All the Pretty Horses

By Kari Collard

‘If you appreciate a beautiful brood-mare and a full-bodied glass of wine, the Cape is the place to saddle up and enjoy both’

My sister and I spent the better part of our summer holidays jumping over fallen tree trunks in Tokai forest, cleaning tack, and bribing our big-bellied ponies with Polo mints and sugar cubes. 

We were lucky enough to stable our beloved four-legged friends at Uitsig  in Cape Town’s Constantia Valley. Long before La Colombe and The River Café, the grounds were home to about a hundred horses, lined with paddocks and scattered with makeshift show jumps.

Apart from being the ultimate horsy-heaven, Uitsig also had rows and rows of vineyards leaning against the valley. Although riders were strictly prohibited from horsing around in the vineyards, my sister and I would often sneak our steeds in between the vines. Barefoot and bareback we, and our ponies, would sit in the sun while snacking on an endless supply of hanepoot grapes. We’d practise our French braiding on our horses’ manes and have childlike chats about possible post-ride Coke-floats.

Fast-forward a few years (okay, give or take a decade or so), and I find myself back at Uitsig—this time I am old enough to try the wine and I use my not-so-trusty Golf to get around. I start thinking about how more and more Western Cape wine farms are trying their hand at horse breeding, training and racing.

After my trot down memory lane, I am curious to find out what other farms share this wine and filly fervour. So, as I leave Constantia, I keep on driving and end up in Franschhoek. And, along the way, I discover a few beautiful wine farms that have a shared passion for both wine and all things equine.

To start with, surrounded by mountains and the vast vineyards of the Paarl and Franschhoek valleys,VAL DE VIE is home to one of the poshest polo grounds this side of the equestrian equator. Their passion for this spiffy sport has transformed the estate into a bit of a polo destination, which hosts both local and international polo tournaments. 

The local Val de Vie Polo Club plays polo on the grounds every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday—which are open to the polo-loving public. The lads over at Val de Vie also have a polo school for fresh young things who would like to learn the sport of kings.

However, if Chestnut never quite took to polo, Val de Vie also offers extensive facilities for a variety of other equestrian disciplines such as dressage and show jumping. 

Sticking to studs in Franschhoek, DRAKENSTEIN STUD FARM  is situated on the L’Ormarins wine farm on the bottom slopes of the Groot Drakenstein Mountains. Huguenot Jean Roi fled from France in 1688 and settled in the Franschhoek Valley, where he established the farm. Today this sweet spot is where paddocks and vines intertwine. In honour of Jean Roi and his love of horses, the first foal born on the farm was named after him. 

Drakenstein currently stands four of the most desirable sires—those are the Don Juans to the mares—at stud in South Africa: Horse Chestnut, Philanthropist, Trippi and What A Winter. Nice work for a horse, if you can get it. In case your filly-facts aren’t up to date, they’re kind of a big deal in the horse world. L’Ormarins has also sponsored the Queen’s Plate since 2005—Cape Town’s most prestigious horse racing event.

Moving over the mountain, I head towards one of the Cape’s newest farms, CAVALLI— which means ‘horses’ in Italian. This farm was born from a family’s three-pronged passion: for horses, wine and fine cuisine. And, luckily for those of us sharing the same passions, all three have found a single home in Stellenbosch. CAVALLI STUD FARM AND TRAINING is spread over 110 hectares of land, surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. Not a half-bad view while mounted on a horse. 

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The facilities include an indoor training arena attached to 20 state-of-the-art stables. These five-star horsy-homes were designed to facilitate as much harmony for their sleek-coated residents as possible. Optimal natural light and ventilation are achieved through the use of high-level windows and a massive skylight. The stables were also designed with as many interactive opportunities for the neighing neighbours as possible—they are by nature very sociable creatures. Sounds like a plush pony Plaza, eh?  

Just a canter down the road, situated next to the wine estate at the foot of the Helderberg Mountain, is AVONTUUR THOROUGHBRED FARM . Avontuur was established towards the end of the ’80s by the late Mr Tony Taberer. Tony adored horses and, continuing his passion, the farm has a beautiful brood-mare band from around the world. This, combined with a policy of using only outstanding sires, is slowly but surely establishing the farm’s top steed league. Avontuur’s premier range of wines also pays tribute to some of the finest horses the farm has produced. Names such as Sarabande Sauvignon Blanc Reserve, Luna de Miel Chardonnay Reserve and Dominion Royale Shiraz Reserve are all named after horses that have gone on to greener pastures.

A little closer to the city, and on the grounds of DE GRENDEL WINES in Durbanville, is THE MONTROSE FOUNDATION . The foundation offers a special kind of equine therapy to humans battling with psychological problems, trauma or addiction. The facility offers programmes that involve activities ranging from on-the-ground handling to actual horse riding. The theory behind the therapy is that physical contact with a horse and the rhythm of its motion releases the hormone oxytocin in humans, which is known to reduce anxiety and create a sense of well-being. Psychologists also say horse riding gives troubled people a feeling of control through gentle behaviour. The Montrose Foundation is also breaking new ground with its horse-healing approach in addressing substance abuse and addiction in disadvantaged communities. 

If you like to bet a few bob on the gee-gees, you may remember Pocket Power. He was born in the spring of 2002 on ZANDVLIET WINE ESTATE AND THOROUGHBRED STUD FARM  in Ashton. He won the J&B Met not once but three times and was voted South African Champion Racehorse in 2007, 2008 and 2009. His 20 victories in a six-year career included three wins in the Metropolitan Stakes, four in the Queen’s Plate, and the Durban July. Pocket—as they call him for short—is not the only champion to have been born and bred on Zandvliet; the farm has produced more than 160 top performing racehorses over the past 60 years. Pocket has since retired from the track and now has a second career as a star show jumper.

So if you appreciate a beautiful brood-mare and a full-bodied glass of wine, the Cape is the place to saddle up and enjoy both. Thankfully, I can now swap a Coke-float for a glass of wine after a horse ride. One big plus of growing up.

What’s In a Neigh-m?

These winemakers and wine farm owners might have been horsing around when they came up with these pony-puns and steed-inspired wine names:

The cautious farmer will mutter that nothing good will come from such a wild thing. But find the soil and climate to balance this wild nature and you have the chance of making something beautiful. The expression “dark horse” refers to a person about whom little is known, especially one with hidden abilities. It’s often said Shiraz grows as though it wants to fly away. And that was the inspiration behind the name of FLAGSTONE’S DARK HORSE SHIRAZ.

The name ARABELLA was thought up after the owners where playing around with the word Arabian—a beautiful breed of horse that grazes on the farm’s pastures. Owner Stephen de Wet and his son Jamie are both very keen endurance riders and picking a horse-inspired name came naturally.

The Koelenhof area where SIMONSIG ESTATE is situated was used as a remount camp for horses during the Anglo-Boer War. The horses were shipped to Cape Town from Great Britain and brought here to acclimatise before being taken inland by train for the war. Simonsig’s office building was originally used as a horse stable. At the entrance to their tasting room you can find a display of old horseshoes that were unearthed while planting vineyards. To pay tribute to this titbit of history, they named one of their wines THE WAR HORSE.

The story behind TALL HORSE WINES begins way back in 1824 when the Sultan of Egypt presented the King of France with a giraffe as a diplomatic gift. The giraffe was sent up the Nile by boat and shipped across the Mediterranean, where it landed at the port of Marseilles. The Europeans were in awe and unfamiliar with giraffes—this fellow caused quite a stir, and was nicknamed the Tall Horse.