The sturdy bloodline of the SA Boerperd

The Boerperd is a tough, versatile horse with a proud history. It is also considered the fastest-growing recognised breed in South Africa, according to breeder Michael van Rensburg. Annelie Coleman reports.

Issue date: 01 February 2008

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Lang Carel Oppas’ broad, flat forehead, prominent eye sockets and large, full, shiny eyes are some of the most recognisable characteristics of a pure SA Boerperd

The Boerperd is a tough, versatile horse with a proud history. It is also considered the fastest-growing recognised breed in South Africa, according to breeder Michael van Rensburg. Annelie Coleman reports.

Three hundred years of natural selection and breeding make the SA Boerperd a versatile, low-maintenance horse, unique to South Africa. Described as an African horse for conditions, the Boerperd’s placid nature, good conformation, alertness and proud appearance make it an ideal competitor in show jumping, dressage and other events.

“The Boerperd is the fastest-growing South-African-studbook-registered horse breed in the country,” says Michael van Rensburg, president of the Boerperd Breeders’ Society. Speaking of his Michmar Boerperd stud in Senekal in the Free State, Michael describes the horses as low-maintenance as far as shoeing, vet bills and food are concerned. “The prices paid for the horses are also low, but they’re increasing,” he adds. “Prices range from R10 000 for a young animal to R100 000 for proven breeding stock.”

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Setting the standards

The SA Boerperd Breeders’ Society is in the process of formalising the evaluation of purebred horses. A committee has been selected to investigate sire ratings and evaluate sires for temperament and riding ability. “It’s of utmost importance that the breed’s special qualities are kept intact,” says Michael. It’s been agreed that the inspection and evaluation of two-and-a-half-year-old colts will be done at a central venue in each region, and the society’s selectors have set very strict standards. Breed conformation to criteria such as the shape of the head and hindquarters and the length of the neck must be at least 70%.

There has been a long-standing conflict between SA Boerperd breeders and the Kaapse Boerperd breeders over whether the two types are the same breed. Michael says this has now been resolved with an agreement that they are separate breeds, while the Namib horse has been recognised as the same breed as the SA Boerperd. The feral or wild Namib horse populations have survived for generations under the harshest conditions in the Namib Desert.

The conflict over which horses are formally recognised has implications for international competitions, says Michael. American Morgan horse breeders are interested in competing against SA Boerperd and Kaapse Boerperd breeders, as each breed is considered indigenous to its country. This type of competition can now be properly organised. It’s been agreed that a team will be selected that represents both breeds separately, says Michael.

SA Boerperd breeders are increasingly coming into contact with breeders of horses considered to be indigenous to other countries. The society recently consulted with Jaap Werners, a senior Warmblood breed horse judge in the Netherlands, as part of an initiative to ensure the optimum quality of SA Boerperd horses is maintained. “Knowledge always adds value and we are very interested in the way the Gelder breed is managed by the Dutch, because it is a source breed of many others in the Netherlands,” says Michael. “We want to be sure the SA Boerperd breed remains pure.”

Bold history

The SA Boerperd not only has a bright future but also an illustrious past, closely linked to South Africa’s history. The breed developed from breeds such as Arabs, Andalusians, Hackneys and the first consignment of Java ponies that were put ashore shortly after Jan van Riebeeck landed at the Cape. Predecessors of today’s horses played a vital role in the Anglo-Boer War of 1899. The South African horses were tougher and better than the British horses and were often deliberately killed by the hundreds to hamper the Boer War effort. Only the hardiest horses survived and it was out of a small nucleus of animals that the SA Boerperd came to be what it is today.

There are currently about 250 SA Boerperd breeders in South Africa and Namibia. The breed is an amalgamation of 11 separate bloodlines, 10 of which developed from the first horses brought to the Cape of Good Hope by the Dutch in the 19th century. Surprisingly good records were kept of the bloodlines and some of the breeding statistics date all the way back. These bloodlines include the well-known Eggo or Cloete horses from the Eastern Cape, the Steenkamp and Hancke horses from Mpumalanga and the Odendaal horses from the Free State.

“No new or non-purebred horses have been allowed into the breeding programme since 2002,” Michael explains. “The existing large gene pool is strong enough to ensure the breed prospers without the threat of inbreeding. “The strict inspection of potential breeding stock ensures that only the best stallions and mares are used to further the quality of the breed.”

Contact the SA Boerperd Breeders’ Society on (051) 430 2456 or e-mail [email protected].