South Africa - Arrival
South Africa - I arrived today. Relayed to the Windhoek airport(Jan-Linki-Mike), easy flight over the very very vast lands of Namibia and South Africa - to the beautiful city of Capetown - boxed in by the bay and Table Mountain, the city squeezing out to the wine country as the population grows. Corny and Adri picked me up (Corny De Villers is the Pres. of the Ground Jury, Adri is apprenticing for an FEI official) - loaded my stuff into Corny's aged (but still going strong) Mercedes, a smooth drive out of the city, past rows of shanty towns - truly nothing more than boxes and shacks where many of the blacks live. Apparently the government brought in thousands of impoverished blacks from neighboring countries in decades past to boost the population for a favorable vote (politics) - and now these people are still poor and disenfranchised and are voting against the government. (politics).
It's beautiful countryside - once we got out of the city Corny drove us into the farm land - rolling green fields of wheat, canola and miles and miles of vineyards. On leaving the airport (within seconds of closing my door) Corny asked me 'so what do you like to drink?' - not even 'do you like to drink anything?' - these folks seem to take their drinks and social time pretty seriously. So being a great fan of red wine, I was in luck - and the first stop we made was the Durbanville Winery - where we first tasted the 2004 wines - Shiraz, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pintage (a South African grape) - tough to choose, very very nice wines - but we setted on the Merlot and headed back into the countryside. More winding roads through beautiful rolling fields, and we arrived at Charmaigne's Eksteen's farm. Charmaigne is the organizer of the Saldanha ride. I'll be staying here tonight, then driving to Saldanha bay with the group tomorrow morning early.
Dinner (from Woolworths), drink and talk (Afrikaans and English) and early to bed tonight. I'll be taking pictures (and also riding!) and will try to send posts if I can, but the only internet will be from mobile phone modems - so I'm not sure how much (if any) I'll be able to do.
New adventure, new people - but these women are 'endurance' - the same around the world, and I felt immediately at home and comfortable with the chatter about horses and rides and FEI and all that stuff..
South Africa - The People
This was such a quick trip - it's hard to do a real 'story' - so maybe I'll
just start with all the people I met, and how together they weave the sport
in southern Africa. and maybe it will develop.
Corny de Villers - retired from the bio/chemical industry. now her life is
Endurance. She drinks a lot, smokes a lot, laughs a lot, and knows a lot
(about everything) - including the flora along the cape shores - she's
passionate about the land and the ecology - and loves Capetown. Corny lives
at Fauresmith (in the northern part of South Africa) and has been organizing
their 'national' ride - Fauresmith - for several years. It always falls on
her birthday, so she always has an Endurance birthday party! The Fauresmith
ride is the 'tough one' - everybody speaks of it as the ultimate challenge
in SA. 3 days - 120 km per day - and they ride it fast. Cold at night, rocky
and mountainous - this is the one that makes the eyes light up when people
talk about it. Corny is also an FEI official - she was Pres. of the Ground
Jury for this ride, and takes her job seriously - knowing and enforcing the
rules, and working with the ride manager to keep everything smooth. She
drove me around all weekend, making sure I had everything, always generous
and kind. She offered to take me on a tour of South Africa - to explore the
country from an ecological perspective - sounds wonderful!
Charmaigne and Eben Eksteen - these are the two that made the ride happen.
Charmaigne organized everything - the details. Eben spent the better part of
the week at the ride site - doing the trail, the camp, the logistics, etc.
Wonderful enthusiastic folks - tireless workers, cheerful, the folks that
keep this sport alive. They are going to be moving north soon, sorry to
leave the beautiful mediterranean climate of the Cape, but a good job
opportunity - more endurance horses - awaits them.
Ardi Pienaar - young student who rides (and her twin sister rides as well)
and is completing her requirements to become an FEI official. She lives with
her parents in Johanesburg - her stories of the crime rate, the murders and
theft, the need to live in gated higly secured homes or 'clubs' - gave me a
feeling for the tight line South Africa is walking - 15 years after
apartheid began to crumble, still tension between whites and blacks, a
government - the ANC- that wants control and racial dominance, but doesn't
quite grasp the need for economic stablity and productivity that was the
white - Afrikaans legacy. South Africa is struggling with AIDS - almost a
40% mortality rate, a minister of health that publicly stated at an AIDS
conference that garlic and coke and beet-root were adequate controls for the
disease (I may have my substances wrong, but that was the gist of her
declaration). After being bashed by the rest of the world, the ministries
are now sharing the responsibility for acknowleging, and dealing with, this
horrific problem. SA also has a very serious problem with crime, also
denied by the goverment, and they are going to have to come to terms with
this before their tourist industry suffers too deeply. (though hunters and
eco-tourists are already turning to the safer countries of Namibia and
Botswana). On the positive side, there are many Afrikaans, and coloreds,
and blacks - and Asians and Muslims - that are getting fed up and hope to
starte forming coalitions - or at least some sort of partnership - to try to
turn the government around. They are going to have to get involved and start
developing some political power. And they know this. And students like Ardi
are seeing their country through younger, and more worldly (less
traditional) eyes - they are the future of SA.
Zulu (Derek Liebenburg)- this tall South African - Afrikaaner - robust and
friendly - also fond of sharing drinks and stories - a formidable force in
Endurance in South Africa. An FEI official, a familiar sight overseas - and
also one of the personalities that fuels the sport in South Africa. In
Zulu's words "you have to be tough to live in Africa". I think he's right.
These people are incredibly open and straight forward with each other, and
they all have stories - about their lives, their parent's lives, the wars,
defending their lands, defending their families - sometimes it makes me
wince a little, their history and legacy is so entirely different from any
other people I've met - white people in a black land - whites with the
European work ethic and ability to turn bare land into a productive farm,
raw material into valuable goods. Mixed with the coloreds - the bush people
with their gentle nomadic way of life - and the blacks, most of whom have
migrated down from the north, escaping poverty and persecution, also more
oriented to living off of the land than turning the land into a living...
Unfortunately the brutal legacy of apartheid is going to last for a while, a
lot of resentment, the swing of the pendulum is throwing the country off
balance. But - these people really are tough, they (or their children) will
stick it out, and come through it. The blacks and coloreds are now on the
path to education, opportunity, ownership, equality? - with time...
The de Swardts - Anida and Marius and their son Rojan. I met them in Aachen,
they had a rider entered (more on Willa later) in the WEC. I mentioned that
I was planning on going to Saldanha and they offered me a horse, and a place
to stay. Open, warm, friendly. I rode one of their horses - Princess - a
strong and honest mare that had done several rides previously (including
160km) but was coming off of an operation to remove a bone chip, and wasn't
in full fitness form yet. So Rojan and I rode the 80km together. Rojan - 24
years old - he studied business administration but is passionate about
internet technology - and his horse.
Shadow.net - a big half Saddlebred
gelding - they rescued him days before he was headed to slaughter -
undernourished and mistrustful. He is now Rojan's horse - he trusts him, was
trained by him, you can see it in the horse's eyes. Anida and Marius have a
farm in the mountains, www.waterfallfarms.co.za - a 'wellness' center, for
guests - riders - adventurers. They love people, love company. Marius also
has an Internet business and was very curious about what John was doing, and
about Endurance.net . Rojan and I had a very wonderful ride together - the
horses were strong and forward all day, the scenery fantastic, good
Willa Botland - this was the person that touched me the most. He's very
small, colored, from a Xhosa (Bushman) father and Afrikaans mother. He is very
special. When I first met the de Swardts at the ride camp, was welcomed
right away - introduced to the horses - we saddled up and went for a little
ride. Willa doesn't know much English, but his smile and efforts at
communication, and sincere kindness impressed me right away. He was to ride
one of their horses on the 160km (which, btw he won!) He is comfortable in
the white world, and the trip to Aachen for the WEC was the experience of a
lifetime for him. He is also comfortable with his African heritage - he
spent several months being initiated as a Xhosa - the 'walkabout' - the
months on his own learning the way of survival and spiritual enlightenment
of his people. He also has a family. He was at a ride when his daughter was
born - at the Christiana ride on a horse named Mandy. So - he named the baby
girl 'Mandy Christiana'. wow. The de Swardts have given him a most
incredible life, and this he deeply appreciates. He first came to them as a
farm worker. They learned that he was also a marathon runner - and asked him
to help with the horses and training. He took to the saddle naturally, and
has become a top rider for them. The only problem is he has to add almost 20
kg of weight to ride FEI! I was taken by his looks also - small, almost
golden brown skin color - beautiful eyes. One of the other endurance riders
told me after the ride that the bushmen actually had a mix of Malaysian
blood (the Dutch brought Malay royalty exiles back to SA from Malaysia) -
and looking at Willa I can see this - and this probably also explains the
gentle and friendly nature.
Bob and Laurie Seegers - Breeders, and promoters of Barefoot in South Africa. Laurie finished the 160km ride on her barefoot mare.
I'm about to run out of internet minutes (at the airport in Capetown,
waiting for my flight to Paris - and then back to Idaho) - so will send
this. There's more though -I'll finish when I can
There was a real race to the finish on the 120km ride. Two Young Riders racing off. Not unusual from what I've seen in Namibia and South Africa. These folks call it a race. They don't always try to win, but the one who wins is celebrated by all, and those that try to win, really try to win. Both the 120km and 160km events in Namibia - Walvis Bay - were likewise highly contested - race to the finish.
Endurance in Africa
There are some interesting differences (as well as similarities)between endurance in South Africa and the USA (and other parts of the world). They've been doing some form of Endurance since 1965. The father of Maurius de Swardt (the folks who gave me a horse to ride) actually organized the first 'marathon' for horses 31 years ago. Maurius was just a boy, but remembered it well. The rules have certainly evolved since then, but the riders and horses and spirit have been alive and well in SA for quite some time. Namibia and Botswana are also doing Endurance - both National (club - e.g. AERC) and FEI. These three countries are the only countries currently competing in the southern part of Africa... though Rojan said that Maritius (on the east coast - a major quarantine and export country for horses in Africa) is also thinking of doing a ride. I told him to give them my name :)
There are several siginificant differences.
One - both Namibia and South Africa have a qualification system in place. I think Namibia has stricter qualifications than SA, but basically the horses have to do x number of 60km rides (in Namibia it's 3) and then x number of 80km rides before they can move up to either 120km or 160km rides. Since there aren't that many rides in southern Africa, and folks have to travel fair distances to attend rides, this typically takes 2 seasons. So horses that are entered in 120km or 160km rides usually have a base of 2 years on them.
Two - the rides often have a cut off time. For the 160km, the cutoff was 14 hours ride time. The 80km also had a cutoff - maximum ride time was 8 hours. (Trilby would have to hurry a little over here). They do not polk along like we often do in the USA. Rojan and I rode the 80km ride, this was his horse's first 80km ride and he was 'taking it easy'. Our ride time was 6:45 - maximum would have been 8:00. Still a pretty good clip. I think the winning time was around 4:30 on a fairly flat and easy course.
Three - the National club keeps log books for every horse (at least this was the case in SA - I think it's the same in Namibia). Every ride is recorded, including eliminations for lameness or metabolics. The books also contain vaccination records similar to FEI passports, and horses must be keep current on their vaccinations, just like FEI. (the rider is issued a 'warning' if the vaccinations are out of date, or ID diagram incorrect).
Four - they still run some National rides with an Open Gate system. (though Namibia has almost gone entirely to FEI rules - same as AERC basically). This is more common in South Africa, but some think this will eventually change too. They come into the vetgate - and after they cross the line the horses have 25 minutes to recover. They don't even present to the vet until 25 minutes after they come in. At 25 minutes, they present, (if not recovered they are eliminated) - and then they have another 25 minutes of hold before leaving.
One - like the USA - they have weight division categories in addition to overall placement - light, standard, heavy. Plus Junior/Senior category. They are also very big on Team competitions - typically the clubs from the different regions field a team.
Two - except for the remnants of the Open Gate system in SA, they run the same rules, basically the same as FEI. They also do drug testing. They also have year end awards - sometimes based upon points and rides ridden, as well as judged awards 'most improved', etc.
And finally - they are friendly and supportive and will do anything to help each other out. This is the same the world over I think. It is very much a family sport here, plus a smattering of hired men doing the actual competing (e.g. Franz at Walvis Bay, and Willa at Saldanha). Men or boys who ride for the owners, for the farmers.
It's the same sport - but the most notable difference that I've observered is not beween SA/Namibia/Botswana and the rest of the world, but between the USA and the rest of the world. Certainly we have some very competitive rides - and probably more competitive on the East coast than the West. But we also have a very strong 'recreational' sport in the USA - miles and completions and riding simply for the scenery. This is something that I haven't seen elsewhere, at least not to this degree. (but I think it's a good thing to have this range - this depth - in the sport)
I think this course will go down as one of my favorites. Maybe it's partly because it was so different (like half a world away different) but it was really a perfect course. I think this was a 'world class' ride - gorgeous scenery, good footing - but still some technical challenges - plenty of variety. The marking was good, though there were a few confusing spots, and the map was a bit of a study... But all together this one rates really high on my list. Capetown is one of the few regions free of African Horse Sickness - so they can actually consider an invitational FEI ride. Walvis Bay (Namibia) is the other area that is AHS free - and also another area being considered as a quarantine facility port. The AHS is a big deal in southern Africa - heavy rains this year resultedin a high mortality rate - especially foals and older horses. Very sad.
But anyway - the ride-
Rojan de Swardt and I rode together all day, he on his big strong (a little green yet) Saddlebred cross, and me on a nice forward 10 yr mare "Princess". She was very strong, but rateable. My arms and back were pretty worn out after the first loop - both the horses were a little over-enthusiastic. And as the day progressed she never quit asking to go faster, but did quit pulling so hard. A wonderful mare - forward and brave.
The course wound around the bay - a lovely cove with rocky outcrops, sand shallows at low tide, Southern Right Whales spouting and rolling in the water, dolphins, gulls, cormorands, other shore birds that looked just a little different to me. We crossed several flat or rolling sections of flower covered land - big granite outcrops, smooth gray and white stones thrust in every direction, piled on top of each other. and the flowers were incredible. The whole ride takes place in a Nature Conservation area. Preserving the flora - the special coastal plants and wildflowers, the kudu (large african game animal), the tortoises, the whales, - plus a variety of other mammals. Very wild and natural habitat.
Past the lighthouse we came to the Atlantic coastal side - giant waves rolling onto the coast to crash up against cliffs and rocks - a spit of land off the shore, rock covered, crashing waves. It was SOOOO beautiful!! I was carrying a borrowed camera (thanks Lieber!) fairly low quality, and Princess was trotting so strongly that I could only afford one-handed shots, and no zoom. So the pictures really don't do the landscape justice.
The wildflowers were spectacular... bright yellow carpets, smatterings of pink and purple, grasses and waxy vegetation of all varieties of green. And on occasion we wound through some of poorer neigborhoods. It was a little grim in some places to see what people were actually living in... but the kids came out and waved, the adults watched quietly for the most part. There was one place with 50 or so adults crowded around a radio blaring the Rugby game (South Africa Springboks vs . ?) The Springboks lost... not a happy thing.
We had a nice, successful ride - both horses kept strong all day, challenging each other. Both finished fine, it was just right to have done 80km rather than a longer distance. Maurius and Anida and friends crewed for us, (as well as for Willa on the 160km ride, and another boy on his first ride - 120km on Marius's stallion). All finished, a good day.
The vetting, the timing, all that stuff was done perfectly. Well organized, well conducted. Great ride! I am so thankful to all these folks for taking me in - and really showing me a good time. (and believe me, these folks know how to have a good time :)
Endurance and South Africa Politics
The following is correspondence from a fellow Endurance rider, and my response:
Hi Michele - I was very aware of the racial 'tension' while in South Africa - less so in Nambia where apartheid was abolished 30 years ago - but still apparent. Throughout the world the legacy of imperialism and colonialism has left it's mark - our own history of slavery and displacement of native people is not pretty... and we (USA) still have our share of racial tension.
It seems to me that the sport of Endurance, with it's International reach, and it's purity - it's a race - and relative lack of politics, is in a unique position, an opportunity to bridge some of the racial and political tensions that penetrate our societies. At the World Championship in Aachen - there were riders from the Middle East, riders from Russia, riders from Europe, from the tropics, from Africa... one of the riders from Malaysia was actually a groom, who in his homeland had a fairly low social status but in Aachen was privy to the highest social status - a rider - and was given the premium accomodations by the Organizing Committee. One of the South African riders was a colored - son of a Xhosa Bushmen mother - a worker on one of the farms who because of his talent and horsemanship was now a celebrated sportsman (both in Aachen and at home).
Certainly we have a long way to go, but I find it very moving (this is probably what keeps drawing me around the world) to see this 'coming together' of so many different nations and societies - in a common venue, a common sport. And the thing that differentiates this sport from so many other International sports, is our total and absolute dependence on another creature, the horse. Politics stop when the ride starts. Then it's about horsemanship, training and preparation, strategy, and ability. And a little bit of luck just to keep us humble!
Here's a link to a history of South Africa - very interesting reading.
South Africa History
Hi Steph-I'm a newbie to endurance-this is my 1st year and I've only done LD's on my grade quarter horse so far. My 1st ride at your place this spring. I had a great time and appreciated your hospitality. Sorry I'm going to miss the multi-day ride this month-by youngest daughter is having her wedding on Sept 30. But it will be a great celebration.
I rode in the Owyhee's with Karen Steenhof the past 2 Saturday's and she told me you recently returned from So Africa. Having visited So Africa for a month long study tour in 1995 accompanying a group of Whitworth College students, I read your blog w/interest.
Would you be willing to consider a couple of comments from me? I admire all you do and I hope you don't mind hearing my point of view. It's obvious that you had an Afrikaans (a white) tour guide, and naturally got the Afrikaners point of view. I am not an expert on So African politics or history, but I do have a couple of first hand observations from my trip to So Africa in 1995, from an American academic point of view.
You wrote> "a smooth drive out of the city, past rows of shanty towns - truly nothing more than boxes and shacks where many of the blacks live. Apparently the government brought in thousands of impoverished blacks from neighboring countries in decades past to boost the population for a favorable vote (politics) - and now these people are still poor and disenfranchised and are voting against the government. (politics)."
In 1995, prior to the 1st ever free election in So Africa-there were hundreds of thousands of black people living in townships and shanty towns. The largest shanty towns were just out side of Cape Town and Johannesburg. Those blacks who inhabited these slums were displaced, native South African's, who had been relegated to "townships" by the British and the Dutch "settler's (invaders?) a concept similar to the reservations that the predominately white European descent settlers in the U.S. relegated the subjugated native American population. After Apartheid officially ended, the blacks from impoverished townships migrated to the cities in hopes of jobs, that weren't a reality. Then they stayed in the shanty towns without means to return to their townships-where there was nothing anyway. These slums outside the cities could be compared to the "Hoovervilles" of the 1930's Dust Bowl days in the U.S. (remember "Grapes of Wrath") except on a much larger scale, with lines drawn racially. These people were definitely NOT "brought in" by the white government who were in power before 1995 and that had ruled So Africa for hundreds of years prior to Mandela's election in the country's 1st ever free election, where the blacks were finally allowed to vote. That explanation of the shanty towns simply defies logic.
Remember the U.S. put considerable economic pressure on So. Africa to end Apartheid by refusing to trade with them until it ended. When I was there, trade was only barely beginning to open up, even the very wealthy whites didn't have modern appliances, as the Western world was not trading with them. But who needs an electric washing machine, when you have a black or 'colored' maid who will do your wash for pennies? Eventually though the technology of the modern world, who was turning a blind eye to So. Africa, was tantalizing to enough people to want change.
You wrote: "the ANC- that wants control and racial dominance, but doesn't quite grasp the need for economic stability and productivity that was the white - Afrikaans legacy."
The Afrikaans legacy of economic stability and productivity was for the whites only, built on the backs of the native people. If your perspective of economic stability is for the whites, less than 10% of the So African population, then there was plenty.
I have a box of slides and journal entries to remember what So Africa was like prior to the ANC. I would be happy to share them with you someday, if you are interested. I do know So Africa is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. It's a place I would love to return to one day. I wish I had more expertise to offer you in the history and politics of this amazing place. I have only a bit of information and my experience. ~Michele
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor