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 

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.