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Horizon Ranch personal review, South Africa

Horizon : Horsey Heaven
in the Depths of the African Bush - Staff Review

By Danni Wittman, March 2012

Horizon Ranch

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!

Ace and Zip with DaveAfter 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!
As we opened the doors to the lodge cheerful voices, the crackle of firewood and magnificent smells of dinner wafted our way. Everybody was basking in the warmth of the open fire, sipping their aperitifs and chatting about the rides that day. We were introduced to everybody and soon fell into the swing of things. On that first trip we met two girls, Emma and Thea, who became good friends of ours thereafter and with whom we travelled to various countries after that – Horizon has a habit of attracting very like-minded people – I think we’ve made new friends every year! Laura and Shane, managers of Horizon, are excellent hosts, instantly disarming and genuinely interested in their guests.

BBQ by the poolThe 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!).
Breakfast-time is often a bleary-eyed experience, as you sit down to fresh coffee and hot buttered toast, often with Ace mewling into his empty bowl (he pretends to every guest that he hasn’t had any milk that morning). The birds sing, the early-morning sunshine filters through the trees and you start to wake up as the horses wait patiently, dozing away to themselves peacefully. Lunchtime is probably my favourite meal of the day; freshly baked bread, homemade quiches, lasagnes, salads, on the lawn, under the Jacaranda trees, watching the lake sparkle in the sunlight and the horses take a dip to cool off…very little beats that experience and it’s one of those images that has stayed in my head, like a snapshot of what it feels like to be there. I really can see it now as I’m thinking about it!

Me, Dave and EmThe 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.

 

EntebeniThere 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!
TelekeshiAnother great excursion you should opt for is the Telekeshi bush walk. This is a 3hr hike up the Telekeshi mountain led by a local man from the village. He talks not only about the flora and fauna but also about what the mountain means to the community; it is, for example, where rites of passage such as boyhood to manhood still take place. The area is steeped in history and carries with it a strange, wild beauty.

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…

Riding to the damAnother 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.
Swimming with NebulaAfter a fabulous morning ride there is nothing better to finish off the experience than to whip off the saddle on returning to the ranch, changing into your swimmers and taking your trusty stead for a refreshing dip in the dam! Swimming with the horses is one of my favourite things to do at Horizon, especially if I am atop my favourite girl, the wonderful pure black Boerperd bush pony Nebula, who absolutely loves it and marches straight into the water!

 

My 30th birthday!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.

 

 

 

The pool at sunsetHorizon 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.
Speaking of amazing sundowners Horizon have now got a luxury camp on an escarpment overlooking Sunset Lake. Camp Davidson, named after Charles Baber’s grandfather Ted Davidson, offers an exciting camping experience out in the bush but with proper made-up beds and adjacent ablution facilities. This is definitely on my list for next time I’m over there.

Playing polo crosseWhen 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!
Polo-crosse is essentially similar to polo but instead of hitting the ball with a mallet you have a la-crosse stick with a net and you have to scoop up the ball from the ground of catch it as it is soaring through the air. To make matters more difficult, Zippy absolutely adores polo-crosse and goes mad for the ball often catching it mid-air as it speeds its way through your goalposts!

 

 

 

Herding Bonsmara cattleHorizon 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 –
I never thought Monsheik, a lovely but typically sensitive Arab, would confidently stride out behind the herd, encouraging the calves to keep up with their mothers and stopping stragglers from grazing at the side of the road. I thought she did very well that day. But there is something essentially relaxing about this job as it is slow paced and pretty methodical work, my Nebula is a pro at this job.

Me and KirstyOne 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.

 

Rock Lodge


The gang hanging out

 

 

 

 

 





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