Riders on the Storm

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The morning we checked out of Jeffrey’s Bay, we had horse trekking planned. Papesfontein horse trekking is the only place in the country where you can let loose with horses and gallop for kilometers down the beach in the surf. This sounded incredible, so we signed ourselves up.
As we drove away from the hostel, the clouds began to roll in. It sprinkled a bit, then cleared up again as we neared the ranch. This didn’t look good.
When we arrived at the farmhouse, there were only four of us signed up to ride: Kelsi and I, and a couple who had never been on horses before, ever.
The lady who owned the place was lovely. She said, because we were more experiences riders, that we could pretty much do our own thing.
“When you hit the sand dunes just split off from the group and do what you’d like. The horses know their way home, it won’t be a problem, and the weather should hold out, you may get sprinkled on a little on the route home, but that’s half the fun!” she gave us some faster horses and said that if we wanted a real thrill we could switch our horses with the guide’s. That was her horse; a real racehorse. “If it’s adrenaline you’re looking for, that horse will give it to you” then she sent us on our way.
We walked through the first part of the trip: Kelsi was on Bubbles and I had Patches. It was a lovely, rolling hills area that we trekked through. The South African couple that joined us were very nice, and were quickly getting comfortable with the feel of their horses. The four of us and our one guide strolled for about an hour along the dirt paths before we hit the sand dunes.
The sand dunes separated the grassy, forested hill area from the beach. From the top, you could see forever, (or at least all the way to J-Bay) it was beautiful. This was obviously the turning point towards home, because the horses started to prick up and get ready to run.
“Can we run a little?” We asked the guide.
“Sure” he said.
But our horses were nervous about stepping out of line from the guides horse at first. They wouldn’t run without the lead horse in front. So instead, we all picked up our pace to a canter together until we hit the beach.
The new couple was hanging in there and didn’t mind the fast pace. But Kelsi and I were ready to go faster, and with an endless expanse of white beach and surf line ahead of us, we pulled away from the group and started at a gallop.
We’d only been running for about a minute when our guide came bolting past us on his horse. Oh my god was that horse fast. I thought we were going fast, and he passed us as if we were standing still, sand spraying up behind the horses feet. The guide looked back at us with a concerned face, but we couldn’t tell why.
“Catch it!!! Catch it!!” He yelled at us.
Catch what? We thought.
Then I turned my head to the right and saw a riderless horse run up along side me. I pulled my horse to the right and reached out to the horse next to me, still at a full run. It took a minute, but I finally caught ahold of the reins.
Now I had two horses, who didn’t particularly like being next to each other, running at a full gallop, with me hanging in between the two of them. Okay, so it wasn’t a full gallop. In reality we were probably close to standing still, but it was so exciting I thought I was still galloping. I managed to get the escapee horse under control, before my horse swung around and I lost hold of the second horse.
By this time the guide was back and was able to grab him. Kelsi swung her horse around and we all started back to the other couple.
The lady had apparently fallen off when her horse took off after ours, but she was fine, having landed in the sand, and was brave enough to “get back on that horse,” literally.
When everyone seemed okay, Kelsi and I took off again at our own pace. The horses seemed to know the way, and we were ready to go! I’ve ridden horses a lot in my life, but something about riding along the beach in the surf was really amazing. Just open space to run and see and move. It was beautiful… Except for the ominous black clouds looming ahead of us. We both put our rain jackets on in anticipation, and it started to rain soon after.
It just sprinkled at first, which was nice and refreshing during a running part. Then the wind picked up and it started teeming down. Gale force winds is what we were apparently in (as we found out later) and they were not fun. The rain stung our faces and burned our eyes. Wearing sunglasses helped for a minute, then they fogged up so much that you couldn’t see a thing. We looked back to see our guide half way between us and the older couple way off in the distance. He must have had a hell of a time keeping track of the four of us in the weather.
As we turned away from the water and into the dunes again, another guide came up to us. He had been sent to find us in the storm. He directed our horses at a trot back through the trees.
We came over one sand dune and down over a short rocky area. The wind was still howling and we were both soaked to the bone. Kelsi’s horse was ahead of mine and trotted swiftly over the rocky ground. Then, to the right of the horse, a long black log lay on the ground. The horse obviously saw it too late, then got spooked and jumped to the right and then back to the left in quick succession. Kels counteracted the horse’s first skitter, then lost her balance on the second turn and, in slow motion, spun off the horse and hit the ground. Her knee smashed into a large rock, and she went down on her elbow as well. My horse jumped to the right out of her way, then I pulled it up to a stop to see how Kelsi was.
“Kelsi! Are you okay?”
She was silent. Sitting up in a crooked position with one knee twisted under her against a rock.
“Kels?”
Still silent. I know Kelsi is in pain when she’s silent. I don’t know anyone in the world with such a high pain tolerance. She doesn’t complain ever about being in pain, and even if she is aching all over, she’s usually still laughing. So silence was NOT a good thing.
She was wincing in silence and biting her bottom lip. The guide pulled his horse around to come see if she was ok. I tried to think of anything in the world that would help.
“Do you want me to come down and help you?” I asked “I could give you a hug, I can help you get up! Oh my god, I feel your pain right now. I’m coming down to help you” I just blabbered on and on trying to think of something to do or say to make it better. Then I tried to get off my horse. Unfortunately, after a month of gaining weight traveling, and being soaking wet from the rain, my skinny jeans weren’t moving, ANYWHERE. I was totally stuck in my saddle.
“Sorry baby! I can’t get down! I’m too fat for my pants and now I can’t move! You’re on your own.”
Kels cracked a teary-eyed smile and then struggled to her foot. Her one leg was not in any shape to touch the ground, and to be honest, I have no idea how she crawled back on that horse. We were only ten minutes to home, so close! We half trotted and half walked the way home. Every bumpy movement meant agonizing pain for Kelsi’s knee. However, by the time we reached camp we were both in good spirits and laughing again. Despite the storm.
The owner gave us some towels and we changed into fresh clothes. Then we thanked her for an unforgettable ride and hit the road. Our busy road trip couldn’t be put on hold any longer. We were off to the Garden Route!

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