Lesotho may be small, but what it lacks in size it piles on in height. To ride across the country is an exciting adventure of many ups and downs when you tackle the Moolmanshoek Across Lesotho Extreme Horse Trail. We drove into Lesotho on the Free State side at the Caledonspoort border and about 270km later we rode into KwaZulu-Natal. From the lowest altitude of 1 750m, we had climbed to a high peak of 3 200m, with a net ascent of 8 000m, on par with Mount Everest.
Our trek took us from the lowlands of the Tsehlanyane National Park, along the Katse Dam and over
the impressive 185m Katse Dam wall. By day we climbed seemingly impassable, impossible ascents and at night we stayed in anything from comfortable lodges to Basotho huts or rondavels. Evenings were spent recounting the day over tequilas, and sometimes whiskey in a bath mug chilled with snow. Lunch was an energy bar or sandwich from your saddlebag, near a mountain stream or a fen. With a 360-degree view of mountain peaks and an amphitheatre of valleys below, it was always a feast for the eyes.
At times there were dizzying and daunting descents, and sometimes heart-in-the mouth drops. But with the sure and steady Boerperds of Moolmanshoek, and in the hands of our guide, organiser and Moolmanshoek owner, we always felt safe. In his Wrangler jeans and Akubra hat, Wiesman Nel is the embodiment of our very own Marlboro man.
He and his wingman and groom Sampie Mokakoe are horsemen extraordinaire. Sampie is an ultra-athlete and he fitted in some training during our trip. He jogged endless kilometres alongside his horse, while our lungs burned just leading our mounts. A day’s ride would see us passing through little villages blushing with pink peach blossom, and locals wrapped in traditional blankets stopped their chores to smile and wave.
On day four we headed out of our modest hotel in Thabo Tseka for a rustic lodge in Mashai on top of a mountain. Incredibly high up and extremely remote, we had the most amazing views of the Milky Way.
The next day brought us stunning sightings of the grey rhebuck. On the lower grassy slopes, we saw their white tails flashing as they dashed up the escarpment. These rare, shy antelope were not our only wildlife companions. Treading our way among sunny rocks we spotted blue-headed agamas, and on stopping to water our horses, the little mountain streams were filled with busy tadpoles, precursors to Lesotho’s rich frog population. The flora was equally special: the endemic and endangered rare aloe – the spiral aloe (Aloe polyphylla) dotted the mountainsides.
“The toughest ride in the world” – Wendy Holstec of Unicorn Trails
On the sandy banks of the Orange River, known as the Senqu in Lesotho, we had our second sighting of the rare southern bald ibis (Geronticus calvus). Following some cooling splashes in the Senqu, we ascended to Matabeng Lodge. Towards the end of our journey, we climbed the formidable Matabeng Pass, a veritable highway busy with locals on their Basotho ponies and donkeys. Ascending the pass was a high, as we rode past rocky buttresses supporting vulture nests. Occasionally a bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) soared above us, and we were treated to sightings of the endangered Cape vulture (Gyps coprotheres).
As we entered the Sehlabathebe Nature Reserve, we barely knew where to look: sandstone cliffs towered above us, and peculiar basalt precipices created sculptural forms. We veered left and right to take in incredibly well-preserved rock paintings. In 2013 the Sehlabathebe Nature Reserve (SNR) was named
a World Heritage Site because of the age-old treasures it preserves. The site has been combined with the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park in KwaZulu-Natal to become the Maloti Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site.
After crossing at Bushman’s Nek into KwaZulu-Natal we dismounted for the last time. “The toughest ride in the world,” Wendy Holstec of Unicorn Trails declared. Wendy, who has ridden hundreds of trails all over the world, from the Copper Canyon in Mexico to Argentina’s Andes and the Atacama Desert, declared the Moolmanshoek Across Lesotho Extreme Horse Trail the most incredible, awe-inspiring experience.
Horse riding in Lesotho with Moolmanshoek
- Horse breed: Boerperd.
- Riding ability and technicality: Intermediate to advanced.
- Saddles: Liversage endurance saddles.
- Average daily distance: Approximately 40km.
- Contact details: Wiesman Nel
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Written by Kay Lockwood
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