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Cultural Heartlands on Horseback

 
04 January 2016 by Katy La Grange

One of the first things that will strike anyone driving through the Cultural Heartlands is the vastness of this region. Unlike the mountainous Lowveld with its thick indigenous bushveld, the flat grasslands of the Cultural Heartlands spread uninterrupted to the distant horizon and a never-ending skyline that gives an almost overwhelming impression of limitlessness.  

To really appreciate this area you need to almost detach yourself from the enormity of it and start focussing in on the small things. As these are some of the best kept secrets of this region.

One of the best ways to get to know the Cultural Heartlands is on horseback. Where your senses are awakened by the smells that surround you, the wind on you face and taste of the occasional bug in your mouth! 

Walk, trot or canter through the Cultural Heartlands and the great vastness you will start to see the small things under-hoof. The tiny succulents that are scattered throughout the region and are believed to hold incredible healing powers suddenly become apparent when you are riding.  The rich golden grasses that this region is famed for are not only beautiful to look at, but on horseback you feel compelled to reach out and touch them every now and then. The horses themselves are better than any guide or tracker at alerting you to what’s about, whether it is a lizard sunning itself on a log or an antelope trying to conceal itself in a thicket, nothing goes unnoticed.

My horseback adventure took place in Buffalo Gorge, halfway between the region’s historic town of Middelburg and the popular holiday destination of Loskop Dam. My guide Ryk is the kind of man you know you’ll like from the moment you meet him. A modern day ‘Laurence of Arabia’, he has the striking outfit and the gentlemanly manners.  As he introduces me to my trusty steed ‘Black Bear’ due to his dark face and white nose, I know this is going to be a great day.

Although I hadn’t ridden in over 15 years, Ryk assures me all will be fine and explains that horse riding is a disease with no cure and once you have caught the bug there is no escape. After a brief introduction we set off across the veld, changing between walking, trotting and the occasional canter. .

The ride took us across the escarpment and towards the Avontuur Valley where you get some of the most impressive views of the Cultural Heartlands landscape. Long sweeping valleys cut through the impressive escarpment, carving out sheer cliffs and long drops. Thankfully the horses know this area inside out and could probably navigate you safely through it blindfolded. As proven to me by Black Bear who would often take the lead when he felt the lead horse was dawdling! 

By far my favourite part was navigating the Buffalo Gorge Donga. A crack in the ground 2m across and 3m deep, the horses pick their way down before charging back up. Anyone whose heart isn’t pumping a little faster by the end and who doesn’t have a smile ear to ear isn’t human, as this is one of those truly exhilarating moments.

The two hour ride was over too quickly, although my thighs the next morning were thankful it wasn’t any longer. Buffalo Gorge is the perfect place for novice or experienced riders to explore the Cultural Heartland countryside, as Ryk tailors his rides brilliantly and is a wealth of information. The scenery is simply spectacular and is a privilege to ride through, whilst the horses provide the best of both worlds by allowing you to get so much closer to nature than you would in a car while covering a much larger distance then you could ever hope to on foot.

Follow the GPS Coordinates: 25.54763 & E 29.56321 to Buffalo Gorge or for more information check out the website: www.buffalogorge.co.za or contact Ryk on 083 528 9586 | info@buffalogorge.co.za