A short tour - Nambia's Arabian Breeders
After the Walvis Bay ride, Anette Hanekom gave me a ride to Okajandja - about 300 km east of the Atlantic coast. Anette's guest house was full so she arranged a room for the night at Okahandja Lodge.
This is a popular time of the year for hunters who come to Namibia from all over the world to hunt game - it is late winter and the summer rains have dried up, the grass is brown, the trees and bush are just beginning to green - and the animals can be found at the waterholes - easier to track and spot. After a lovely restful night at the lodge - the first real night's sleep since arriving in Namibia - I went to breakfast with Anette and her daughter Vanette at a little German cafe in Okajandja. There are many Germans in Namibia - and I heard that sometimes the Germans in Namibia are more German than the Germans in Germany :) preserving their culture, banding together, home away from home...
Okapuka Horse Safaris
Okapuka Horse Safari Gallery || Okapuka Horse Safaris Website
After breakfast Anette and Vanette drove me to Okapuka Game Park. At Walvis Bay I had met one of Anette's friends - Ingerbord Helmes - and was immediately taken with her energy and enthusiasm, and jumped at the offer to visit her at Okapuka.
Inger came to Namibia with her husband ten years ago. On a previous visit to the country they ended their tour at Okapuka, where Inger had heard that there were horses to ride - through a game park - and that was that. They returned to Europe but kept in touch with Fritz, the crazy Austrian (prior Formula One race car driver) who owned Okapuka, and eventually convinced him that he needed to expand his stable and horse riding operation, and they were just the ones to do it. Ten years later the stable is a large thriving business, and Inger is on her own now but determined to keep her business and her life in Namibia.
She has a large string of horses for her clients who come on week long safaris, spending the week exploring the grasslands and mountains, enjoying the park, the game, the horses. Inger also has stallions and mares (Arabians of Egyptian breeding) and breeds horses for her business and for Endurance riding, of which she is one of us - hopelessly hooked on this sport.
After saying goodbye to Anette, we took my stuff to my room for the night, and headed to the stables. It was so nice to be warm again! The Atlantic coast of Namibia is quite cool - the Benguela current runs along the coast, south from the north Atlantic - a current of very cold water that keeps the coastal areas cool - especially when the wind blows off the ocean. But farther inland it quickly becomes warm.
It was just perfect right now - late winter, the sun strong but not treacherous. Inger showed me around - her horses and stallions - small (more typical of classic Egyptian bloodlines) but tough looking stock. She recently purchased a stallion from Idaho - from a breeder who lived just 5 miles from us - such a small world!! But the stallion was currently in South Africa - being trained and prepped for a show - so I didn't get to see him.
We (Inger, her neice Sasha and I) finally saddled up and went for a ride. I went crazy from the beginning - game was everywhere - springbok and kudo and wildebeast (funny animals!) and hartebeast and oryx and warthogs and GIRAFFES - so close I could almost count their long beautiful eyelashes - they are gorgeous animals! (but unfortunately I was using a borrowed camera - mine was stolen in Germany! - and didn't realize until we got back that most of the images didn't take) Jackals and guinea fowl and foxes and past a pond where we saw a huge female (I took this at her word :) crocodile wallowing in the shallow - and so many more animals whose names I can't recall.
We kept moving up the valley - mountains on the right, open veldt to the left, bordered by another mountain range. We finally spotted the zebras and Inger said - let's go and see if we can catch them - there's nothing like a canter with a herd of zebras.
I led off with my anglo-arab cross 'Champion' - down the road, off onto some game trails, we would get close but the zebras were wary and kept darting off to the side. I finally led us into a thorn thicket and we had to back-track out of it - back to the road. At that point we sort of gave up on the zebras...
But the rhinos almost made up for it! We rode back to the main camp, more oryx, etc etc etc on the way, and crossed the RR tracks to the other side of the park. Inger called on her radio to one of the rangers who told here where the rhinos had last been sighted. A mother and her new calf. These are white rhinos - a little more docile than the black rhinos. An interesting story - rhinoceri are actually neither white nor black - but there are some with an especailly large lower lip or jaw - these were referred to by the Dutch as 'Vadt' - or 'fat' - which was eventually translated to 'white' . and if there is a 'white rhino' then the other variety must be a 'black rhino'. (a little rhino trivia :) .
We rode towards where the cow and calf had been last spotted (by now I was getting used to the kudos, oryx, springbok, etc etc etc) and sure enough there they were. A very very large mother and her relatively small, but still very large baby. We were watching them from a reasonable distance (even though the white rhino are less agressive than the black rhino, they are still quite dangerous and unpredictable and do charge) - when one of the safari rigs with tourists came around the road.
A ranger jumped out and threw some corn into the grass and the pair came closer to eat the grain. The tourists were snapping photos right and left, and as we rode closer (fairly safe now that the mother was distracted with the grain) they started taking pictures of us too! I supposed three womeen on horseback a few hundred feet from a rhinocerus mother and calf were worthy of photos :)
We eventually returned to camp, the sun going down, the lovely Acacia trees (which were in bloom and had a sweet fragrance) silhoueted by the red sky... wow - such a treat, such a lovely moment for me. We came upon a herd of Oryx - they saw (or heard) us and ran off into the brush - and I didn't even try to photograph them - just watched from the saddle, and pinched myself to see if it was real.
We returned to camp and gave the horses their well deserved grain. I went with Inger to her house - close to the stable, big veranda facing west. We shared a bottle of red wine (South African of course) and swapped stories while the night fell. Jackals calling in the distance, sweet smokey African air.
I had a lovely dinner at the lodge with Inger, Sasha, and Udi? (Sasha's boyfriend).
I chose 'springbok oriental' - very nice. The only way the game parks can maintain ecological balance is by 'harvesting' the animals periodically - so I was enjoying the harvest of one if the beautiful little colorful animals...life and economy. Inger had a wonderfully prepared Hartebeast steak, Sasha and Udi ate beef! More wine, conversation, a few animals (including the silly looking warthogs) congregated on the expansive lawn beyond the restaurant which was lit so that one could see the grazing animals - special effects for the tourists, but even so - very nice - after all, I was in Africa!
Another wonderful night's sleep - punctuated by a few loud and urgent sounds outside (lions? or maybe just the family of owls that lived in the eaves). And then Inger took me on a drive to the other part of the park. We went to a beatiful rolling grassland - more game, more interesting topography - rolling grasslandds, brush, acacia forest canopies, and a potential ridecamp for an Endurance Ride! (hold me back... :) And then she said "shall we go into the mountains?" - of course! We crossed the camp area, and headed into the mountains.
We stopped at a water hole (solar powered pump, bringing water to the game during the dry months) and Inger put 'Chip' - the Landcruiser - into 4wd - compound low - (with a little help from Udi - the lower gears were sticky). Inger is not a large person, but she is confident and capable, and I felt totally at ease with her as we started the vertical climb (actually I wished I were driving myself - I love this stuff).
We drove up and around and over - beautiful land! She hadn't driven this area for a while, and there were a few new 'roads' that Fritz had punched through - for access and fireline control and fence repairs. We had one 'moment' when after descending one of the steeper fireline roads, we discovered that the road back up the other side was too steep for 'Chip' - so we tried to back-track, but that was too steep as well - loose soil and rock didn't provide enough traction - after 3 unsuccesfull charges up the hill, and slow cautions reversed decents back down, Inger decided to try a new route - that didn't look very promising but it was the only other choice at the moment.
I felt totally relaxed and in my element here - maybe all the years of driving icy roads and snow drifts in northern Idaho, or exploring the Owyhee desert by quad and Subaru, or driving the dunes in Abu Dhabi ... or just plain stupidity... but this is the stuff I like. A little adrenaline...
We eventually arrived back in camp (after seeing a herd of mountain zebra grazing on the hillside, charging up the slope when they heard the engine) and I very reluctantly threw my bags into Mike's truck (he had come to pick me up) to leave Okapuka and head for Windhoek (capital of Namibia).
Windhoek - Mike Brederkamp
Mike Brederkamp drove me on a quick tour of Windhoek - a very bright and clean and lovely city. Population of around 200,000 (Namibia's largest city) - built on rolling hills - a strange mix of mediterranean and Spanish architecture, brightly painted stucco facades, palms and bouganvillas and flowering trees. I really liked it. We toured the old German churches and buildings, and new extravagent (and not yet completed) Goverment palace.
Mike recently bought a large farm outside of Windhoek - it was a little run-down so they got a good price on it - and now with work and improvement they have high hopes for the place. Mike is just beginning his breeding program, having purchased horses from other Namibian breeders - and will start aquiring some mares with top performing lines. Mike will develop a part of the large tract of land in order to help pay for improvements on the rest. He has plans to develop a game park (big business in Namibia), continue the cattle operation, and also to develop an endurance horse training center. Mike gave me a quick tour of his place - pointing far into the distance to show me his boundaries (most of the farms here are at least 5000 hectares - or about 12,000 acres - big)
My travel plan at that point was to hitch a ride to Gobabis with Peter and Lientje de Witt - they had just left Walvis that morning - 2 rigs full of horses and camp stuff (tanks, etc) and kids. They arrived at Mikes looking rather tired...
But a wonderful lunch with Mike's family, conversation, a little rest, and they were ready to drive on to Gobabis where they have their farm (another huge cattle farm). I rode east with Linki - we stopped at a small town for fuel, and another small town for a quick tour of a shop with jewelry and african art. This region (can't remember) is rich in semi-precious stones - amethyst, jasper, many many that I had never seen. And some beautiful local craft and art. Had we been less road weary, I could have spent hours there.
Gobabis - Peter and Lientje de Witt
We arrived at the farm just as the sun was going down - the air was cooling, smelling of dust and cattle. Huge sprawling yard and huge sprawling house. The houses that I've seen in Namibia look small from the outside, but once you enter, have rooms and halls going in every direction.
Big windows on the outside, but many windowless rooms on the inside. High ceilings, tile and plaster - cool in the heat of summer. They unloaded the horses (both children Surina and Pierre had competed - and had done well), unloaded the luggage, unloaded the bags of dirty laundry, typical endurance ride homecoming.
We spent the evening over wonderfull grilled Namibian beef and red South African wine. Finally, relaxing (for a moment anyway... still laundry to do, kids to get off to school in the morning, chores to do). Their cattle operation was 'speculation' - feeding calves on the native grass for several months (depending upon the market) and then selling them to the feed lots. They do a lot of cattle transport - and also own a few transport trucks. Nice folks, good conversation - endurance and life and politics. Several generations of farming here - in cattle country 'little Texas' where there a lots and lots of cows, but hardly any people. Everybody knows everybody else and their relatives and workers and all. And I got the feeling that they all liked each other. Very open and supportive people - quick to help, quick to laugh.
WP Horse Gallery || WP Cattle Gallery
The next morning up fairly early, and back on the road. Peter drove me half way to WP's farm - north and east of Gobabis. Gravel roads - flat and straight and pretty well maintained. Lots of 'Kudu Crossing' signs - they are big animals, similar in size to the elk in North America - and a real danger to vehicles. Most people avoid driving at night becuase they kudu will congregate by the road side, and when startled leap into the road and the oncoming traffic. We saw WP's truck approaching in a plume of dust, and pulled over to throw my suitcase from Peter's rig, and off I go!
I really enjoyed the day with WP (if you pronounce this in Africaans it's sort of like 'veer peer' but I never could get it quite right, so double-u-pee it was.) He lives alone on one of several cattle farms and his passion is breeding. Cattle to make a living, and Arabian horses for pure pleasure. (there was also a family of siamese kittens roaming the house, plus some exotic looking chickens, and several friendly dogs).
He has Brahman and Limousine breeds - and produces a hearty cross. After WP showed me his beautiful horses, and made a nice lunch of eggs and sausage, he drove me out to see the cattle - and drop salt/feed blocks. Nice operation - miles of fences, windmill driven water pumps, huge acacia shaded paddocks. All of the horses here grow up on the veldt with the cattle, until they are several years old. They are then brought in and put to work for a couple years, and then - they will start their Endurance career. By the time the horses start training and competing they have already developed their natural ability, and a good work ethic. Maybe a few nicks and scrapes, but they are tough and handy and sturdy.
From one of the groups of cattle, emerged a beautiful bay stallion - just three, he was 'one of the herd' - and quite wild. WP would bring him to the farm in a few months to start his training, and probably geld him. He thought this horse would be a good one.
And from what I saw, ALL of his horses were good ones. Very very beautiful and athletic, and so nicely trained, very well in hand. WP said his goal was to breed horses of 'great beauty' and 'great athletecism. He didn't want too many, just enough that he could give each one the best training and care. He also shows the horses, on both the Namibian and South African show circuits. Plus he has some that are doing very well in Endurance. They can do it all.
Later in the day WP drove me over to Hanelie Coetzee's farm. Hanelie and her husband recently bought a large farm outside of Gobabis - currently a cattle operation, though Hanelie's husband Joey's business is game. He is a hunter, a hunting guide, their home is also a hunting lodge (though they will build a new lodge to house the growing clientelle - primarily from Norway - farther out in the bush for a more private 'natural' experience. Joey also buys/sells/transports game animals - any and all species. They hope to eventually expand and specialize larger sections of the farm for hunters, tourists, etc.
Hanelie is busy with the lodge, the farm and her two young girls, but Endurance is 'her thing' - her passion, and she is putting as much time and effort as she has into her Endurance horses and training. She has purchased a few mares, and hopes to buy a few more. There are several very nice stallions near Gobabis (WP's and Jan Pienaar) so she will stick to mares at this point. There was an outbreak of African Horse sickness this year - heavier than usual spring rains brought more of the midges (little gnat-like flies) that spread the disease. Hanelie lost 4 foals last summer to the disease. It's a bad one.
We spent the evening looking at the horses and the farm. It was an older farm and they are making may changes and improvements - it will take time, but it's a great opportunity at this point. For dinner Hanelie cooked some truffles fron the farm. Apparently this is really excellent truffle country (who would have thought!) and they employ the bushmen to find them. These people who have lived off the land for centuries are the only ones that can find them, knowing exactly where to look, and how to spot that tiny crack in the soil that forms as the fungi mature. The truffles were excellent - rich and earthy flavor.
Valerie - George and Belinda Wessels
The next morning Hanelie drove me over to George Wessel's farm - Valerie- where he would show me his horses, and also take us riding. Yes! (too much looking at horses, and not enough riding). George and Belinda have a lovely farm - well established, beautiful gardens, gorgeous location. Their children ride Endurance, as does George, as does Franz Bruck - George's hired man, and the one who took George's horse Amir to the first place finish at Walvis Bay. The mainstay of their farm is cattle - they speculate - buy and sell - and try to stay on top of the market. But Endurance has also become an important business for them. They own 2 stallions, several mares, and have been producing top performers for several years.
We looked at several of his mares and fillies (beautiful - sturdy, good strong straight legs, good feet - excellent endurance stock) and then his stallions. Wow!!! Very nice stallions - the bay stallion he has had for several years, and has thrown some great Endurance prospects. He also recently purchased one of the most stunning chestnut Arabian stallions I've seen - fantastic form - big hip, beatiful topline and naturally arched neck, great bone and feet - and abosolute 'machisimo' - his shine was natural, almost metallic - and he was absolutely full of himself. I took some pictures of him, though none of them did him justice, he was so animated - and quite a handful. As George was taking him back to the barn he said, ok - let's saddle him up and we'll go for a ride. My comment was 'You're going to ride that thing?' His comment was, 'yes, and so are you'. gulp.
It took a few hands to get him saddled - he wasn't mean, just very animated and excited and dancing around. George said 'yes, but he's really fine to ride'. right. Hanelie and I got on two nice geldings and watched as George and his hands finally got Antar going in the right direction (away from the mares) and out the gate. We rode through a few gates and paddocks, and I had been eyeing this big guy - he seemed animated but well behaved - and George said, 'Ok, your turn'. Wow. What a different feeling it is to ride a stallion! I had ridden Miguel Pavlovsky's fantastic stallion 'Moro Tigre' in Argentina - strong, forward, powerful but very sensitive to the rider - that was a treat. And this big guy was justa as incredible. He felt so powerful, and fluid - smooth and gliding - so muscular. An easy horse to sit, and very responsive - just pure power. We set out into the bush, found a dirt road, and George said, 'ok, let's go'. We broke into a canter, and covered the miles. Antar wanted to be in front, so I let him - and let him pick the pace which was a pretty good clip - figuring George would tell me if I needed to slow him down. But on we galloped. It was wonderful.
Hanelie said goodbye, she loaded her girls and the little colored girl who took care of the kids (the grand daughter of one of their long time hands - aged, and now just finishing out his life with them on the farm - this young girl left her mother (no father) to come work on the farm, work opportunities are scarce and she now has a stable life).
I had lunch with George and Belinda - really nice folks - and then George asked me if I wanted to go out for a bit - he had a meeting with some guys to look at buying a few calves. We drove out along the dusy roads, came to a little station he had set up. The owner had his calves in a pen, a loading shoot and scale set up (powered by George's truck batter) and one by one they moved the calves through the chute and weighed them. Lots of talking, flipping papers on a clipboard, negotiating, and the deal was made.
Jan and Johana Pienaar
Next stop - Jan and Johana Pienaar. Another beautiful old estabished farm, another wonderful family - a family of horsemen. Jan has one of the older Arabian breeding operations in Namibia. And a lot of horses - many many horses proving themselves on the Endurance trail already. He seems to be one of those men with an uncanny sense for horses (and cattle) - an eye for movement, sturdiness, balance. He has two stallions and some fine mares that have bred many of Namibia's endurance horses. Jan and Johana have three sons - all of them horsemen. The oldest is now living in Washington state - an accomplished trainer (Natural Horsemanship), farrier, skilled with dentisry and equine chiropractic - he is in great demand by top Equestrian performers (all disciplines) and spends much of his time travelling and consulting and helping people solve problems with their horses. Their youngest son is currently in the US, training and riding with Sue and Dennis Summers - he'll return to the US and then go to Australia to work with Endurance there (Meg Wade's farm). Then eventually back home to help run the farm (cattle and game park) and the Endurance program. Schaulk - the middle son, is home in Namibia (for now) - working for Mike (cattle and horses). He spent a year in South Dakota on a cattle farm, and is also considering a stint in Australia. Building skills around the world.
Jan took me out for a look at the horses - we drove to the various pastures. He has a lot of horses - a lot of very nice horses - separated into mares, youngsters, geldings, stallions. Like the other farmers, all of the horses on these farms earn a living. They run wild for the first few years - and are then brought in to be trained and go to work on the farm for a couple years - and then if they look like good prospects, they will begin enduranance training. I took as many photos as I could, surrounded by so many beautiful - at at times fairly wild - horses.
Johana and I went for a walk my second day there - too much sitting, needing some excersize. We walked some of the roads through the farm, and on the way back she said she'd show me where the workers lived. The farmers typically provide their workers with housing, meat (beef or game), schooling, medicine and a salary. There are several families working for the Pienaar farm - very simple, primitive dwellings - they still choose to do all of their cooking outside - in pots over fires. Very basic - dirt and cement floors, not much in the way of decoration. I asked about the AIDS problem ... yes, she said, it's very bad in Namibia. There are many orphaned, sick and homeless.
Africa - something about this land is so sad, so poignant, but it really tugs the soul. Africa was where our current human race - home sapiens - evolved. From Africa, and then eventually to spread through Asia and Europe. But because of Africa's geography (vast barriers of desert and tropics separating the northern and southern temperate climates) few of the social and agricultural advances that developed over time penetrated the continent. The southern temperate lands (South Africa, Namibia, Botwsana) remained very primitive until technical and agricultural advances (the crops and domesticated animals that humans rely on) - were introduced from abroad - by sea, not by land - and several centuries later. It is a very very old land - locked in time.
I had a wonderful time at the Pienaar farm - a chance to slow down just a little, reflect, take in the sights and sounds without having to keep one hand on the suitcase. They were very nice people, and very hard working and caring, and made me feel like a very special guest.
I absolutely loved Namibia - it is a special place. The farms and lifestyles reminded me of farm life in the US - 50 years ago. Very traditional, a little old fashioned, strong sense of community. As WP was driving down the dusty road toward Hanelie's place, we crossed paths with another truck and WP stopped and got out. He said 'out here, you never just pass by a neighbor, you always get out and say hi.' Neighbors are scarce and valued in this land. I heard so many stories of the hardships these people endured - the war between Namibians (both blacks and white) and the 'guerillas' who came down from Angola, supposedly supported by the communists, trying to take the land and farms. Many farmers were murdered, all the boys had a manadatory 2 year army service. Tough times, and people still have clear memories of that time - not that long ago - that ended in Namibia's independence and status as a free Nation in 1990.
My 'tour' ended at the the Pienaar farm. There are a few other breeders of Endurance horses, but I didn't have time for more. Two nights at this lovely place, eiland steaks, South African red wine, home made sausage and game jerky, full moon as we returned from a drive through their game park, the smell of cooking fires from the homes of their hired people, and Johanas' beautiful and creative gardens. Nice memories.