For the Horse: Beauty in Wild Places — Namibia, Africa

by Cindy Reich

Charlottenberg Arabians is situated in the hills above Windhoek, Namibia. The location of the barn, on the highest ridge, is not just for the sweeping views in all directions. It was a calculated decision so the breezes and the altitude will discourage the midges that carry African horse sickness.

Barbara Sholz and Henning Du Toit are extremely busy doctors (an internist and cardiologist, respectively) in Windhoek. They also have three young sons, Jack, Hadrian, and Konrad who keep them on their toes. However, after work in the evenings and on weekends, the farm is their refuge and their passion. They have been raising Arabian horses for several years, and just recently completed construction on their new facility that was inspired by a trip to Poland.

Barbara explains, “I visited Poland because I came across a gelding out of Arizona (Gaskonczyk [Menes x Gaskonia] x Alcistka), a mare who was bred by the Ismer Stud and imported to Namibia. This gelding has an amazing spirit on the track and does not like horses in front of him. So when I saw an announcement for a breeders insight tour to the Polish State studs, we signed up immediately. The tour was organized by Scott Benjamin and Anette Mattsson, and Gene LaCroix of Lasma Arabians, himself, was on the tour as well. We had just started breeding and had purchased Crabbet-bred Arabians. However, when we entered the stables of Janów, it was as if we were transformed. We found ourselves traveling through centuries of European history.”

Barbara’s family is from Germany and her grandfather was an avid horseman. While on that tour, Barbara was able to find a single wall that had been spared by the bombs of WWII. There were rings in the wall where her grandfather would have tied up his horses, as is done in the open barns in Poland, when the horses are groomed and fed.

“We loved the idea of open barns so much so that we wanted to try it at home. What we did not consider is that our horses had not grown up together and had their own hierarchies established. We put a random group of mares together in the open barn and went to bed. The next morning when I went to check on the horses, I found my Supreme National Champion halter mare stuck under the sliding door with a horrible de-gloving injury to her front leg. The fact that she did not break her leg was a miracle. After that, we built some stalls in half of the barn, but in an open way.”

Barbara and Henning are serious endurance riders, and are intent on raising horses that are not only beautiful enough to compete in halter, but are raised in an environment that will insure that they are strong, agile horses. To that end, they raise the horses outside on the wild hillsides which abound in wildlife such as kudu and oryx, as well as predators such as leopards.

“Predators are a real worry when you have young foals,” says Barbara.  “We bring our horses closer when it comes to foaling season and bring them in for birth.

“I lost a young foal to a leopard last year. We do not want to kill predators, so we keep the foals close until they are about four weeks old, then it becomes more unlikely to lose a foal. Donkeys in the broodmare band can help deter predators as well, but we have not tried that yet.

“Namibians are very active in the endurance sport,” says Barbara. “As breeders, this provides us with an excellent opportunity to performance test the Arabian horses we breed. We noticed very quickly that pampered foals are not as savvy and tough-minded on the track. They are two-hundred percent more prone to injury. Although mental toughness and competitiveness have a strong genetic component, foals that are raised outside definitely show stronger mental and physical toughness. One can have a physically strong and fit horse, but it must be able to push on through soft dunes and sand storms on its own, after having raced 100 km already. This requires mental strength. Horses who have been raised outside and have gone through droughts, cold, heat, and pecking orders are mentally strong.

“It is a no-brainer that these horses are much more sure-footed, especially after playing and racing through mountainous, rocky terrain on our farm as youngsters.

“Due to the constant ability to graze with no extra feed they grow more naturally and evenly, although maybe not as tall as foals who are brought in at night. Although there are no studies, I am convinced that raising youngsters outside adds to better bone density. Gastric ulcer disease is most likely less prevalent in these young horses, due to their constant ability to graze and live undisturbed. When we bring them in to start them under saddle they engage eagerly and are quick to learn and respond.

“All this is confirmed by the eagerness of the endurance horse agents from the Middle East to lay their hands on horses from Namibia. The world record for the160 km was held for many years by a Namibian horse.”

There are of course, dangers in Namibia that those of us in other countries don’t have to worry about when we have our horses turned outside. We asked Barbara what her major worries were, other than leopards. “African horse sickness (AHS) is a real horror;” she says, “seventy-five percent of horses that contract the virus die quickly and in a horrible way. The virus causes leaky capillaries and the lungs get flooded. As of now, the research regarding AHS is pathetically scanty.

“There are many strains of AHS. The vaccine, which is a live vaccine, only covers a few strains and can activate the AHS itself. We use multiple management practices such as regular spraying of horses with insecticides during the wet season and keeping horses away from wet areas during dusk and dawn when the midges are most active.

“Everybody waits desperately for the temperature to drop to below 10 degrees celsius for the midges to die. That is why we built our barn at a high elevation where the temperature is cooler.

“Snakes are probably the second largest worry — they are unpredictable and cannot be deterred. I have lost a horse to the bite of the black mamba. Mambas have a neurotoxin and if enough is injected the horse will die within minutes from respiratory paralysis. Another dangerous snake is the striped cobra, commonly known as ‘rinkhals’ cobra. It is a very aggressive snake that also has a neurotoxin. Snakes like puff adders can be hard to notice in thick grass and when striking, usually bite the horse in the muzzle, causing damage by tissue necrosis.

“Other common health threats are horses getting caught up and injured in wires. Most of Namibia’s farming is cattle and wire fencing is used for rotational grazing purposes. We have started enclosing our pastures in pipe in many areas, but with vast expanses to fence, wire is still the most common material.”

With a varied horse population, from endurance athletes, to foals, to geriatric horses, we were curious about what they feed. “The broodmares and horses that work get a 12 percent mix of molasses/lucerne (alfalfa)/oats/maize meal mix, and we mix in some oats,” says Barbara. “And for lactating mares, shiny coats, or to lower the glycemic index for endurance horses, we add canola oil. In horses that get too hot on these supplements, we change to beet feeds. I have a geriatric horse with poor dentition who gets moistened lucerne pellets to keep him in good condition. The nursing mares get lots of teff grass when kept in. All the rest of the horses live on natural grazing and a salt lick.

“I would, however, like to add that I would love to have better education and choice of feeds in Namibia.”

Charlottenberg Arabians is an example of a new generation of passionate Arabian breeders who are also riders. Breeding, raising, competing, and living in such harsh, yet beautiful conditions has allowed them to produce an Arabian horse that is the same — tough, but beautiful.

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