In September 2013 Moolmanshoek, which is situated in the shadow of the Witteberg mountains in South Africa, suffered a terrible bush fire across around 2,400ha of the 3,000ha game reserve. No people were harmed and the team managed to get nearly all the horses to safety but rounding up all the other animals was not easy and sadly 50 of their 500 head of game were killed, including most of their hartebeest, 5 eland, 5 gemsbok and also springbok.
Just a few weeks later the World Horse Welfare were set to carry out one of their Challenge Rides, yet despite the devastation the grit and determination of the management at Moolmanshoek meant the ride could go on. We hear from seasoned equestrian traveller Di Stark as she tells us how Wiesman and his team fought adversity and provided the trip of a lifetime…
Moolmanshoek is not just ‘another riding holiday’ destination, it is home to two award-winning studs, the South Africa Boerperd horses and Arabian Endurance horses. There are over 300 horses at Moolmanshoek and in 2007 and 2008, they bred and trained some of the top ranking FEI horses in the world for endurance and it is highly likely when you embark on a holiday here you will be riding a potential, or retired endurance champion. It genuinely is a horse lover’s paradise!
“In early October we were set to embark on one of the World Horse Welfare Challenge rides to Moolmanshoek,” Di tells us. “However not long before we travelled we received the distressing news that a terrible fire had caused significant damage to the reserve. We were given the option of traveling somewhere else but I don’t think any one of us even contemplated this – we were only too pleased that we could go and support Wiesman and his team in what must have been such a difficult time. The fire damage simply added another element to the challenge.”
“The Charity Challenge is all about riding to raise money for the World Horse Welfare,” Di goes on to explain. “In The Saddle have organised several of these trips, and I have been lucky enough to embark on many of them. On this trip alone, between us we managed to raise £35,000, of which a small amount goes towards accommodation and flights, but a really good chunk of the money goes to the charity – so they are very important for fundraising. We had a fabulous team on this trip, and we all supported each other – without any whining!
“There were many highlights of the trip, particularly when we were really pushed out of our comfort zone on some of the steep descents,” Di says. “There were things that we did at the end of the trip that we never would have felt comfortable doing on the first day! On the last day we went for some amazing long canters through the hills, and climbed some really steep and challenging terrain. At one point our horses had to have all four feet on one tiny bit of ground while they paused to consider their descent – I had complete trust in my ride at all times! They were all such personalities, from an enchanting little Welsh C who was smaller than any other of the horses on the ride but made up for it in determination, to the exciting, beautiful stallions that were sensible and sure-footed having been raised on the land. All were fit and calm so the canters were a pleasure, and their rock climbing abilities were unbelievable! The only problem with my main horse was that he wouldn’t fit in my hand baggage on the way home!”
“It was hard to see photos of what the area looked like before the fire, when we went it was just a few weeks after and the whole area was covered in black ash where there should have been trees and grassland,” Di goes on to explain. “However, there was already the first shoots of green coming through and we are all hoping to do the trip again one day to see it in all its natural glory. Despite the fire, we still saw plenty of wildlife, including herds of zebra, eland and brown wildebeest – which were so funny to watch as they frolicked and chased each other!”
“One of the things that was evident throughout the trip was the sense of community, with the local town having a population of just 95,” Di states. “The neighbouring farms had all offered grazing for the young horses and although the farm had been badly damaged by the fire, Wiesman and his family managed to provide magnificent riding both on the areas affected by the fire and on their neighbours’ land. They could not have done more to make our stay comfortable and the riding was everything we could have asked for. I can’t wait for my next adventure!”