It is the spectacular postcard scenery of the 17 000 hectares of Komatiland forest in Mpumalanga which hits you first, but driving over the hill and approaching the horse trails, you will see the free-roaming horses – a sight to take your breath away, Lowvelder reports.
As a visitor, your first port of call will be Nibbles, an eclectic caravan café adjacent to the small office, which is run by the legendary horseman and restaurateur Mike Kay, whose love of horses and nature brought him to the Horse Trails family one and half years ago.
“Whether you are a horse rider or not, there are few better places to enjoy a cup of something warm and a bit to eat than on a bench in the sun or shade, and the view of the plantation and the sounds of the “wild outdoors”. There are no stables here. The horses live in the forest and they eat what is natural for them. I’ve only ever known stabled horses, but I so prefer this system. I love it here – for the horses, the quiet and the wildlife,” Kay says.
The 73-year-old is suspicious, however, of anyone who wants to take his picture and he really cannot understand why anyone would want to know about his life.
It is one filled with incredible achievements and unbelievable experiences and it is probably because he battles to choose which stories to include and which to leave out that he finds it difficult to talk about. It is the reasons many people have told him to write an autobiography.
From champion jockey to breeder, chef to restaurateur, and lodge manager to tour operator, there is not much Kay has not done or seen.
White River residents will remember him from Timbuctoo restaurant, which he ran for 16 years, and enjoyed a five-star rating in the Laurent-Perrier Restaurant Guide and Diners Club International Wine List of the Year status. He is a British Horse Society instructor to boot; a qualification he obtained in England in his early 20s and came back to South Africa as one of only three such instructors in the country.
Kay became the riding instructor of owner Christo Germishuys at Mataffin Riding School many moons ago. Germishuys established the horse trails in 1994 and advocates natural horsemanship, which he says is a natural way of working with the animals.
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Kay says the young Christo was similar to him in the way they were both good with problem horses. “Any animal which was difficult, I’d give it to him and he’d sort it out. He is just brilliant with horses, he understands and respects them,” he explains.
Germishuys (59) has over 30 years of trail riding experience and it is plain to see why the business has developed a reputation for the excellent conditions of its animals, safe riding, and the dream setting.
One and two-hour rides, full day rides and three-day trails are on offer and experienced and less experienced riders are welcome.
The accommodation can sleep up to 28 people and the little cottages are equipped for self-catering, although it would be a sin to not enjoy at least one meal at Nibbles, if only to meet the chef himself and some of the other colourful characters milling around. You will be fascinated by the artistic details all around the place; from rusted tin cups to pieces of wood which have been turned into artistic decorative pieces by Germishuys, who does not sit still for a minute.
The business employs five people full-time, but welcomes volunteers as part of its student programme.
Germishuys says the diversity of people who pass through the Kaapsehoop Horse Trails is amazing. “Ninety-nine per cent of the people that come here, we’d love to see again. We want our guests to leave with a sense of well-being,” he says.
As for Kay, he hopes this will be his last stop.
“I hope they’ll carry me away from here in a box. I have had the most fantastically spoilt and privileged life because I always made my hobbies my jobs. And I am still doing it today.”
– Caxton News Service