Horizon : Horsey Heaven
Horizon – now where do I start? I first visited Horizon on training in 2008 and have been back five times since then. I have visited many other rides in Southern Africa and must admit I enjoyed all of them immensely, but the atmosphere at Horizon is unique and immediately struck a chord with me personally. On that first trip my husband and I arrived on a stormy night having just driven down from Pont Drift at the border with Botswana. It was an unusually wet April and the rain was pelting down in great swathes with thunder crashing and lightning flashing over our heads. We were greeted and shown to our room, a thatched cottage overlooking the dam, and I must admit I let out a little gasp; warmly lit with a high thatched roof and its own terrace the rondavel was absolutely delightful; rose petals on the bed and candles – it was cosy and inviting, just what we needed after a long journey!
After dumping our bags we made a dash for the main lodge, splashing up the steps to the porch where we were addressed rather loudly by a ginger cat who was sitting staring at the closed door and us meaningfully. This was Ace and he is a staple at Horizon; over the years he has established a firm hold on his place at the end of our bed, even when, on one occasion, we have a little dog (naughty Zip!) on there too!
The food at Horizon has always been a great selling point as far as I’m concerned; Horizon LOVES its food and its wine, nearly as much as its horses, and Rhynos’s food (the current chef in 2012) is an outstanding example of the culinary excellence they expect, that man is an amazing cook (and easy on the eye to boot!).
The rides are split according to ability so that everybody has the chance to relax and enjoy their ride. A couple of years ago they took down the fences of the game reserve so that the game and the horses could live out together all year round. This is great for game-viewing as the animals have little fear of the horses and you are able to get quite close to zebra and giraffe, antelope and even jackal. This has also resulted in the game venturing closer and closer to the lodge. Last year I was sitting out by the dam at twilight when a kudu appeared across the water. It was startled when it saw me, but I didn’t move and eventually it came to the water’s edge and drank. Then, as my eyes adjusted to the darkness I saw that there was actually another two behind him, and as they came forward there were a further three kudu emerging from the bushes! It was quite a magical sight and I watched them for ages, until they trotted off into the bushveld as the eerie, banshee cry of the jackals lit up in chorus around the dam.
There is a lot to do in the area as well as riding and if you have a stay of a week or more I recommend you try out the nearby Big 5 reserve at Entibeni – it’s a fantastic location, with quite a dramatic landscape – severe escarpments, gorges and open plains. I have seen lion here more than once as well as crocodile, hyena, wildebeest, blessbok, zebra, jackal and springbok. If you’re up for an adventure you should try their helicopter rides too; 6 minutes of adrenalin-fuelled excitement, dropping off escarpments, zooming across the plains – I organised it as a surprise for my husband and boy did it take his breath away!
Morning rides go out quite early, before the heat of the day kicks in, and there are many trails to choose from. I have a few favourite rides; I do like to ride fast sometimes and the Belle View ride is perfect for stretching the horses’ legs and blowing out the cobwebs! As you ride out past the cattle pastures there are several sandy tracks just perfect for nice long canters and when you are nearly at the village there is a fantastic long, straight track that just has to be galloped! This is just the beginning too – it’s a really exhilarating ride! Up at Boschdraai you pass the original Baber homestead where the Baber family, who own Horizon, set up home over 4 generations ago. You can stop and have tea there, and take a look at all the old photos from the colonial years, which are on display in the main house. Fascinating stuff and hard to believe that when they first turned up there was nothing there at all – they even had to plant their own trees as a windbreak against the open plains. It must have been very tough in those early days…
Another favourite ride is around Sunset Lake, it’s so wild and beautiful there, and you see a lot of birdlife too – once I saw six fish eagles! The Waterberg has a very varied and dramatic landscape so a long morning ride can take you over all sorts of terrain. On this ride you explore the glorious views from the escarpments, the dense scrub of the unspoilt veldt and the long sandy tracks across wide open plains. There are some rides, like the ride to Shenzi which are a bit longer and offer the opportunity to explore even further into the surrounding wilderness.
In 2010 I spent my 30th birthday there; we’d just had a beautiful ride, came round the corner and – tadaa! – there was a bush breakfast being cooked for us and a table laid out in the shade atop which stood a bottle of champagne. After a sumptuous meal of scrambled eggs, bacon, boerewors (South African farmer’s sausage), freshly made hash browns, tomatoes and beans we took our horses for a swim in Sunset Lake. It was the best birthday I have ever had.
Horizon has something to offer at all times of the year; it is lush and green in the summertime and in winter you have those wonderful, vast blue skies. I usually travel in March/April but have been there in October too and the landscape was quite different but just as beautiful. I love the evening rides when the sun is setting and the bushveld is bathed in that special, warm light you only get in Africa… it is so peaceful and ancient. Sometimes we will ride to a view point and watch the sun go down with a cool drink and nibbles, then ride back in the dark, relying on our horses’ sight to guide us home, listening to all the fabulous night sounds of the African bush.
When you feel like doing something a bit different it’s fun to spend an afternoon ‘playing’ polo-crosse; my skills in this area are non-existent but the camaraderie is first rate, the horses enjoy a change, and it is so much fun charging up and down the field even if you know you have no hope of actually scoring!
Horizon is also known as Triple B ranch as it was originally a cattle ranch breeding the gentle and richly coloured Bonsmara cattle. The ranch still has 300 head of cattle today and although cattle ranching is no longer their main occupation there will sometimes be herding work for those who want it. Sometimes opportunities just present themselves too. Once I was on an outride with my husband and Kirsty from Horizon, and we came across this poor lady trying to herd 40 cattle on foot by herself so we stepped in –
One of the best things about Horizon though has got to be the people who run it; they are passionate about what they do, committed to providing high quality service, and take pride in helping the local community in a number of ways including youth groups, outreach programmes, the Waterberg academy and even a football team! Responsible tourism is part of Horizon’s make up. I have made a number of good friends on my trips there, and as they are often from far-flung places such as Dubai, we often use Horizon as a meeting point to catch up each year! I get that fuzzy feeling every time I arrive in the yard from that long journey up from Jo’burg, and I consider Kirsty, Laura and Shane who run Horizon, a big part of that. It is definitely my home from home by now.
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