A letter to my Darling…

“On Saturday 10 September the Swartland Endurance Club hosted an endurance ride in the trusty quant town of Darling. Think lush green spring grass, rolling fields, West Coast wild flowers and of course Tannie Evita. This venue and track is always a firm favourite to all concerned, and once again produced a superb ride. One story however lead to a rider drafting a very special letter, which was circulated amongst the endurance clubs emails and fortuitously caught my eye. The letter really had such an impact on me, that I knew I had to share it with a wider audience.”


This month I was spoiled for choice in terms of telling an endurance story to the South African Equestrian community, from the sandy dunes of Namibia and the Walvis Bay African Champs to the foreign Slovakian shores of our riders setting off to compete in the World Championships, but then an email landed in my inbox that made me put the above on ice.

When I contacted its author, one of our most beloved vets, I was a little shocked at first when he would rather not have me publish it. “It was really difficult for me to write, I really don’t want to be glorified because out of this, I just want to give thanks where it is due.” but as the conversation carried on he agreed for me to publish it anonymously if I believe it will benefit the sport.

To the humble author, I hope I have done it justice with my translation. Certain pieces of rich Afrikaans prose one simply cannot repeat in another language. Enjoy.

Honourable fellow endurance rider

The weekend was, once again, an unforgettable weekend on horseback in Darling.

Today, however, is Monday and the weekend long forgotten as we busy ourselves with our everyday lives.

On the weekend something happened to me that we all fear and I hope never happens to you. Charlie, my dear horse, decided to attempt scratching his nose with his front legs whilst cantering at high speed. Considering that he is rather leggy and not the world’s greatest gymnast, his attempt failed and he stumbled over his own feet. This resulted in a spectacular combination of a break dance and a head over heels manoeuvre. The whole incident played out in what felt like a slow motion nightmare, and I eventually hit the ground, hard. In the corner of my eye is just saw Charlie rolling past me.

My initial reaction was that I just had the wind knocked out of me, but then I tried to move my legs and arms, but felt nothing. I landed on my neck and the back of my head. Staying calm, I tried my fingers and slowly life returned to the rest of my limbs. Only through the grace of God I stood up with nothing torn or broken, but the best news of all was that Charlie had hardly a scratch to prove the incident.

Only in that moment did I realise that I was in the company of my fellow riders. These riders, my competition, had all stopped and turned around. Up until this point we were locked in a furious battle, riding at speed that bares testimony to this.

To Radie Heyns, WJ van Zyl, Dominique van Zyl, Mareli Grobbelaar, Joanne Wilens and Paul Lubbe – I want to express to you all my sincere gratitude for the Spirit of Endurance you displayed, to literally give up your race to work together and catch my horse, and then help me get back onto him. I definitely did not deserve the “Best of the Best” prize awarded to me at the ride and would really like, through this letter, to award the “Best of the Best Camaraderie 2016” prize to this group of riders.

I spent Saturday night what one shouldn’t do, but can’t avoid, thinking of everything that could’ve gone wrong during that fall. Other than the destruction of my trusty saddle of 20 years, I walked away from the incident unscathed. Was this luck? Was is it pointing me to some correction I need to make, or was it simply the so called “wake-up-call”?

For the past 10 years I have been dreaming to share a ride like the one on Saturday with my son. The most perfect morning, spectacular sunrise, the arum lilies and spring flowers in full bloom, the wheat fields standing ripe like we used to read about in bible stories. What bigger joy can there be in life? No amount of money or status or knowledge can take the place of a day such as this. I would gladly give up 20 years of life for 1 day like this in the saddle. Like the infamous Riaan Cruywagen said upon his retirement “All I can see when I look back, is grace”

It further made me realise how much we take for granted. The privilege to be able to participate in this sport, selfless people like Riaan, Altus, Candice, Antoinette and host of others that tirelessly help organise rides. The vets, whom give up their Saturdays, their rugby and family time so we can ride. Our horses, that give up their joints, tendons…and grazing-time, to partner with us in our joy.

To the riders that have walked this road with me, the ones that stood by me as I had to eliminate their horses during ride, as well as the times we shared the elations of a win, a child’s first completed 80km or a first completed 120 or 160km – you have made my endurance journey so worthwhile and I feel honoured to have shared this with you. To my grooms throughout the years, Joggie and Koot on the 300miler, to Christa and those that are always around to give a hand when needed (even when it’s done only to check that I’m not cheating) thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

The road has been one characterised by enjoyment with you all. If, on Saturday, it was destined to be that I would not stand up again from the Darling soil, I know there would not have been any regrets, just joy and gratitude.

See you at the next ride.