects of science and art. Her early training is in biological sciences and veterinary science. She followed a research career in pathology and virology then returned to horses and their health and well-being. Now she is a Life Coach, bringing the art of the horse to the healing and inspiring of people.