Saddling up for a mission of mercy

2010-10-03 10:14

After leaving Durban more than a year ago, Lloyd Gillespie and Isabel Wolf spent the subsequent time – and 5 500km – travelling across South Africa on horseback.

The two headed north to the Mozambican border, skirted Swaziland and cantered through Mpumalanga to Limpopo before heading west along the Limpopo River, all the way to Alexander Bay on the West Coast.

From there they turned south and, more than 5 500km later, arrived in Cape Town this week before taking on the last leg of their journey – back to Durban.

Gillespie and Wolf are aiming to create awareness of, and raise money for, the treatment of African horse sickness – an often fatal disease – and to attract corporate and private funding for an equine welfare project they intend to set up in the former Transkei.

Gillespie runs Fishriver Horse Safaris and The Haven Horse Safaris on the Wild Coast, where Wolf joined him ­after coming to South Africa from ­Germany in 2008.

Horses and other equines – a category that includes mules and donkeys – are often subject to abuse and ill treatment, particularly in rural areas, he says.

It happens out of ignorance rather than malice, but this is saddening nonetheless, he says.

Looking for a way to help both horses and humans, the idea of an equine welfare project was born; a place where the animals could be vaccinated, dewormed and medicated; where training courses could be held to give local ­people the skills to work in any of the numerous equine industries; and where equine therapy sessions could be conducted for survivors of trauma and troubled children and adults.

But it was when two of their horses were infected with African horse sickness that the two went on the journey.

So while spreading the word was the initial idea of their Riding for Horses project, “when the ride started we realised it was not just African horse sickness we should look at”, says Gillespie.

Amazingly, though, the two have had no back-up team.

It’s been just Gillespie, Wolf, their ridgeback, Pula, and a bakkie which acts as “a travelling warehouse” and is used to drop bales of feed off on the route ahead.

With Gillespie and Wolf on horseback, they are reliant on volunteers to move their bakkie ahead for them. And when they’ll get to that next point is not a given.

Horses get tired, they can get sick, they might not feel like walking on a particular day.

Thus the riders have spent many a night in the open bush, although just as often they have been invited in by local farmers, given a meal and a bed.

“People help us along the way, feed us, welcome us into their home. A farmer puts you in touch with the next farmer, and so it goes. The horses build the bridge,” says Gillespie.

“People see you ride up on horses and they say ‘Ah, you’re riding horses, how lovely’,” says Wolf.

Although they have had to endure the heat of summer in Limpopo, getting tick bites, dodging poisonous snakes, the sense of freedom is incomparable.

“You connect to things, hear the birds, feel the sun … the timeless drumbeat of motion, quietness, solitude,” muses Gillespie.

Track their progress: visit www.ridingforhorses.co.za 

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