Thursday, March 18, 2010

David in Africa - First Chapter

Note: Since I put the last posting up, I've re-arranged the blog to be in chronological order rather than the last blog first. To do this I had to screwed up the post dates.
You can view the video of riding in Wilderness at:

Come Ride with Us.
View my website at

January 8th: I arrived in George, South Africa on January 1st.

The farm is at the foot of the Outeniqua Mountains

Edda (one of) my boss picked me up at the airport and off we went to the Wilderness Adventure Horse Farm. I could tell from the moment I met Edda that I made a great choice. Now, it's over a week since I got here but already it seems like I've been here for a long time. And it's turning out to be everything I had hoped for.

The horse farm is about 30 minutes from George, a relatively small town near the coast. The farm is inland about 7 miles and close to the entrance to the park...and that's were we do most of our riding. My hosts/bosses, Edda and Brus are wonderful very caring people and have four great kids who of course ride with great skill. They have accepted me as one of the family.

The main house has a large porch, and most of our relaxed time is spent there.

The stable is right next door and there's pasture land beyond that. There's a vegetable garden too.

I live in the bunk house which is next to the stable. They called it the hotel when I got there but I started calling it the bunk house and I think that name will stick.

Tough life huh?

I have a room with a couple of beds, a little kitchen and a bath with a shower. It's wonderful. It faces east so it's bathed with the morning sun and the horses wake me as they start coming in for their morning feeding. It stays pretty cool during the day because the building is brick and there are some large trees that screen it from the afternoon sun. And it does get hot.

The weather has varied since I arrived with a couple thunder showers. But mostly it's been clear and hot, getting up to about 90 during the day. But it always starts cooling down at around 4:00pm. South Africa is in a serious drought. The ponds around the farm are dry and the rivers just barely running.

Brus and Edda's son Sasha gives treats (organic) to the horses as they come back from a ride.

There are about 15 horses, 8 of which are OK for guests to ride. Others are in training or too young to be ridden yet.

Paulo and a yearling colt. Paulo helps with tacking up and feeding the horses and almost everything else.

My "job" is just what Edda said it would be...I ride every day. The first day I rode with one of the family and learned the basic routes for "short rides." I also rode up the waterfall with is a longer ride. The swimming hole at the falls is still full.

Rides range from an hour to 4 hours or longer with some overnight rides too. On my second day I went out solo on the short ride with three guests and since have lead several short rides.

On the road to the Park

I've been riding different horses to get familiar with them. A few days ago, Brus suggested I ride Black Beauty, a pretty black (of course) geldine.

My vanity shot.

He's about four years old, about the right height for me...about 14 1/2 hands and has been ridden but not particularly trained. He has wonderful gates...a fast walk, smooth and slow trot...a comfortable canter. So when I came back from my first ride with him I said how much fun he was and Brus said "why don't you ride him while you're here and train him." Beauty has a wonderful smooth slow trot.

So I have my own horse. And Brus even has a western saddle. It needs some repair but a friend of Brus and Edda is a leather craftsman and he took it home last night to fix up.

Brus, a friend and I went on a ride a couple of days ago. It was a training ride for Beauty and another horse Brus is working with. Up and down really steep hills and way back into the forest. We rode I haven't ridden since I had the Ranch. I found muscles I forgotten...and they got stiff. First time I've been stiff since I got here.

The farm is the home for the Russian Stunt Riders.
Brus is from Russia and an incredible trainer and stunt rider. He has a long list of film credits to his name and is a wonderful teacher too.

Brus successfully mounts a horse for the first time, after just 20 minutes training!

Last Wednesday night was the first time I really had a chance to see the sky. It's so beautiful. I found the Southern Cross and the southern hemisphere Orion. I pulled my mattress pad out in front of the bunk house and went to sleep gazing at the sky.

So I feel very lucky. Again I've found myself in a wonderful adventure with great people in a beautiful place. And another two plus months to enjoy it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Chapter 2 - Week 4

January 24th: I'm in my fourth week. Lots of stuff happened since the last Blog. Last week the family (which includes me now) went for a day at the beach to celebrate Edda's birthday. The beaches are beautiful here. We went to a beach near Knysna a toursit town east of George. It was my first time in the Indian Ocean.
There are signs everywhere reminding of the drought.

Water was very pleasant...around 24 celecus.

Sasha swims in a pool...with the pounding surf in the background.

I often see plants just like around Ojai.

Edda and I also went to Knysna mainly to visit their friend Pieter and his drum shop. On Fridays he has a drum jam...and it was pretty great. Probably around 10 participants at any given time.

Pieter makes the drums himself. I told him about Alden and Cali's Hurdy Gurdies and he wants one. Pieter is also Brus' stunt riding partner and does fire dances. You can see a video I just edited with Pieters performance at Brus' "The Knight's Tale" show held the end of December. Click Here to view.
I took a fall about a week ago. I'm gradually getting "back in the saddle" and back on the riding roster. Here are some pix of me.

Here I'm riding the newly restored Western Saddle!

And here I'm not back in the saddle at all.

Last weekend the family headed to the Cango Wilderness Ranch which is north of George on the other side of the mountains. The pass was impressive for sure and as soon as we crossed to the north side everything changed.

Looking back towards George from the summit.

The valley to the north where Cango is is very much like the southern central valley in California. Hot, dry and very little growth.

Cango is just out of a town called Oudtshoorn. It's a fascinating town and I'd like to spend more time there. It clearly has the influence of early settlers with the old buildings and houses.

Cango Wildlife Ranch is a relatively small beautifully put together park. Their main gate is awesome! The grounds are delightfully laid out.

They have a diversity of animals, mostly are native to some part of South Africa. The displays are nicely designed and there seems to be a very high respect for the animals. Sasha and Megan become very popular among the beautiful birds...with the help of a little nectar the staff provided.

A Cape Buzzard

These were the largest bats I've ever seen. Probably 2 feet in length (as they slept.)

There was a very nice outdoor restaurant where we had lunch. It's kept cool by a mist of water being sprayed from the ceiling. Look hard!

And this afternoon Sasha, Megan and Arian practiced Polo/LaCross in the back pasture.
This is an active place. Edda and Megan take off Tuesday for a two week trip. So Brus and I are batching it with the kids. I'm teaching Megan's lessons while she's gone, making them into South African cowboys.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Chapter 3 - Week 10

February 9th...over five weeks and there are still new adventures.

Still no rain, so the hot days seem even hotter as everything continues to dry up. Yesterday it wasn't that hot, but it was windy. I was working on video editing in the bunkhouse (which stays delightfully cool) and ended up closing the door because the wind was blowing in dust and stuff. Today the wind is gone but in exchange it's hot...95 plus (F.)

I continue to take folks into the forest...usually to the waterfall.

That's my favorite ride and fortunately the favorite of most of the guests. It's from 2 1/2 to 3+ hours round trip depending on the ability of the guests. And except for the first 1/2 mile, most of it's in the shade of the forest, so even when it's hot at the stable it cool(er) for most of the ride. And of course there swimming once we're there. I have a group coming for a ride up there today at 4:00pm.

Pieter and his son went on a ride...his son was so comfortable he went to sleep!

I continue my love affair with Dinkum.
BTW notice my Cossack Riders T shirt. (Honorary Member)

It was clear that while Beauty is potentially a great horse, he wasn't cut out to be a lead least not now and was making guiding difficult. So I've been riding Dinkum and we're really getting to know each other. I'm developing a level of communication with him very much like the last horse I had at the ranch. Just a change in body position will take him from a walk to a canter. And he's usually pretty good with neck raining. He also is very responsive to holding and petting.

Looking through Dinkum dashboard.

Down the road towards Hoekwil I've been seeing "Big Tree" on a sign for weeks. Today Edda and I went in for me to have a look. It's a 800 year old Outenigua yellowwood and is 107 ft tall. The park around it is beautiful and about 10 degrees (F) cooler than on the road. Since today it's really hot, it was a nice change.

Most of the major shopping for the house is done in George. But there are two stores that are closer.

There's a store just a couple miles down the road.

There is a very limited stock and few people live near it.

The store in Hoekwil is also small but is just across from the school and near the church.
It is a very well run little store with a nice inventory, including fresh fruits and vegetables.

It reminds me of the store in Nordland on Marrowstone Island near Port Townsend.

And like the store in Nordland, they make a great cup of coffee.

Brus and I took the kids to Friday night drum session.

That's Pieter as in Fire Dancing Pieter

Zoya and Arian

And Brus had a good time too.

And today I went to the Hoekwil School and talked to Zoya's class. Zoya is in the 7th grade.

Lots of the kids were barefoot. This isn't a financial or social's kids who like to go me.

A student presents the morning Bible reading.

My class was really fun. The students were lively and curious.

I gave my camera to a student named Daniel and he shot a bunch of great ones.

The class was wonderful. The school could be a set for a 1930's movie. But the quality of their education seems good. Using a North American map I showed them where I was from and a little about America. They were interested in Native American tribes so brought some information about the Hieda and Navajo tribes and was wearing a shirt with a Hieda design.

I sang the Inuit song and Ghost Riders. They loved it and joined in on the chorus.

The other day Brus and I drove down to Mussel Bay, a big resort town.

I've decided not to do a two week volunteer thing at the Knysna Elephant Preserve. I'll visit them but Edda said that I must do some exploration of other areas of South Africa and is helping me put together a trip. There's a bus "hop on hop off" that she said would work great for me.

But that's three weeks away and in the mean time I continue to have a wonderful time with the horses, the family and their friends.


I decided the boots were too hot and guess what...Converse hightops with short chaps!