Still out of hardship bred,
Spirits of power and beauty and delight
Have ever on such frugal pasture fed
And loved to course with tempests through the night.
From: The Horses on the Camargue [Roy Campbell]
These famous lines could quite easily refer to the herd of “wild” horses on our very own doorstep, the only such herd in South Africa. At present, about 25 horses roam the marshy edges of the estuary at the Rooisand Reserve just outside Kleinmond.
They can often be seen wading through the shallow waters or grazing, muzzles down below the surface, on the water grass that abounds there. The clumps of Royal Cape [or kweek] and Buffalo grass on the edges of the vlei provide further sustenance, as do the edible shrubs and fluitjiesriet on the sides of the water and in the reed beds. Each year between mid-winter and mid-spring, when the water levels of the estuary rise, the horses are forced out to the fringes of the vlei.
Unlike their equine counterparts that roam the Camargue in France, the Rooisand horses are not truly “wild”. It would be more accurate to describe them as “feral”, as they are undoubtedly descended from domesticated animals, which, for some or other reason, were forced to live in and adapt to a wild environment.
Theories as to their origins abound. For example, some people still believe that they are the descendants of Boer horses, which, during the Boer War, were hidden from the English. The Rooisand horses definitely have their origin in the very first horses brought from Europe by the Dutch and Flemish settlers: they share their physical characteristics. While horses were an integral part of early farming, industrialisation made a lot of farm horses redundant and it is likely that the early Rooisand horses survived a cull that took place at Ysterklip, a farm on the road from Kleinmond to Bot River.
It isn’t only the horses that draw people to Rooisand. There are wonderful walks to the beach and to a huge dune field. And if you are interested in bird-life, a visit to the Reserve is a must – more than 50 species have been spotted there. At certain times, the Bot River estuary supports over 36,000 red-knobbed coots, representing about 28% of the total coastal coot population in South Africa.
The road to Rooisand is close to Kleinmond in the direction of Bot River. Once you have passed Lamloch, watch out for an insignificant dirt road to your right, with a signpost advertising horse-riding [Unconnected!]. After two kilometres or so, the road turns sharply to the left and you will enter the Rooisand car park. Do watch out for any tortoises on the road.