At the end of 2011, I asked my then boyfriend, Adam if I should pursue my big dream of opening up a riding school. Having been involved with horses since the age of 12, I was determined that horses would always play a major role in my life. Adam, who manages the accounting as well as the IT side of the business, encouraged me to pursue my dream and together we bought the school’s first pony, Conquer. With this dream foremost in mind, I started looking at livery options for Conquer. After a thorough search, we found a promising lead and made an appointment to meet Tielman Roos at Mooiplaas.
Before leaving Earth Walk in Durbanville, one of my biggest concerns was that we would not find the type of outrides provided by Meerendal Hill. As Tielman drove me around the farm, however, my jaw dropped more and more at the raw beauty of the area. Rolling hills, lush vineyards and the sweet scent of fynbos in full bloom filled the air and surrounded them as the bakkie braved the steep mountainside. Tielman was clearly incredibly proud of his farm, yet there was a wonderfully refreshing humility about him. As we drove past one of the paddocks, Tielman pointed out “Food is included, as you can see there is plenty of grass.” Tielman proudly showed his two Nooitgedacht geldings (Bakgat and Dawie) and pointed out how they were fat on grazing alone. He stands by the Nooitie breed wholeheartedly and passionately believes that everyone should own one.
We started Equanimity with four basic stables on a slope close to Tielman’s house. There was a large 18m lunge ring and an old white refrigeration container, the door of which required much force to be opened and closed, and was kept safe with a simple padlock. This container housed our feed and our tack to begin with and I distinctly remember the feeling of simultaneous dread and pride when one of the yard’s first feed bills arrived. The feeling that so much money was being given out at once was scary, but at the same time, it was the most incredible feeling to be doing everything myself.
We used the lunge ring for complete beginners and the paddock closest to the stables for novice riders. At this stage, we only had three school horses, Bakgat, Dawie and Conquer. As a result of infrequent handling, Bakgat would quiver in the corner of a stable as soon as anyone approached him with a saddle. He would run around for thirty minutes some days before being caught and did not want his feet handled at all. Within seven months, Bakgat no longer feared the saddle and I could start trimming his hooves slowly.
Lessons continued throughout the year. In winter, we dressed up warmly and braved the weather. Theory lessons were conducted in the stables and we convinced Tielman that we needed electricity, so he offered us the use of his pump room, directly next to the water trough at the stables. We invested in a small bar fridge and a kettle and Adam’s mom donated a toaster. This became our kitchen area and office. During these early days, the closest toilet was at the Mooiplaas tasting room and meant taking a rather long walk down the road. Imagine our relief when, in 2013, an eco-friendly and very civil long drop was dug! We were never again so excited about a hole in the ground!
From the earliest days, planning for the school included the need for a level surface on which to conduct lessons. Discussions about this and other expansions were started and initially the idea was to expand at the original site. When lessons started to pick up, however, it was soon realized that the traffic to and from the stables would be invasive towards the Roos family and the working area of the wine farm.
Tielman decided to open up a valley by removing some vines that were not fruitful enough. The valley was surrounded by alien trees and had a high water table, so the vines in this particular valley did not grow well. The excessive shade and moisture made for a damp environment which could cause mould and diseases to set in on the crops. We were of course only delighted at the prospect of having our own place!
This valley became such a symbol of hope and new beginnings. I would frequently lead trail rides past the site in order to share my various and numerous dreams for the spot, as well as tell clients about the exciting construction to come in the near future. Following intensive planning and negotiations about the construction of the new stable yard, the the foundations were dug on the 22nd of January 2013. Construction started on the first stable block, the office/tack room and the feed room shortly afterwards.
By the end of January 2013, the first bricks were laid and we excitedly checked on the progress of the construction every few days.
As the building started to take shape, I would often visit the site with or without horses in order to check the size and lighting in each stable. I would hope for rain or wind, just to be able to feel the shelter of each stable, and in order to decide which one was the perfect one for Conquer, the pony with whom Equanimity became a reality.
In the meantime, the opportunity to own a feed company presented itself and Adam and I tackled the venture. After about 8 months with this venture, I realised that my passion lay with Equanimity and Adam and I made the decision to focus on Equanimity solely. During this time, we established relationships and made contact with farmers and feed suppliers and the experience was invaluable in terms of learning about another aspect of the equine industry.
By March 2013, the basic building was complete with the exception of the feed room. After some deliberation, and input from Tielman’s wife, Janine, the decision was made to completely enclose the feed area and to build a stoep, so that our office entrance would be mostly shielded from the prevailing weather. The building was painted with the natural golden coloured paint “Sphinx” and the feed troughs were built. The dream was starting to become very real!
Windows, doors and fittings were installed and security measures were put in place for the tack room.
There was much excitement about the prospect of having an indoor toilet for the first time in 3 years!
The more time we spent at the new stables, the more keenly we watched the developments unfold and anticipated the move.
Just in time for Winter 2013, electricity was installed at the “new” stables . Even though we had not yet moved into the new stables, we would drive to the new office for theory lessons, where we had a heater, some blankets and some scatter cushions for clients to sit on. If we planned carefully, we could even organize some hot chocolate in time for the extra cold afternoon slots. Those days were memorable indeed – the scent of fresh cement still lingering in the office as it slowly warmed up, everyone huddled together close to the heater as we discussed all things horsey and secretly missed the smell of wet horse just outside.
May 2013 saw the arrival of the digger-loader to do the earth work around the courtyard, as well as to level an area for the lunge rings and the arena.
We needed a space which would allow for future expansion in the courtyard, as the plan has always been to build more stables.
On the 24th of May, the arena’s new surface was put to the test with both shod and unshod horses. After having worked on an uneven surface for more than two years, it was an absolute joy to be able to canter around the arena without having to re-adjust one’s balance every few strides. What delight!
By September 2013 we could wait no longer, and although the arena was not yet completed, we made the move to the new site. It would be another season before work on the arena could continue. Tielman felt that the vast amount of movement that had been done on that patch of land would cause upsets in the environment and that it was likely the arena needed time to settle. The soil in the valley is fascinating – one side of the valley is extremely porous, consisting of quartz, sandstone and clay. The other side of the valley is rich, dark earth which is very fertile, and is powdery in summer, but moist and mossy in winter. We are surrounded by vineyards and nature reserve and in winter, we have our own personal creek, a result of the excess dam water making its way jovially down to the lowest parts of the Bottelary Hills. In our first Winter at the new stables, if you listened carefully, it sounded like we had our own private hidden waterfall in the mountains.
Our first spring and summer at the new stables filled us with joy and excitement. Seeing the first growth sprout up all around us intensified this feeling and we once again felt the privilege of being part of these magnificent surroundings. One downside of the hot, dry summer weather was that our arena surface hardened significantly. Initially we experimented with shavings from the stables and this improved the situation for the summer, however after much discussion the decision was taken to revamp the arena. The 2m fall over the 74m length of the arena, caused by the settling of the area was corrected and Tielman’s workers hand-raked the arena in order to remove any stones in early 2015. By winter 2015, we were ready to install a softer surface and after considering the various options, it was decided that the best option would be to harvest sand from Mooiplaas itself. In May 2015, this surface was added to the arena and we jumped on board to test it out!
The surface of the arena looked incredible when it was hand-raked.
The year 2015 was a year of development for Equanimity. Our wonderful grooms, Innocent and Tinashe, built two mounting blocks for us and started construction on a wash bay in April. We also installed irrigation around the yard in winter, while the ground was still soft. In this way, we were prepared for the summer to come and we could plant as many trees and flowers as we wanted. One of our clients kindly donated our first few rose bushes and a colour scheme followed.
The mounting blocks are built 70cm from the ground with two steps up, and no sharp points whatsoever. The circular shape reduces the risk of injury to horse and rider.
The height of the mounting blocks means that even riders who struggle to mount, can do so with little effort. Furthermore, the height of the mounting blocks protects the horses’ backs, as well as their saddles from strain.
After the wash bay was completed, we decided to tackle some of the muddy areas around the yard and 6 tons of sandstone was ordered. We used this, as well as some poles as edging, in order to create a dry path up to the arena, which also doubles as a exfoliating surface for the horses’ hooves.
Again, the grooms were responsible for this project and they took great pride in completing it neatly.
Seeing how much the grooms enjoyed small projects, we created a running list of yard projects. They use this list to spearhead projects as they have time and we provide resources to do so. Innocent and Tinashe are incredibly diligent in completing these tasks by themselves and no task is too great for them.
Gardening is a project that almost all the Equanimity staff enjoy and we find it incredibly rewarding to walk to the office greeted by an array of young trees and roses. It is the best greeting we could ask for. No one in this team is afraid of physical labour if it yields such wonderful results!
Innocent and Tinashe installed edging for the garden beds and we used our own home-grown compost in order to help the gardens thrive. We sell bags of compost to the general public and the feedback has been very positive. This is the greatest advantage of having dirt floors in some of the stables.
Winter 2015 brought with it inevitability shorter days and fewer daylight hours for schooling horses. As romantic as it is to school horses by moonlight (with fireflies and hooded owls looking on), Adam wanted a practical solution and decided to install floodlights in the arena. Adam is not only handy with web design, but also has experience with lighting and basic electrical work. The result was two 200W LED floodlights for the arena. He plans for more for the courtyard, as well as the rest of the arena and yard. The aim is to be able to work throughout the year, regardless of the daylight length.
One of our clients very generously donated money towards redoing our office floor in order to minimize dust. After looking at various options, we decided on Midas Earthcote’s concrete stain and screed and the result was both incredibly fun to do ourselves and beautifully natural. We used the middle of winter for this project and closed the office for just over a week, while the horses had a brief break in their AHS vaccination period.
Shortly after this, we purchased some second-hand poles and built two holding camps and sick bays. The galvanized gates were custom-made by Baks, one of Tielman’s workers who made the gates for our stables and also makes the outdoor furniture to be seen at Mooiplaas’ tasting room.
In December 2015, we started waterproofing and painting the inside of the stables and in January 2016, Adam and his team came to install the carefully chosen light fixtures in the stables and feed room.
In January 2016, we decided to install fans in the stables in order to contribute to the horses’ comfort in summer, as well as to reduce the fly bother in the stables. In January 2017, we completed this project by installing a fan per stable, for even more effective air circulation in the summer months.
With all the time spent at the stables at night, I had an epiphany about the two lunge rings and the space they occupied. I swiftly measured out the space with deliberate footsteps and realised that instead of two rings, we could easily fit a small arena into that space.
After a bit of convincing, Tielman agreed and the digger started work.
While the digger was available, in May 2017, we also had the picadero levelled a bit more. A few months later, we brought in the tractor to scrape a bit more, as the area is extremely sloped.
The view of the yard once the small arena was up and running, is wonderful!
In 2017, we planted more trees and in May, we added some seating in new shaded areas for clients and visitors to enjoy.
April 2017 saw some very wet days, so we decided that it was time to lay cement on the stoep.
Laying concrete on the stoep had always taken a back seat to more pressing projects, such as laying cement in the stables, which we completed in mid-2016, and laying cement in front of the stables, which the grooms completed at the very beginning of 2017.
In July 2017, we hosted another Cape Hunt & Polo Club drag hunt and decided to build a few permanent cross-country jumps around the yard. Innocent, Walter and Anna undertook this task and we are so happy to have these jumps available on outrides now.
In the meantime, we needed a second wash bay as a holding camp and feeding station, so the guys started work in November 2017.
With the new arena, we were facing the same issue as before with the big arena – hard footing. After receiving quotes from various companies, Tielman decided to utilise his neighbour’s resources and sand from a building site in Brackenfell was brought over into the arenas. We knew that we would be cleaning rubble out of the arenas for a good few months, but the sand is much gentler on the horses than the bare surface of the arenas, so we undertook the project willingly.
After the fan project, as well as some electrical maintenance was done on our arena speakers in January 2018, we realised that the summers were also becoming longer and harsher, so shade was needed for long hours spent at the yard. We started constructing an “afdakkie” above the small arena and completed the roof section just in time for an external clinic we hosted.
The view from the afdakkie is superb, both during the day and at night, when the arena floodlights are fully utilised for continuing evening lessons and schooling.
In April 2018, we were expecting a new stallion livery, so we started on some smaller “stallion camps” which would be used for night time when the colts and stallions come in for more intensive care and handling. During the day, they have their own bachelor herd camp, far enough from the mares not to be tempted 😉
May 2018 saw the fulfilment of a long-standing desire of mine – CCTV around the yard. I was so excited to be able to go on holiday while still being able to check in on the horses!
In June 2018, after a very long drought, we received some much-needed showers and decided that it was time to lay cement in front of the feed room. Valuable hay was being wasted when it dropped to the wet floor and had to be discarded and the grooms had to watch their step when working, so a more practical solution was a must. Again, the grooms undertook this project with motivation and pride and our head groom, Innocent, managed his team well in order to ensure that the space was workable throughout their construction.
In August 2018, after years of negotiation, construction started on a new, improved road leading up to the main stables. This project is likely to last up to a year until it’s complete, but we are grateful nevertheless!
The view of the yard as it stood August 2018, is absolutely gorgeous and I have to keep looking at this to remind myself how much we’ve done in 7 years so far.
Rains hit heavily in Winter 2018, and as such, we saw much growth in vegetation. The top arena was covered in grass, and although this is meant to be a sand arena, we hesitated to remove the grass in case we have major problems with soil erosion again. While contemplating the beautiful winter sunset one late afternoon, I found a spot which I would like to use for another seating area in the near future. The spot is surrounded by fynbos and is nestled directly underneath the existing arena floodlight – a promising spot for future evening lessons and daytime events.