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Landmark surrounded by legend

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The newly painted White Horse on the eastern slope of Naval Hill in Bloemfontein. Photo: Supplied
The newly painted White Horse on the eastern slope of Naval Hill in Bloemfontein. Photo: Supplied

The White Horse on the eastern slope of Naval Hill is steeped in history.

According to local tour guide Tony Horn, there is no abso­lute proof of who created the well-known horse – yet stories about this local landmark abound.

“This horse, made of whitewashed stones, is about 20 m long from head to tail, and about 12 m high. It is visible for many kilometres and is a well-known landmark for the residents of the city.

“Bloemfontein is proud to be one of only a few places in the world to have a white horse on a hill.

“In the United Kingdom there are seven white horses in the Wiltshire countryside alone, while scattered through­out the world you will find another six.”

Horn says one story is that the horse in Bloemfontein was created in honour of a horse called Thabure – the “Destroyer of Enemies” – which be­longed to Chief Lerotholi, a grandson of King Moshoeshoe.

“The general consensus, though, is that the horse was ‘born’ during the Anglo Boer War.

“When Lord Roberts entered Bloemfontein on 13 March 1900, he established a remount camp at the base of the hill. A remount camp was where the horses were cared for and stabled. Horses were used by both sides and many died from exhaustion, starva­tion or disease.”

Men of the 2nd Battalion of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Wiltshire regiment are thought to be the creators of the horse, and they were most likely assisted by private persons in the laying out of the figure.

“It was a landmark for horse riders coming in from the plains, and could be seen for many miles.”

The horse has taken a few strange forms throughout the years.

“According to Karel Schoeman, the horse was vandalised by the Ossewa Brandwag during the Second World War. It is alleged that they painted a giant black swastika on it.”

There are also stories of local students transforming the white horse into a zebra.

Locals who repainted the horse some 15 years ago say the horse had an awkward fifth leg at the time, which had to be “removed”.

“The white horse of Bloemfontein is a national monument and we are proud to have it,” Horn says.

“It is wonderful to see today’s generation caring for our iconic landmark, which reminds us of our city’s past.”

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