The South African Lipizzaners Development Programme

Equilife was proud to attend the launch of the South African           Lipizzaners Development Programme, held at the SAL headquarters in Kyalami on the 6th May. Chairperson Heather Partner welcomed everyone with an introduction to the vision, as well as the necessity thereof, that has had life breathed into it through the generous sponsorship of First Rand Limited.

Equestrian sport in South Africa has rightly been labelled as elitist for many years, despite the fact that between all of the factions they are one of the biggest employers of people of colour. Transformation has lagged behind sadly with almost no development riders in the ring, let alone at high level, to a point that we stand to lose all support of national committees if there is not fundamental change in diversity and more opportunities being made available across the board.

Enter MD and head trainer at the SAL, Adriaan van Wyk’s programme, a dream to transform the non-profit organisation of the Lipizzaners – a place where students have always had to pay their own way – into a top-class development and training facility for under-privileged aspiring learners. His tenacity lured Sam Moss and Sifiso Mthembu from First Rand Limited into backing his radical proposal:
Firstly, there has been a thorough upgrading of facilities at the SAL. Ramshackle rondawels have been converted into living facilities for the students – a residential programme is far easier to run as the students are more cared for, supervised, transportation worries are eliminated, and they have access to all aspects of horsemanship (including the 2am colics!). The students have been absorbed into the SAL riding and training programme, where they interact with the schoolmaster stallions on the ground and under saddle, whilst also writing tests and assignments to ensure their horsemanship is rounded and complete. These skillsets mean that at the completion of the ten-month course, we have a degree of education which equips the student to enter the industry in a variety of careers and make a meaningul impact, allowing the next wave of students to take their place in the programme, for at least the next three years that First Rand Limited has committed to. With more inclusion and exposure, the programme will get more coverage, and be beneficial to more riders!

The long term positive effect of this is undeniable: Olympic aspirations will be realised under fair quotas, empowered people will empower the next generation, sponsors get invigorated, and a mechanism for social and sporting upliftment is created… the responsibility now lies with the riding community to see this initiative through. Supporting the programme by hiring the students, furthering their education, and encouraging others under our umbrella to further themselves, means that the industry gets set on a steep curve for growth that we so desperately need. A good example of someone already making waves in the industry is Shepherd Zira, a groom’s son who has been taken under the wing of international showjumper Ronnie Healy. This promising young rider is turning heads, and is included in the development programme as a mentor to the other students. Under the programme we will soon see Shepherd producing his own string of competition horses for the jumping arena, riding in the Lipizzaner performances on Sundays, and creating an empire of his own.

The SAL yard is alive with possibility; there is even a new play centre for the grooms’ children, run by a groom’s wife.

Western Shopppe’s Daryl Gershow and Deon Augustyn have generously come on board, by reducing the cost of all the riders clothing.

We see the older students giving lunge lessons to the younger ones, Shepherd coming to grips with a half-pass instead of an oxer, Pretty buttoning up the iconic red tailcoat of the Quadrille riders, and Adriaan setting questions for this week’s test. Watching this evokes goosebumps, and I realise that we, as a community, are on the cusp of something truly great. This is our moment, our opportunity, to change the face of horse sport in South Africa.

Please visit: for more information on the centre, as well as booking to come see one of their exceptional shows, the only one of it’s kind in the country!

Many thanks to First Rand Limited for backing this incredible initiative.