Horse Breeds indigenous to South Africa - a noble heritage.
Updated: Apr 21
When the subject of horse breeds is raised the conversation normally turns toward the well known names such as the Arabian, Appaloosa or Mustang. However, amongst the many strains there are some proudly South Africa breeds which are highly regarded by the equine fraternity. Their value as both farm and riding horses cannot be underestimated. Here we look at the five breeds which trace their origins to the southern tip of Africa.
The two most well known local breeds are the Kaapse Boerperd and the South African Boereperd (also known as ‘die Historiese Boerperd’, or historical farm horse). Their history dates back to the 1650’s when the Dutch East India Company brought the first horses to the country. These Java Horses were a crossbreed between Arabians and Barbs. These early arrivals became known as Cape Horses and were later combined with the bloodlines of thoroughbred bloodstock to further improve the breed.
The name Boereperd came into being when the horse began to be used by the Dutch Boeremagte (armed forces). The Anglo Boer War of the early 1900’s saw many Boereperd fatalities. Thoroughbreds, Hackneys and Clydesdale were brought in to replenish their stock. Six lines of the Boereperd, from the six different herds that survived the war, are the true ancestors of today's South African Boereperd, now famous for its hardiness, endurance and the ability to work hard on minimum feed, yet still maintain its condition.
1948 saw the founding of the Boereperd Breeders Society whose goal was to resurrect the breed and maintain high standards in the bloodline. This group of horse enthusiasts realised that the value of the horse was fast disappearing in the mechanical age.
By the 1970’s a new movement emerged that wanted to further improve the breed. This created a clash between these new thinkers and the traditionalists. The problem was resolved in 1980 with the formation of two different societies. The first preserved the original breed which became known as the SA Boerperd. The second group allowed breeders to add to the breed but not remove any of the original qualities. These are known as the Kaapse Boerperd.
The Basotho Pony:
Another legendary African breed is the Basotho Pony. Used as the primary means of transport in the mountainous Kingdom of Lesotho, these surefooted horses are also derived from the Cape Horse. They are called ponies because they seldom grow larger than an English riding pony, with most standing at only 14.2 hands. This is due to the harsh conditions and limited diet in the area.
The Basotho Pony’s popularity grew mainly due to its valuable characteristics of docility, hardy hooves, endurance, good temperament, excellent constitution and sure-footedness that were ideal for the high altitude rugged mountain terrain. By 1870 practically the whole Basotho nation were mounted and the horse culture became firmly established. Horses had become the regions primary form of transport earning the country the title of the ‘Mounted Nation’
Horse Tourism is on the increase in Lesotho, and these famed horses have gained recognition as excellent pony trekkers.
The Nooitgedacht Horse was bred in the 1950’s at the Nooitgedacht Research Station and originated from the Basotho Pony. Due to large-scale inbreeding in the past, the breeders at Nooitgedacht had to exercise extreme care. For this reason, a Boer stallion and a part-bred Arab were used to a limited extent, in addition to a Vonk stallion to be the founders of the breed. The progeny of Vonk dominated the breeding project to such an extent that nearly every member of the Nooitgedacht breed today is a descendant of Vonk through the sire, dam, or both.
These days they may range in height between 13.3hh and 16.2hh, giving the breed a wide rider base. As some Nooitgedachters grew up to over 15 hh, it was decided to change the name from Nooitgedacht Pony to Nooitgedacht Horse. Today the name of the Breed Society is the Nooitgedacht Horse Breeders' Society of South Africa, but the horse is generally referred to as the Nooitgedachter or Nooitie for short. The breed is sturdy, kind and attractive, making it ideal for children. As a five-gaited horse it is used extensively for polo, dressage, hacking and show-jumping.
The Nooitgedachter is a rare breed with only about 400 purebreds in existence.
In the Western Cape, the SA Vlamperd was developed from a 19th Century horse, the Hantam. In 1820 Lord Charled Somerset imported several Arabian and Thoroughbred stallions to South Africa. These stallions were crossed with local mares, The result was a riding horse originally called the Hantam horse.
The introduction of Friesian stallions, Oldenburds and Cleveland Bays were bred with the Hantam Mares and in the process, the Hantam horse became extinct as a breed, replaced by a more powerful riding horse which also was capable of harness work.
While the breed was in development, the Dutch banned the export of Friesians to try to control the breeding of their horses. To evade the law, South Africans began to import Friesians from Antwerp in Belgium and referred to Friesians as 'Vlaamse perde' or 'Flemish horses' From this term came the name Vlaamperd.
The resulting Vlamperd has emerged as a good natured breed with a graceful high-stepping action. It can be used in saddle or harness.
Today the breed is small in number but is seen in the tourism and various festivals in South Africa and is recognized in South Africa as an independent, established breed
Researched and written by Andrew Knapp for submission to the Fouriesburg Boerevereniging quarterly newsletter.