There are wild horses living on the edge of the Namib Desert, the Namib Desert Horse. That’s a remarkable fact; what’s less clear is their origin. Clearly, they’re not truly “wild” rather “feral” but theirs is an amazing story of survival and adaption to a harsh environment.
The Wild Horses of Namibia
The herd of the Namib Desert Horse probably has several origins, but with a common denominator: in the early twentieth century, before the First World War, the demand for horses declined. The cavalry regiments operating in Southwest Africa had excess stock and the studs that supplied them had excess stock. The solution mutual to both organisations was to turn the horses loose. Not a responsible thing to do, but it’s a practice that still exists today; people shy away from their responsibility and turn unwanted horses loose.
In the Namib it turned into an inspiring tale of survival: the horses, from all the various sources, gradually congregated on the Garub Plain not too far from Luderitz. This is a desert environment and the point about Garub is that it’s where the first manmade waterhole was sunk, to provide water for the steam trains running on the Luderitz line. Most of the wild game in the Namib is desert-adapted and can go long periods without drinking, not so for horses. The horses must have sensed or smelt the water and made their way to it, thus gradually forming a herd.
In 1991 the first aerial census was carried out and identified 276 individual horses. The following year there was a drought which lasted almost 2 years and devastated the herd. This year (2016) numbers have recovered and just topped 150 individuals.
Namib Desert Horse herd origins
There are three probable sources of the Namib herd. A significant source is probably German nobleman, Baron Hans-Heinrich von Wolf who lived at Duwisib Castle. He had a stud of 300 and it appears that after WW 1 there was no-one to look after them and they went feral (The baron was killed in action in 1916). At a similar time the South African Expeditionary Force that had taken control of the Lüderitz- Keetmanshoop line during the First World War appears to have had more horses than they required. An astonishing 15,000 horses were shipped from Germany to Namibia in 1904. And the third source is a ship wreck: a cargo of thoroughbreds was en route from the UK to Australia and was wrecked near the mouth of the Orange River. Horses are strong swimmers and it’s not beyond imagination to conject that some of them swam ashore and joined the herd. Genetic tests have been performed, but none so far has proved conclusive.
There have been several population studies in recent years which have revealed fascinating facts about their group dynamics and remarkable ability to survive and thrive in a desert. Dr Telané Greyling, who will be joining the BHS ride in April 2017, has lived and worked in Namibia for many years and is an authority on the Wild Horses of the Namib. The Namib-Naukluft National Park authorities have now assumed responsibility for the herd and their future looks assured.
The Namib Desert Horse, a pure breed.
The Namib Desert Horse has developed in isolation for over 100 years and is now regarded as a breed in its own right, “The Namib”.
Our Namib Desert Ride
Imagine riding through the Namib Desert and seeing the remarkable Namib Desert Horses in the wild. Our 11day Namib Desert Ride invites you to ride across this ancient desert all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Find out more here