The Wild Horses of Namibia

There are no horses native to Southern Africa but there is a chance that you will come across wild horses during your Namibia tour.

And while there are several theories as to how the Namibian wild horses arrived in Namibia, the truth may never be known.

One theory is that a cargo ship taking thoroughbred horses to Australia was shipwrecked somewhere near the Orange River and the strongest of those horses swan ashore.  Or maybe they descend from the Cape horses that were ridden by Khoikhoi raiders.  Another theory is that the horses descend from either escaped or horses that were set free by the South African military.  It is believed that some of the horses could have been from a farm owned by a German Baron von Wolf.  After he was killed in action in Europe during World War 1, his farm was abandoned, and since the farm was unfenced and quite near to the Namib Desert, it is probable that his horses could have roamed there in search of food.

The Namib horses found there today closely resembles the horses that were bred on von Wolf’s farm and the horses that were ridden by troops, so it sounds like a more likely source than the Khoikhoi horse theory.   Studies done by taking blood samples of the wild horses suggests that the horses descend is from a high-quality gene pool.

There are two main reasons why these horses survived in these harsh conditions.  When diamonds were discovered in the Garub area, an area of about 100km the coast inland became a restricted area and since that was where the majority of the horses were found, they were safe from hunters and horse traders.  The other reason was because of the railways.  There was a borehole at Garub to supply the trains with water.  Water was therefore available to the horses.

Today there are about 300 wild horses and there still can be found around the water hole at Garub.  They can be viewed from a shelter that has been put up for visitors.  Their numbers decline in the drought years but although campaigns to help these horses evoke interest, they are never very successful.  Breeding herds comprise of one or two stallions and about 20 mares and foals.  Since the females choose their partners there is not much fighting amongst the males although they do have hierarchy fights, there is never serious injuries to the stallions.

One person that has played a huge part in the survival of the horses is Jan Coetzer.  Patrolling the area back in 1966 his checked up regularly on the horses and ensured that the water supply at Garub was a constant for them.  In the 1980s after a water pump broke he requested that the SAR replace the pump and reservoirs with drinking troughs that had ball valves that would fill the trough automatically.  He came to their rescue again in the 1990s, during a drought in the area, when he raised money to buy them supplementary food.  He has a love for all animals, not just the horses and was appointed Honorary Nature Conservation Officer.

“If you tame a wild horse, you take away some of its spirit!”