When Happy Ndlovu first entered South Africa as an illegal immigrant in 2002, who would have guessed that he would become an accomplished work rider, passionate and extremely knowledgeable about showjumping, oh, and chickens .
We arrived at 8 in the morning to talk to an exhausted Happy, who had been up since dawn preparing and loading horses that were going to Shongweni for the big show, but he graciously chatted to us and even told us about his second passion, also a source of pride and joy, his egg laying Lavender Orpinton chickens.
Tell me a bit about yourself :
Happy Ndlovu, 33, I am from the village of Tsholotsho in Zimbabwe. My wife and 2 children, 13 and 10, are back home. she looks after the kids who both go to school in the village.
How did you become a working groom?
Just after I finished my O’levels I decided to come to South Africa to look for work. My father, who was already in the country then, working for Phillip Tucker so I followed suit and got a job as a groom, with my father’s help of course. Jacky, then also had her horses in Rogan’s yard. When Jacky opened her own stables in 2004, I went with her and I have not regretted it once. She needed a riding partner, so she taught me to ride on her horse, White Magic. At the time she had 5 jumping horses and 2 retired ones that I looked after. I started off riding a horse called White Magic. The first time we went on a out ride the horse bolted with me and I followed advise that Megan Jackson had repeatedly given to me, which was that when the horse bolts with you, you should try to turn it instead of pulling to get it to stop.
I then began having lessons with James White, he taught me all the basics of riding and I grew to love the sport. My next horse was Pohlands Whyle and together we started showjumping. Our first show together was at Witkoppen, jumping 90cm. We came 1st and won a voucher for jods from Midfeeds.
I have learnt quite a lot since being here. Jackie taught me to drive, I can tow and I also know how to trim horses. I do shows once a month and I really enjoy and look forward to it.
Describe a typical day in your life
I start off my day with a lesson from Rogan Asken at 8am on Pohlands Whyle, one of Jackie’s horses. I go for tea break at 10, when I get back, I prepare Greg’s horses Sparkling and Vuitton. I maintain jumps for him and make sure that all is well till he is done riding, which normally takes me to my lunchtime, 12 – 2pm. During my lunch, sometimes I fetch Jackie’s son Cade from school, in Beaulieu and run errands as needed.
After my lunch, the horses get theirs, basically Epol pellets, Capstone lifetime balancer, and Cooltime. This is also the time when horses get their supplements, i.e Fulvic, Diamond V, Omega oil.
I then get Ronette’s horses, Edward and Lawrence, ready for her. Afterwards, I check on my chickens, layers, Lavender Orpingtons. I am the only one in this area with this breed, as far as I know. I got them from a guy who came to build our teff shed and bred them from a rooster and 2 hens, now I have 25 hens and one rooster, on average, i get about 16 eggs a day from them.
4:30pm is dinnertime for the horses, I supervise their eating while dong individual checks to see that they are all well. I knock off at 5pm but I do a final round at night to check that all is still well.
What was your worst experience as a groom
I had to tow Megan Jackson’s horse to be put down, very tough thing to do. One of our horses, Toyitoyi, got biliary and died in the yard.
Have you ever fallen off a horse while riding?
I have fallen off but I have never been hurt. I rarely come off so when I fall everyone celebrates.
How would you improve the life of a groom?
I have been very lucky to work with and for my employers. They are awesome, considerate and they push me and encourage me to do more all the time. I even have insurance with Equipage which I know a lot of other grooms do not have, I feel that this is something that employers need to take into serious consideration. Horses are unpredictable animals and as much as one can try to be, accidents are bound to happen.
I also feel that if grooms are given the proper training, there would be less grievous accidents and less blame to throw around. Riding has helped me to understand a great deal about horses, how to better communicate with them as well as handle myself around them.
Feedback is also very important for both groom and employer, let your grooms know that they are doing well and correct them if they are wrong. Respect is earned both ways, grooms provide a much needed service as much as they also need the employment. I have seen grooms treated realy badly by their employers at shows and how they do their jobs without any feelings in return.
What do you think are the characteristics of a good groom?:
One must be level headed around horses, a little common sense, be careful of your tone of voice, good body language. Always remember that horses understand verbal communication and that one should be able to establish discipline and respect from the horse.
As a show-jumper, what advice would you give to others before they go into competition?
Warm up more.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I would like to do my NQF, I have already started researching the requirements, with lots of help from Chris Topping, Jackie’s husband and I am looking forward to starting.
If you had the financial capacity, would you own a horse?:
Definitely, since I started riding, I have grown to love horses quite a lot and I can see myself owning one.