Saddling Up

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Pamela Cooper

PAMELA COOPER fulfils a long-time dream to horse ride in the foothills of the Drakensberg

It’s some 40 years since I rode regularly and the body is not what it was then, but I didn’t give it a second thought. I saw the horses, read the sign and seized the day.  Arriving at the appropriate time, I was alarmed to see the state of the horse, head drooping, hipbones sticking out. But again, I wasn’t looking for a racehorse, just a gentle stroll through the grasslands.

The Zulu groom, with whom I communicated in body language, indicated that my grass hat was not right and I must wear the grimy plastic hat he gave me. Oh well, what’s another sweaty head! They probably wouldn’t let me go without it. A flash of perfect white teeth (not from the horse) indicated I was right. With a little assistance, I heaved myself into the saddle. It was one of those moments when I wished that I actually did have a bigger bum. The saddle had no padding and appeared to be made of hardwood. Too late to turn back, I slid my feet into the stirrups and grasped the reins casually in one hand, making a loop to spur the horse on.  And off we went, single file along the hillside.

The scenery was breathtaking, the air like champagne.  I was riding a horse in the Drakensberg.

Pamela Cooper on her trusty steed in the Drakensberg.

It soon became apparent that my horse only responded to the pace and clicking of the groom in front. We lurched involuntarily into a brief and uncomfortable trot and I thanked my lucky stars for all those riding lessons way back.  We crossed the river twice, like they do in cowboy movies, and passed through a field of grazing bulls. At the end of the field, we came to a donga and although the groom’s horse went down and up, mine had show jumping aspirations and leapt over the gap. Did I grip with my knees!

The scenery was breathtaking, the air like champagne.  I was riding a horse in the Drakensberg.

We rode out of the valley and up into the hills, passing a small herd of eland on the way. From the crest of the hill we could see the way ahead – a wide grass road, about 500 metres long. The groom turned around, gave a huge smile and nodded.  Body language for: Ok, that’s enough dawdling, time to stretch the legs. And we were off!

Shades of Clint Eastwood galloping across the plains, adrenalin pumping as I clung on desperately with my legs, yet exhilarated as we thundered up the roadway.

The scenery was breathtaking, the air like champagne. If I didn’t get off this horse soon, I would just slide out of the saddle and fall to the ground.  They could fetch me later.

As we passed other guests on the way back to the stables, I wondered if we looked as if we were born in the saddle, or just plain saddle-sore.  I couldn’t get off the horse.  I had to pull my leg over with both hands, and slid onto the grass where I just lay and laughed.  I couldn’t sit for three days and had bruised and chafed legs, but it was still the best.

The scenery was breathtaking, the air like champagne, and I’ve ridden a horse in the Drakensberg.