For the love of horses

2012-06-22 00:00

ASK anyone if they would consider riding around South Africa on a horse and most people’s response would be: “What on Earth for?” For a couple who recently moved to the Midlands, the answer is simple: “Riding for Horses”.

That is the name of the organisation that Lloyd Gillespie and Isabel Wolf-Gillespie were motivated to launch because of their love for these animals. This mutual interest extends to a coffee table book about their ride around the periphery of South Africa, and an ambitious new ride to support rhino conservation (see box).

It was their love of horses that also brought the couple together in the first place, Gillespie explained. “I grew up in Westville listening to my grandfather’s stories about horses, fishing, wildlife and the outdoor life. Those stories captured my imagination. I loved riding from an early age — on holiday in the Berg, and on the Wild Coast. My passion for horses, wildlife and fishing took me on a life path into the outdoor pursuits in the tourism industry, particularly as a guide and owner of two horse safari businesses based on the Eastern Cape coast.”

The couple met when Wolf-Gillespie came to work with Gillespie in his horse safari business. “I grew up in Bavaria in Southern Germany where my family has a restaurant in a small village. My parents both used to ride and gave me my first horse when I was seven, so I spent most of my youth on the back of a horse enjoying the outdoors. I trained as a nurse and decided to travel and work with horses somewhere in the world after I qualified. I found Lloyd’s business on the Internet.”

While working together, the couple did a 350 km ride along the Wild Coast, during which they formed the idea of a longer ride. “I fell in love with South Africa, the open spaces and travelling on horseback,” Wolf-Gillespie explained. “So our ride around South Africa seemed a natural next step.”

Natural for them, perhaps, but a huge challenge for those of us who are equinely challenged. They started out from Durban in 2009 travelling in an anti-clockwise direction, and got back to Durban 581 days later having covered almost 7 500 km on horseback to highlight African horse sickness (AHS), a highly infectious viral disease endemic to Africa.

They began with little more than a dream to do a long-distance ride. “We came back absolutely broke, but much more in touch with ourselves, our horses and the Earth. It was very much a personal journey of discovery and growth. The daily rhythm of getting up with the sun, going to sleep with the sun and travelling at our horses’ pace gave us time for reflection, time to go inwards, which our busy modern lifestyle doesn’t often give us. There is an almost hypnotic rhythm about travelling with horses over a long distance,” Gillespie said.

“We had no break from each other for more than a year. Consequently, we had some huge arguments, but also learnt so much about ourselves and each other,” Wolf-Gillespie laughed.

What the couple learnt was obviously positive as they were married recently and moved onto Mizpah Farm Retreat in the Karkloof. They have reduced their herd of horses from 33 to 11, who live out in the open on the farm. They are working on a coffee table book, a novel and an e-book about their epic journey around South Africa, which will be published shortly.

They spoke warmly about the welcome they have received from the Midlands community. Wolf-Gillespie said: “People in the Midlands have been very kind to us, received us with open arms and helped us in many different ways” These include accommodation for the couple and grazing for the horses, and support in developing Riding for Horses.

The pair now focuses on the initiatives of that organisation, which include Rhino Knights (see box), the Equine Outreach Project (see box), illustrated talks about their trip, training courses in equine care, training young horses and all things related to horses. “We aim to encourage a deeper relationship with horses, considering their needs first before personal gain always with the aim of doing no harm. Our relationship with our horses is our utmost concern. We are continuously trying to improve this relationship which is ultimately about understanding ourselves.” Gillespie said.

It struck me as I drove away from our interview that another appropriate name for the couple’s organisation and the work they do would be: “For the Love of Horses”.

They will give a talk on their journey at the Lions River Club on July 20 at 6.30 pm. Cost: R50, eats available, for information contact:



STARTED in 2008, this is a social and economic outreach and upliftment programme that helps horses and humans in need, particularly in the former Transkei, Eastern Cape. There the Xhosa use horses to plough land, herd livestock and as transport. Many horse owners are impoverished and lack the skills and resources to care for their horses, so the project runs equine health clinics (deworming, vaccinations, tick and disease control, medical treatment), and offers education and skills development. “Developing empathy builds healthy relationships, creates awareness of self, others and the environment,” Gillespie said. “Screw worm is our next hurdle.”

In June the project made a documentary film that was sponsored by Epol.




KNIGHTS were mounted warriors fighting for a cause, in this case, that cause is rhino conservation. Still in its planning stages, this initiative aims to raise funds by travelling 10 000 km through all the countries of Southern Africa: SA, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mocambique, and Botswana.

Riding for Horses is joining forces with the Lawrence Anthony Earth Organisation and plans a TV documentary to highlight the rhino situation, horse culture, horsemanship, the culture and interesting places and people in each country visited.



Distance covered: 7 411 km

Time: 581 days, July 10, 2009 – February 18, 2011

Horses: 10 Boerperds or Boerperd cross, 14 to 16 hands

Riding: bitless, shoeless, with boots if needed

Cause: against African horse sickness (AHS)


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