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Posted on January 18, 2023
In late November 2022 Abbie from In The Saddle was lucky enough to visit Moolmanshoek in South Africa. In this blog ‘Magical Moolmanshoek’, she tells us why this destination is so special.
In the Eastern Free State near the border with Lesotho, lies Moolmanshoek private game reserve. The impressive sandstone lodge looks out onto grassy plains, with the majestic Witteberg mountains towering beyond.
Aside from its stunning location, you are also sure to fall in love with Moolmanshoek for its mouth-watering food, cosy guest accommodation and warm South African welcome. I could write entire blogs on these elements alone, but do you want to know what makes Moolmanshoek such a fabulous riding destination? Then watch this clip and then read on…
Moolmanshoek’s horses live out 24/7 in a totally natural state. Once weaned, the fillies and colts are separated into different herds and turned out onto the reserve to roam freely, until they are around five years old. These early years living out in the mountains means the horses develop incredible resilience, balance and sure-footedness, which later flows through to their ridden careers.
With over 200 horses and renowned throughout South Africa for breeding excellent Boerperds and Arabians, this truly is a horse-lovers’ paradise. But Moolmanshoek can boast quality as well as quantity in its horse power. Never before have I ridden such well-trained, willing, clever horses as Leier, Frank and Khosto:
Leier – This handsome bright bay Boerperd showed me the ropes for my first two rides. He was forward going and great fun, with beautifully balanced paces. After breakfast one morning, we set out on a long ride into the mountains. Leier expertly negotiated narrow tracks and uneven ground. He made his way across gaps in the path (washed away due to recent rain), with steep drops to one side without turning a hair. He clambered up and down stretches of sheer rock and wound his way between boulders. Back down in the valley, he was more than ready for some long canters and yet stood politely for me to pick apricots from the tree on the way back to the lodge. It was easy to understand why Leier has such a big fan club!
Frank – Next I rode the lovely Frank, with his special ears. This horse was incredibly fit and forward going, yet level-headed over mountain terrain and whilst cantering with lots of other horses. He was so responsive and manoeuvrable, you could canter along one-handed whilst filming, hold a conversation and look at the scenery all at the same time:
I loved that Frank was curious when we saw herds of blesbok, wildebeest and the giraffe, but still stood perfectly for me to take pictures. I think if anyone was searching for the ‘Ultimate Safari Horse’, then Frank would be it!
Khotso – At the end of my stay I rode Khotso, a stunning dark bay Boerperd. He was great fun and full of character, with the most fabulous canter. The way he tossed his head if another horse overtook him made me laugh – it was a protest, but a very polite one! With Wiesman as our guide, we rode out from the lodge and crossed lush grasslands. Then made our way along the riverbank, clambering across fallen trees, ducking under low branches and hopping over streams and boggy areas. These horses are just something else – whatever you throw at them, their can-do attitude never wavers. Leaving the river behind, we headed out onto the pasturelands to visit the mares and foals. Khotso pricked his ears forward, grew in height and whinnied at them – so adorable and what a magical sight.
I was only at Moolmanshoek for a few days, but during a week-long stay you’ll have the chance to try a range of horses. You might even be allocated an Arabian endurance horse, and find yourself on a future prize-winner, or an endurance champion.
Another reason to visit Moolmanshoek is to ride with the wildlife – the plains are bursting with herds of game. You might spot springbok, wildebeest, blesbok, zebra, eland, oryx, lechwe, waterbuck and sable. The area is also home to ostrich, warthog, porcupine, jackal and caracal. It is great fun to ride amongst the game and in the late spring and summer, there are plenty of young animals to see.
On one afternoon we cantered across bright green plains, with a big herd of wildebeest ahead of us. It was such a special sight; they went streaming across in front of us from left to right, with gorgeous young calves darting in every direction.
Another day, we rode over the mountains, with fabulous views that stretch into Lesotho. As we made our descent into the valley, there were herds of waterbuck and zebra everywhere. Approaching a clearing we spotted two giraffe and spent a lovely few minutes watching them.
The variety of riding here is incredible. On some days you’ll head out onto the plains to ride amongst the wildlife, or go up into the mountains, returning to the lodge for lunch. In the afternoon you might set out again on horseback, or take a game drive to see the reserve from a different perspective. During a week-long stay there are usually two day rides with lunch out on the trail. There is also a full-day ride to Holkrans, a cave high up in the mountains where the adventurous may choose to camp out overnight if weather conditions allow.
As well as plenty of time in the saddle, the riding at Moolmanshoek is challenging at times, so it’s best suited to competent riders. On some routes there are rocky slopes to negotiate. Your guide will always provide clear instructions on how to ride down, and the horses are all expert mountaineers. I’d never ridden down anything like this before, but the horses are so sure-footed and calm that I felt confident and safe at all times. Here’s Anné demonstrating perfectly how it should be done:
Experienced riders will love the long flowing canters across the plains, and the testing mountain riding. Up in the mountains there are tricky paths to follow, boulders to hop over and plenty of sharp climbs. There are also some narrow paths with steep drops to one side. You can trust the horses entirely, but those who are very afraid of heights might not enjoy these sections.
Meals – Each morning begins with a huge breakfast served on the veranda. Lunch could be in the Riders’ Clubhouse at the stables, or might be a picnic out on the trail. At the end of an exciting day, gather in the dining room to sumptuous three course meals. You might start with curried lentil soup and freshly baked bread, followed by lamb with crispy potatoes and roasted carrots. Dessert could be chocolate brownie with caramel gelato.
Accommodation – After a long day in the saddle, you’re sure to sleep soundly in your beautiful room. The Classic Rooms are lovely, or you might like to treat yourself to a Luxury Room. Each room is individually decorated, with views of the mountains or the horse paddocks.
If you’re competent in the saddle and enjoy varied riding in a spectacular setting, then let magical Moolmanshoek cast its spell on you. Riding weeks at Moolmanshoek run throughout the year, so do contact us for availability.
If you’d like to find out more please contact me on +44 1299 272 239 or email email@example.com