Tag Archives: horseriding

Enos Mafokate – South Africa’s Equestrian Pioneer ~ Ashleigh Hughes

Soweto is not a place one normally associates with horse riding, or any equine activities, in Johannesburg. But what if I told you that a man who rode at the Olympics and competed at the Royal International Horse Show at Wembley, in the UK, has a riding centre there? A man with such tangible passion and dedication to his sport, that you cannot walk away from him without feeling utterly inspired, and filled with such hope for the future. That man is Enos Mafokate. And you need to hear his extraordinary story…


Before he even starts telling us that story, we see it unfold before our eyes. The children (who range from 7 to 18 years old), at the riding centre are all diligently grooming, mucking out stables, saddling up horses. They have ear-to-ear smiles as they are completely lost in the joy that comes with working with, and riding horses. “You won’t see a groom here,” Enos assures us. “I teach all the children to do everything themselves. Even when we go to shows, we are the only ones without grooms. But please don’t misunderstand me; I am not looking for cheap labour. I teach them these things so they can learn some responsibility in life. They must respect the hard work that is needed to succeed both on the horses and in life.”


“Kids need freedom to choose their own path in life. I want to show them everything about horses, so they can be exposed to something they would normally never know about. This is how we let their talents shine through. This is how we let them grow.”

It was at this same tender age, that Enos first realised that he wanted to ride horses. He grew up surrounded by animals and was drawn to them immediately. “We had chickens, and goats, cats and pigs. I spent all my time with them. I rode donkeys back then. We didn’t have bridles and saddles, and my ‘reins’ were just a stick to steer with. I would always see the white people riding horses though. I knew then that I wanted to ride them too. I was about 9 or 10, and when I met a young boy riding a small pony.” What happened after that encounter, put Enos on the path that he is still on to this day.

It was deep in the ugly heart of the apartheid era in about 1954. Enos was out riding his trusty donkey when he met this young white boy. After a brief discussion, they decided to swop mounts. The white boy had never ridden a donkey before and Enos certainly wanted to experience riding a real pony. The reins and saddle were completely strange. Enos did not know what to make of them. Unfortunately the child’s irate father came storming up and put an end to the innocent exchange. “My child will not ride a black man’s donkey!” he bellowed! This brief, but terrifying incident summed up the challenges which lay ahead for Enos, as he forged his way through his riding career. At every point along the way, the racial oppression of apartheid was an obstacle.

In 1977, he became the first black member of what was the Transvaal Horse Society, but he was only allowed to compete in the Transvaal in the early days. He was the first rider to compete at the Royal Agricultural Show in Pietermaritzburg, since its inception, 127 years previously. “They didn’t like us competing with the white people in those days. I remember at one show in Klerksdorp, I finished first and second in the two qualifying classes, and also won the championship class. The lady who finished second was so angry that I had beaten her, that she refused come to the prize giving! But it was at this time that they officially stopped calling us grooms, and started calling us black riders. Finally we had achieved some recognition!”



This appalling animosity was only restricted to his home country however, In 1980 he was invited to ride at the Royal International Horse Show in the UK. “Errol and Anneli (Wucherpfennig) helped me a lot back then. When David Broome came to ride in South Africa in 1979, he asked Anneli why there were no black riders at the shows. She told him that it was a terrible shame, as there were many good riders who were not allowed to compete because of the law”.

David Broome was completely astounded by the situation so he decided to organise a sponsored trip to the UK for Enos to ride and compete on equal terms. Broome’s sister provided a beautiful Show horse called Let’s Go, as a mount for Enos, and they managed to win their very first showing show they competed at in Wales. He won the Overall Reserve Champion Working Hunter at that show to – no small feat in the country that is the home and origin of the Showing discipline. Anneli, who was born in Scotland, was still living in the UK at that stage, accompanied Enos around on his trip, and she had to sort out quite a few issues on his behalf. Remember that the political climate in those days was particularly volatile, and Anneli was very instrumental in reassuring parties in both countries, that the trip had zero political motivations, and was simply a horseman wanting ride a horse at a show. They were both well received by the Royal family, and in fact many years later, it lead to Princess Anne making a visit to the Soweto Equestrian Centre herself. Enos also competed at Wembley, where he finished fifth overall, in the Supreme Championship. Don’t forget that this was all done on a strange horse, in a strange country, with great public scrutiny – a superb result under substantial pressure.

Giving back to the community is something that Enos constantly strives to do. Way back in 1990, when he was working as the “horse man” for the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) in Mofolo South, he had already started giving riding lessons to the young children in the area. It was here that he became aware of how badly children treated all kinds of animals. He so desperately wanted to change this. “Animals should not be abused. They must be loved and treated with respect”

His main function at the PDSA was to assist the local residents with their horses – most of them are animals of burden, which pull carts heavily laden, with either coal or scrap metal. The basic needs of these horses and donkeys are often neglected, but Enos not only treated the injured and sick animals, he worked hard to educate the owners on how to provide better care for them. To this day many of the cart horse owners still bring their horses to him for care and advice, at the SEC. “They know that I no longer work for the PDSA, but how can I turn them away? Sometimes we lend our stronger ponies out to the people who really look after their animals, to help in the coal yards. I keep watch on them, but they are well looked after, so I don’t mind.”


Another community service he provides, is giving disabled children riding therapy. He tells us that there is nothing he finds more rewarding that seeing a child who has not moved or talked in their entire life, start moving their hands, or sometimes even talking after they have ridden a horse. He pauses and looks away out of the window for a moment, as his eyes brim with emotion – ours do too. An overwhelming moment for us all.

In 1992, Enos was part of a Development Team, which attended the Barcelona Olympics. He did not compete himself, but represented South Africa as an official Sports Ambassador, at the first Olympic Games in which South Africa had been allowed to take part in, in over 25 years. He describes this as one of his proudest moments. When the Soweto Equestrian Centre was first started in 2007, as a ‘not for profit’ organisation, Enos famously said, “One day a child from my centre will represent South Africa at the Olympic Games.”

The arena Enos uses to teach Vaulting in is small, but adequate. “The reason we do not have many older children competing on horses in competitions, is because we do not have horses suitable for them to do so. We mostly have ponies here and they are fine for the small children. But we are good at vaulting here, and the kids love it!” he says with an ear-to-ear smile. And what they have achieved over the past few years in the Vaulting arena is really remarkable! The first time his team won the Gauteng Regional Vaulting Championship was in November 2009 – they had only started the training program of March that year. Just a month later, they represented Gauteng at the South African National Vaulting Championships, where they were crowned the South African Mixed Team Vaulting Champions. They have won again at SA Champs another four times. 28 of his vaulting pupils have been awarded Gauteng Provincial Colours for Vaulting. Children from his centre have also attended the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky in 2010, and again at in Normandy in France in 2014, so maybe that “Olympic dream” is not such a lofty one!

The City of Johannesburg gave him 28 acres of land to start the Soweto Riding Centre in 2006, which comprised of two adjoining erfs. “The second piece, where the horses are grazing now, does not have a border fence around it. I am so worried that one day the squatters will move in and take our land. The city council has tried many things here on this land. They tried hockey, cycling and even soccer, but they were not successful. When I came here it was just a white elephant! Now we have 20 horses here”

The riding centre facilities are quite modest – most of what we see has been funded by donations, he tells us. “This very building we are sitting in – it was a toilet block! There was nothing else here on this property when we came. Those toilets smelt very bad, but we came with gloves and masks and cleaned everything, and now it is our office. We have worked hard to get to this stage, but there is still so much to do. We want to improve all the time.”

“I thank God all the time for the path he has put me on in my life. I still want to give up sometimes. But then I look around at my facilities and I see the happy children here, and then I know I can carry on again.”


1976 – Placed 2nd in the Rothman’s Derby

1977 – The first black member of the Transvaal Horse Society

1977 & 1978 – Won the Championship Class at the Constantia Show Grounds in Cape Town

1978 – Became the first black rider in 127 years, to compete at the Royal Agricultural Show in Pietermaritzburg, where he was Reserve Champion in the King George’s Championship

1980 – He was the first black rider to compete overseas, and the first South African to compete overseas for more than 20 years, when he went to the UK to compete in the Royal International Horse Show at Wembley

1992 – Attended the Barcelona Olympic Games as part of a development team, as a Sports Ambassador to South Africa

1997 – Completed a Sports Management course in Belgium

2007 – Founded the current Soweto Equestrian Centre in Rockville, Soweto.

2008 – Awarded he Sports Volunteer of the Year, at the SA Sports Awards

2010 – Accompanied one of his Vaulting pupils, Khensani Maluleke, to Kentucky in the USA, where he competed at the FEI World Equestrian Games

2014 – Accompanied two more of his Vaulting pupils, Karabo Mafokate and Bongani Mvumvu, to the FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France.

2015 – He was awarded the Steve Tshwete Lifetime Achievement Award.

Back to school: 6 simple exercises for the Endurance horse ~ Leandri Joubert & Janice Barrett

I shall never forget standing at the start line of my first Tri-Nations event watching a rider on the South African team warming up her horse. She was trotting beautiful circles with her horse moving in a perfect frame, engaged, rhythmic and alert. I remember telling myself “THIS is how it should be done” and it seems to hold true for most of the successful horse-and-rider combinations in endurance. Like with all other equestrian disciplines, good groundwork makes the difference at the end of the day. In Endurance it makes even more sense considering you have to canter for 120 kilometres on variable terrain – if your horse is not supple and balanced, the chances are pretty good that something will act up along the way. This is equally, if not more, true for the rider. An unfit rider with a poor position in the saddle will make it even harder for the horse as the day goes on.


Now let me state up front, I am not one of the superstar endurance riders, nor do I crave my next 7-hour day in the saddle. My enjoyment is working with young horses and watching them grow from scrawny little Arabs to strong, muscular and competent athletes. My incredible instructor, okay she is more of a friend, manages to look beyond the running tights and ‘tekkies’ riding gear, the synthetic tack and the pint-sized horses, and together we have worked out some ‘go-to’ exercises that are incredibly simple, but so beneficial to both the endurance horse and rider.


Exercise: Large and loose


Purpose: The start to an endurance race is exciting, the first 10 kilometres a mad blur of skills, luck and selectively functioning brakes. The horse will want to run, will want to chase the pack and will want to do so at speed. In this case, your hands, the bit and all that goes with them can become a very uncomfortable reality for the young horse. Add to that the typical young horses’ compromised position of running with their heads in the air and you are very likely setting your horse up for some unpleasant habits and experiences on the track.


Our first exercise is therefore to generate some trust between the horse and rider, more specifically the rider’s hands and the bit. In this exercise we ride large, pressure-free circles on a loose rein where all changes in pace and direction become a non-event. This may seem tedious and simple, but is critical in developing a solid foundation going forward.


What do I do?

  • To start you may want to begin this exercise in an enclosed smaller area and then work your way up to a larger arena.
  • Get the horse to walk on a loose rein on a large circle or large circuit. He should walk energetically, and maintain the true rhythm of the walk, i.e. one-two-three-four-one-two-three-four.
  • Try to keep the reins loose but equal on either side of his neck. Follow his shoulder/neck movement with supple arms, specially elbows and wrists.
  • Include simple changes of rein in walk. To ride a smooth change of rein on a loose rein, be sure to keep looking ahead, through your horse’s ears. Have your new inside leg on his girth, your new outside leg a little behind the girth. It helps to slightly turn your new inside shoulder slightly back. Try to keep your horse’s rhythm as you do this.
  • Work up to being able to do this in trot, also with a loose rein. Remember to do a soft bounce to change your diagonal when you change rein.


What to look for?


  • You want your horse not to rush off and to begin to accept the loose rein as a pleasant mutual agreement.
  • Make sure the walk and the trot are energetic, yet calm.
  • In walk, remember to feel the rhythm of one-two-three-four-one-two-three-four. It should not change, and especially not change to a jog.
  • In trot, remember to feel the rhythm of one-two-one-two. It should not change.
  • Over time you want your horse to relax his poll and start to stretch / lower his nose. There may be many more sessions with the head in the air – but the aim is that the horse learns that he is free to move forward and relax. Over time the physical head carriage will change, but the immediate benefit is the understanding that your hands and the bit are guides and not the enemy.


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Exercise: Circles and serpentines


Purpose: We continue with the theme of a solid foundation and a pleasant association with your hands and the bit, but now we add some work in the steering department. During an endurance ride you are constantly picking the best line for your horse to travel, dodging rocks, holes and even other horses. It can be of race-saving importance to quickly and effectively change direction with just the shift of your seat. This exercise starts to build the steering platform with the aim to exclude the reins but include everything else! Again, such a simple exercise, but so effective for practising the communication between you and your horse.


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What do I do?

  • Add 20-metre circles to the large and loose trotting exercise if you feel the horse is losing rhythm. Then continue on your larger circuit.
  • Walk three-loop serpentine to get the shape and size of the loops as consistent as possible.
  • Try the serpentine exercise in the same trot that you should have developed in the previous exercise, i.e. energetic, rhythmic and relaxed. Remember to change your own diagonal as you straighten out before starting the next loop. Be sure to ‘bounce’ as softly as possible on your horse’s back to avoid him losing his rhythm.
  • In the serpentine, simply change a loop into a circle for one or two circuits if your horse is rushing.


What to look for:

  • The horse should manage to keep his rhythm throughout the circle or the serpentine. You must be carefully to keep your own balance or he will undoubtedly lose his rhythm.
  • He should follow the line of the serpentine by showing willingness to bend on each loop, then travel a short distance straight and then begin the new bend on the next loop
  • At this stage the horse will probably be looking around a lot, but that is to be expected and to a certain extent he should be allowed to do so.
  • In the long term, the serpentines will help him to begin to focus on the work and the rider, rather than what is happening outside of the arena.
  • Serpentines give the horse an opportunity to experience the arena from many different views, so they are also a way to familiarise him to a new place.
  • The rider should be able to achieve the serpentine with his/her seat and legs, maintaining a quiet position in the saddle as she changes direction, and be as independent of the reins as possible as a steering mechanism.



Exercise: Trot-walk-trot transitions


Purpose: By now we can hopefully walk and trot on a loose rein with some changes in direction thrown in. My endurance comrades will know that this is quite some progress with a young energetic Arabian horse. For our next exercise we want to start working on the quality of the movement, get the correct muscles to engage so that on race day we have 4-wheel drive activated. Furthermore, this exercise helps practise both a downward and an upward transition so neither is a drama when asked for. In addition, it teaches the young horse to change his pace and at the same time keep his quarters in line with his shoulders, not something that horses do if left to their own devices, as most prefer to swing the quarters sideways in either or both up and downwards transitions. This exercise also encourages the horse to engage his hindquarters, in other words, to step under with his hind legs. In the long term, it is a great strengthening exercise for the hindquarters.


What do I do?

  • Start either on a straight line or a 20-metre circle in walk. Ask your horse to move into trot, using both legs equally on the girth. If he is lazy give him a sharp kick with your lower legs. If he is too sharp, just think, breathe in and start trotting.
  • In the long term, you want a willing calm transition without having to kick him at all, just to breathe in and go. Even a naturally lazy horse can be taught this.
  • Then, to ask him to come back to walk, keep your legs on his barrel, and start to ‘shrink’ your rising trot until the horse starts to slow down and change pace to walk. By holding him with your legs, you are helping to keep him straight, and you are controlling the pace with your body, rather than with your reins.
  • When the horse is walking, try to feel the one-two-three-four rhythm of the walk for a few strides. Then ask again for the upward transition.
  • Remember to try to reduce the amount of leg needed for the upward transition. This may take weeks or even months. Likewise, if the horse is too excited, teach him to accept that your legs never leave his side, but he responds from ‘breathe and go’ without exploding.


What to look for:

  • The horse should remain straight in the transitions. Remember that straight means that his hindquarters are behind his shoulders. So even on a circle, he can be straight. The main thing is that he does not swing the quarters out. This prevents him from remaining engaged. When time is critical, this slows down reaction time.
  • Remember to look for clear, correct rhythm in both walk and trot.
  • In the long term, his head carriage should not change in the transitions.



The exercise: Trotting poles


Purpose: I am almost sure no explanation is needed here. Most riders on merely an out-ride have been victim to a sleepy horse not picking up its feet, a situation that is even more likely (and terrifying) when cantering across country. Having your horse alert to its own feet and used to adjusting the length of its stride will prove invaluable in a sticky situation where you have no choice but to over that rock. Trotting poles can be used in various configurations to keep your horse attentive and figuring out how its own body works whilst carrying you around! Google is your friend here, but here are some steps to get you started.


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What do I do?

  • You will need poles suitable for trotting over. They can be any safe poles; preferably ones that are heavy enough to not roll easily and wide enough to allow the horse to move straight over; they do not need not be smartly painted show-jumping poles. Three poles are good, four or five poles are even better.
  • You will need to set them the correct distance for your horse’s trot stride. This is usually about 90 cm to one metre, but can vary, depending on the fitness, size and excitability of your horse. For example, if he is very hot, rather start with three poles and slowly increase the number of poles.
  • Place the set of poles more-or-less in the centre of your working space, to allow an approach from either side.
  • Allow him to just walk over the poles a few times, so he is familiar with them. If the poles are set for trotting, he will need to put in an extra stride or two in the walk, to cope with the distance. This is a good way to remind him to think about his feet and adjust his stride as necessary.
  • Then ask him to trot quietly over the poles. It is best to approach off a gentle curve, then straighten out the last ten metres, over the poles, continue straight another ten metres and then return to your track.

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What to look for:

  • The horse should approach the poles willingly and confidently. He should keep his rhythm and move into the poles straight and out the other side also straight.
  • If he rushes, circle first in trot and then walk the poles again. Repeat until he stops rushing.
  • Most horses don’t do it perfectly the first time. So, don’t panic, just keep calm and try again.
  • It is advisable/helpful to have a friend nearby who can adjust the poles if necessary.




The exercise: Turn-on-the-forehand


Purpose: This exercise has got a less direct link to endurance (unless you include the twisting and turning in the grooming area). However, once again this serves as a muscle activation exercise and is an opportunity to identify some weaker spots in how you communicate with your horse. It adds some lovely variety to the schooling work and can help to slow down an excited horse and get them to refocus.


The turn-on-the forward requires the horse to move his hindquarters around his front end. When it is perfected, the horse will cross his hind legs over, while ‘marking time’ with his front legs. He will move in a semi-circle and end up facing in the opposite direction.


What do I do?


  • Choose a place in your arena or schooling area with a wall or firm barrier.
  • Halt your horse close to and parallel to the wall. Ideally the halt should be square, but that might come a bit later with more schooling.
  • Have your reins short enough so your horse cannot move forward. Drop your weight onto your outside (the side against the wall) seat-bone and move your outside leg back about five centimetres.
  • Firmly but calmly, nudge your horse with your outside leg, until he starts to move his quarters towards the inside of the arena.


What to look for:


  • The horse should move quietly and obediently away from the ‘asking’ leg. His head position should remain more-or-less the same.
  • You should not have to pull him around with your reins; in fact your hands should only gently prevent him from stepping forwards.
  • When he does it well, you will feel the benefits of the lateral movement of his outside hind leg.
  • The ideal turn-on-the-forehand will be rhythmical and the crossing-over steps taken by the hind legs will be of equal length.


The exercise: Sitting trot …with a friend


Purpose: Sitting trot is something usually reserved for the Dressage purists and I look on in envy as they effortlessly become one with their horses and float across the arena. So I was a little surprised the first time my instructor said that we will slowly introduce some sitting trot into our repertoire. I was horrified as I felt like a blob of human mass unsuccessfully trying to look elegant and still press all the right buttons. My horse was equally unimpressed with the sudden change in riding but over time, and introducing it little by little once we both warmed up, it has added such value.


Firstly, it clearly highlighted my dependencies in the saddle and what I needed to work on. Secondly, my horse became less bothered when for some reason (read “spook across the field”) I am flopping around on his back. Mostly, however, it provided opportunities to do all the exercises above more effectively, with clearer communication and better execution. It does also help prepare the horse for your cantering both in the arena and on the track. To really maximise the benefit of this exercise draw on the services of a friend and the video feature on their smartphone (and leave your ego at the arena gate).


What do I do?

  • Wait until your horse has warmed up and is working fairly quietly. This is not an exercise for a cold horse or a very tense, rushing horse.
  • Choose a riding pattern that is familiar, like a 20 metre circle. Just relax your body: your core, knees, ankles, elbows and all the rest and sit the trot one or two strides.
  • If your horse really gets tense, go back to rising trot.
  • Keep doing this until you can remain sitting for about five or six strides.
  • The aim is to adjust your riding to your horse’s natural stride, and not try and make his stride shorter or slower for your benefit.

What to look for:


  • Make sure the sitting trot does not alter the horse’s way of going. If he puts his head up and gets tense, you are probably causing him discomfort. Then, rather go back to riding trot, instead of upsetting your horse. This tells you that you need to get yourself suppler and balanced, rather than creating a sore back for your horse.
  • In the long term, the sitting trot is used for preparation and balance before the canter transition.
  • Equally, as you become more skilled, sitting trot is ridden as the first few strides after moving into trot from walk, and the last few strides as you transition to walk.




These exercises won’t have you riding Dressage competitions anytime soon, but they are a fantastic combination of simple challenges you can take on in the schooling arena to add some variety to the training of your endurance horse. Your work will however only bear fruits through patience and the rider taking an honest hard look at their own riding…but more on that later!