Horsing Around in the Midlands

I recently visited the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands to attend a mini conference and booked to stay on a farm in the Fort Nottingham area. Since I only had the early mornings to myself, I was torn between sleeping in (and staying warm), or getting up early to explore the farm. The next morning my characteristic fomo kicked in and I got up in the dark, put on as many layers as possible, grabbed my camera and tackies, and headed out. Below the farmhouse was a small dam, and I thought that might be a good spot to capture the morning light over the water. Half-way across the field, I realised I would have to hike a good few kilometres to the other side of the valley in order to get that sort of shot, so I changed course and walked in the direction of the rising sun. At this stage, there was just a faint glimmer of light coming over the hill.

horsing-around-in-the-midlands

The Midlands is a really beautiful area. Usually green and lush, in winter, the fields turn dry and frosty, and the landscape is a rich golden brown. The farm road I was walking on was under construction, and passing bakkies filled the air with dust. There wasn’t much to photograph really. Just a whole lot of brown, bare trees, a few ramshackle farm buildings, and a long straight dirt road. I decided to climb a little higher on the verge of the road to spy on the neighbour's fields.

And that’s when I spotted them.

A small herd of young horses off in the distance. They had their backs turned to me, and were standing still, heads down, waiting for the morning warmth. I’m done with my trespassing days, for the most part, so I called out to them to come over. I tried the high pitched ‘Hellooo’, and the firm, ‘Hey there!’, and a few unimpressive whistles. They raised their heads but stayed put. I tried the tongue-clicking horse call. Nothing. Then a distant memory came to me from a horse-whispering book I’d read years ago (not the novel, a real documentary style book about actual horse-whispering). It was all about horse psychology. Now I’m not sure if I remembered the information correctly but I thought I’d try my version of it on this disinterested bunch. Instead of facing their field, and calling out to them, I turned my back on them and looked out over the farmland. I stood there quietly for about five minutes. Inside, I was begging them, ‘Please horses, please come over, I’d love to say hello!’ But externally I was cool, ‘Whatever, I don’t really care. I have better things to do.’

And then I heard them approaching. I turned around and there they were, making their way toward me, ears forward, necks outstretched. They were coming to say hello! They were like a bunch of gangly teenagers, safe in the crowd, each one taking a turn to say hi, to sniff my arms, nibble on my coat buttons, fiddle with my hair, blow their warm horsey breath onto my camera lens. Each one had a turn inspecting me. They got a little jumpy when I raised my camera, so I made slow movements and chatted cheerfully to them. ‘Hey guys, how are you doing? How are things here on the farm? Um, please leave my buttons alone. Nope, my hair is not grass. No, you can’t eat that. Don’t worry about that grass stain you left on my arm, its really no problem at all.’

They fiddled and sniffed and nibbled, and shuffled, stretching their heads through the fence, tipping my tripod over. Every now and again one of them would irritate the others and start a small fight: teeth bared, heels up.

After half an hour once the sun had risen and I’d almost certainly gotten dust in my camera, the horses grew bored of me and moved off slowly. Done investigating the human, they decided to play a little, and galloped off up the hill, rearing and kicking, showing off. I packed up my things, retrieved my tripod from a bramble bush, and walked back to the farmhouse. 

After five years of taking photos on my trusty iPhone, I picked up my first DSLR about six months ago, and am loving it! I have a very entry level Canon (1300 EOS), with a couple of kit lenses, a 50mm I picked up second hand, and a borrowed wide-angle lens (10-20mm) which I was playing with in this series of pics. 


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