Clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop… a line of cart horses from the Cape Flats came a-trotting down the road, pulling colourful carts of all shapes and sizes – elegant two-wheelers, traditional four-wheeler passenger carts, and rustic handmade scrap-metal carts. Some sported a fresh lick of paint and even their tyres had been scrubbed clean. That day, the carts were transporting family and friends and supplies for a picnic, instead of the usual awkward loads of scrap metal, building rubble and garden refuse.
Jingle-tingle, jingle-tingle… went the little bells on their bridles and harnesses, as the horses tossed their manes in excitement. The mist of their breath could be seen in the cold morning air, as they snorted and neighed, greeting each other.
Thud-a-thump, thud-a-thump… went the horses’ hooves, as they turned off the tarred main road and onto the soft earth beneath the row of shady trees, which lined the arena that had been prepared for a very special annual event in the carting community of the Cape Flats: The Working Cart Horse Show 2012, held on Monday, 24 September 2012.
In South Africa, the 24th of September each year marks the public holiday known as Heritage Day: Instituted relatively recently in 1995, it is a day on which we are encouraged to celebrate our cultural heritage and the diverse beliefs, traditions and languages of our ‘rainbow nation’. Some do so by having a braai with friends: The day has thus also become known as National Braai Day, which actually isn’t so surprising, as South Africans do loooove a good braai.
I spent the entire day taking photographs at the Cart Horse Show 2012, which had been organised by the Cart Horse Protection Association of the Western Cape (you can read some of the previous posts I wrote about them here). This event, which has become an annual occasion, took place at the K9 Training Centre and Kennels in Gunners’ Circle, Epping, where there is a large rectangular open field: a fence along the one long side separates the field from the nearby railway line, and along the opposite long side, there are lots of shady trees.
As soon as the organisers arrived that morning, stakes and plastic tape were used to mark off a large arena, and then the carties began to turn up with their horses, carts, bakkies and assorted vehicles. Some claimed their spots in the sunny area on the far side of the arena, while others clustered beneath the trees. Much to everyone’s relief, the weather, which had looked rather dubious in the early morning, gradually changed from low, threatening clouds to almost clear blue skies. Scarves, beanies and warm anoraks were soon discarded.
The sense of anticipation was almost palpable, as the carties and their supporters greeted each other amidst much good-natured teasing and chattering. But don’t let the apparent light-heartedness and good humour fool you – the competition is quite fierce! This annual event is their chance to show off their horses, their harnesses, their carts and their horse-skills – all in the hope of winning the coveted prize of Show Champion! Or even one of the Trophies – such as Best Owner of the Year, or Best Stable Yard of the Year!
In each of the nine classes, the winners and runners-up receive not only colourful rosettes, but also bales of oat hay or lucerne, sacks of feed, and bags of carrots, as well as some additional prizes, such as vouchers for a fresh set of horse-shoes. Grateful thanks are due to the generous sponsors, which include Rushford Rosettes, the K9 Training Centre and Kennels, Colesdale Estate Equine and Farrier Supplies, and Tall Horse Tack.
Everyone hurried to unpack their gear, claiming a good spot under some trees to spread out picnic blankets. Kids raced off to play noisily with their friends, running all over the field and chasing each other around the trees and restless horses. The more diligent horse owners got out brushes and combs, and gave their horses’ gleaming coats another good brush, combing out the tangles and burrs in their manes and tails, and cleaning their hooves one final time.
A loud braying marked the dramatic arrival of Biscuit, the much-loved long-eared donkey of Raoul Davids from Ravensmead. Scores of children immediately rushed over to surround him, causing quite a commotion. It was clear from their excitement that they were delighted to see him, and they promptly posed for photographs, feeding him carrots and stroking his softly shaven furry coat. Ever so often during the course of the day, Biscuit would begin to hee-haw – loudly, insistently, like a love-sick teenager longing to woo his beloved with his song. Perhaps one of the pretty mares prancing around the arena had caught his eye?
Megan White and her assistants Sue and Wafieka at the organisers’ table were kept very busy throughout the day, registering the competitors for the various classes, and tallying up the results in each class. Diana Truter took charge of the microphone, making all the announcements and ensuring that the participants were kept informed of when the next class was due to begin and what was expected of them. She also entertained the spectators by conducting impromptu interviews with some of the competitors, while they were lined up for inspection by the judges. At the far end of the field, Ashley Deelman, the main farrier of the CHPA, was in charge of letting the various competitors into and out of the arena, and making sure that things were running smoothly behind the scenes.
The three judges of the day – Sue Mutch, Ilhaam Brenner and Brenda Wessels – were kept on their toes, with hardly a break in the proceedings. I did not envy them their job: Almost all the classes were quite large, with about a dozen highly competitive participants in each group, all trotting around the arena and trying to outdo each other while impressing their cheering supporters on the sidelines.
Compounding the judges’ difficulties was the fact that the competitors were supposed to have identification numbers pinned to their backs or their carts, but these handwritten sheets flapped in the wind and thus weren’t easy to decipher. In addition, the names and numbers on the official identification plates mounted against the back of each cart did not always coincide with the name of the horse that was actually harnessed to the cart. Nonetheless, the judges were expected to identify and keep track of the different entrants, and then evaluate their performance, specifically how they handled the carts and the horses, as well as – even more importantly – to assess the condition of the horses, harnesses and carts. This was not an easy task!
I too felt rather overwhelmed by the sheer number of horses and carts and people, and found it a little difficult to tell them apart – after all, my task as official photographer for the day was to document the event and thus I tried to make sure that I had taken at least one good photo of each participant.
Once the judges had completed all their evaluations, these were submitted to Megan and her team, who hurriedly tallied up the numbers, while the competitors either waited in the middle of the arena, or trotted proudly around the perimeter of the field, much to the delight of the spectators. Ever so often, Diana would flag down one of the carties and hop aboard for a brisk trot around the arena. Finally, once all the scores had been added up, she would announce the names of the winner and the two runners-up over the PA system amidst much cheering and applause. Then the lucky carties would trot over to the organisers’ table to take receipt of their prizes.
There were 9 classes in total, and I extracted their results from the CHPA website.
Winners of the various Classes:
- Class 1 – Working horse stallion / gelding – Happy Feet (602)
- Class 2 – Working horse mare – Miss Jay (1075)
- Class 3 – Working pony stallion / gelding – Rubin (737)
- Class 4 – Working pony mare – Mona (221)
- Class 5 – Double Harness – Prince & Princess (906)
- Class 6 – Best Donkey – Biscuit (505)
- Class 7 – Children’s Class – Black (638)
- Class 8 – Beste Lot / Traditional – Starlight (933)
- Class 9 – Best Trot – Happy Feet (602)
- Show Champion – Happy Feet (602)
My favourite three events were the Children’s Class, the Traditional Class and the Best Trot.
The first of these was particularly fun, because it was so amazing to see the young ones (up to 12 years’ old) managing to control their ponies and horses, some of which were quite hyped-up and jittery from the excitement all around them. Each entrant was required to complete a ‘course’, which had been set out with pairs of orange traffic cones that were numbered in a particular sequence. The purpose of this was to demonstrate to the judges that the children could control their horses and that they could get them to turn left and right and to stop, walk, and trot on command, all while avoiding the traffic cones (this was surprisingly tricky!).
The first run-through made it clear that too much zig-zagging between the cones would be too complicated for the little ones to grasp, so the course was quickly simplified. All of them closely observed each of the entrants being guided through the course. Diana was shouting instructions over the PA system, and Ashley was waving his arms and dashing about from one pair of traffic cones to the next, indicating to the competitors where they had to go next. It was such fun to watch! The class was very big, though, so it took a long time for each of the competitors to wind their way through the course and across the finish line. And as you can imagine, there was much cheering and good-natured bantering from the parents and family members watching from the sidelines.
In the Traditional Class, the participants used beautiful harnesses to hitch up their proud steeds to traditional carts; both the carts and the harnesses had all manner of intricate decorations, with small jingling bells attached to the harnesses and bridles. Some of them looked quite stunning!
The Best Trot Class was the most thrilling of them all, because the competition was particularly intense! And fast-paced! I think it was also one of the biggest classes, as everyone wanted to show off their horse, and to impress both the judges and the spectators with how well they could handle their horse at a fast trot around the arena. I was in absolute awe of Diana who managed to keep some measure of order in the chaos! And with so many fast-moving horses and carts, it was a miracle that there were no collisions and no accidents.
At the end of a long day, with the sun already low in the sky, the final prizes and trophies were handed over to the delighted winners.
Winners of Trophies:
- Best Owner of the Year- Jerome “Bushie” Abrahams
- Most Improved Owner of the Year – Jade “Chapu” Nyhoff
- Best Driver of the Year – Colin Jacobs
- Most Improved Driver of the Year – Raoul “Captain” Davids
- Best Stable Yard of the Year – Jerome “Bushie” Abrahams
Diana, Megan, Ashley, Carl, the three judges, and all the helpers behind the scenes had done an amazing job, to ensure that the Cart Horse Show 2012 had gone off without a hitch and that all the participants and their supporters had had fabulous time. And well done to all the horses and ponies! Oh, and Biscuit the Donkey too! This had been their day to shine, and shine they did! Neeeiiiighh! Hee-haw, hee-haw!
I hope you will enjoy the pictures below – you can click on any of them to access the photo caroussel with the captions. I have done my best to include the horses’ names, but it is a daunting task. Thankfully, Andi Rubin had identified many of the horses on the CHPA website (link here), while some others were identified on some of the CHPA’s Facebook albums (link here and here), so that was hugely helpful.