Contributing to the Nooitgedachter legacy

The Nooitgedachter, SA’s first ‘indigenous’ horse breed, was developed by the department of agriculture at the Nooitgedacht Research Station near Ermelo. Mike Burgess visited Braam Olivier’s farm for a closer look at this breed forged by centuries of exposure to African conditions.

Contributing to the Nooitgedachter legacy
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“It’s a matter of being a jack-of-all-trades,” says Braam Olivier about the versatility of the Nooitgedachter horses on his 700ha grassveld farm, Glen Alphen, near Frankfort. “That is the biggest role of the Nooitgedachter. But besides this versatility – appreciated by many in the equestrian world – we should never lose sight of its ability to adapt to everything the African continent has been able to throw at it.”

Ermelo’s Nooitgedachters
Braam grew up on the farm Mooifontein near Ermelo, the town chosen in 1951 for the government-funded Nooitgedachter breeding programme. The mandate of the project was to locate and breed a type of horse similar to those that had moved up beyond the Orange River by the early 1800s.

Groups such as the Koranna, Basters and Griqua had enthusiastically raided these horses, brought into the Cape interior by trekboers. But it was when the Basotho came into contact with the first horses from the Cape – including Andalusian and Arab-types – that the revolution really began.

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The Basotho embraced the horse more passionately than any other African people, and by 1870 a distinct type of horse had started to develop in the Maluti Mountains. They became known for their stamina, hardiness, good temperament, and, especially, their hard hooves and ‘correct legs’ – the legendary Basotho pony.

By the 1830s the trekkers also moved into the interior with horses genetically similar to the Basotho pony. These had largely escaped the influence of the Cape’s thoroughbreds, boosted by the creation of Lord Charles Somerset’s government thoroughbred stud, created after he had arrived in the Cape as governor in 1814.

Farmers and trekkers used their hardy, mobile, multi-purpose horses for every imaginable task, from war, to scouting, to livestock herding. Later, they were used for transporting the mounted Boer commandos that became renowned for their mobility on rugged terrain during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). This war also saw the deaths of large numbers of South Africa’s horses belonging to both sides, including an estimated 30 000 top Basotho horses sold to both Boers and the British during the conflict.

The destruction of the Boer’ horses during the war, as well as the loss of some of the best Basotho horses, threatened the genetic survival of the ‘original’ horses of central southern Africa. And it was to counter this that the Nooitgedachter breeding programme was launched in the early 1950s.

The first horses used for the Nooitgedachter breeding programme were sourced, not from Basutoland, but from the Molteno area of the Eastern Cape and the Memel area in the Free State. Braam explains that for this reason, not all Nooitgedachters can be seen as ponies, or are somehow ‘improved’ Basotho ponies, as the size of these small animals resulted from the poor grazing of the harsh central highland.

“Nooitgedachters that are run on good veld and receive extra feed often grow up to 16 hands: superior, larger horses which the Nooitgedachter breeding programme did not initially recognise,” he says. “They culled the larger horses at the Nooitgedacht Research Station – they wanted the smaller ones – but realised that they were getting rid of the best ones. They then changed their approach.”

Nooitgedachters’ Reunion
After matriculating in 1979, Braam studied BSc (Agric) Animal Science at the University of Pretoria. In 1980 his father, Ockert, sold Mooifontein near Ermelo and relocated to Ladismith in the Klein Karoo. After attaining more business and education-related qualifications, Braam had a series of jobs on the Witwatersrand.

His reunion with Nooitgedachters took place in Centurion in the 1990s after he met Willem Engelbrecht and his Nooitgedachter stud. Braam bought his first two Nooitgedachter mares from Willem in 2000. By 2002 he was leasing 120ha near Delmas where he ran a herd of 60 horses before buying a 700ha farm near Frankfort in 2004. Here the Breivilo Nooitgedachter stud grew to today’s 200 horses, of which about 150 are registered.

Rapid expansion
Braam explains that timing is a critical factor in stud breeding. So from the outset he decided to expand his genetic base as rapidly as possible to increase his selection options. “I have so many Nooitgedachters because I need to catch up,” he explains. He says he needs to breed a lot, to select better and establish a good base going forward.

The Nooitgedachter’s ability to survive on the veld and maintain condition has made it possible for Braam to own so many horses. He farms them like cattle, with a phosphate lick in summer and a protein lick (without urea) in winter. Pampering horses for a competition is not something he has much time for. “My horses must live on the veld and maintain good condition.”

Today, between 50 and 60 brood mares foal on average twice every three years and produce about 40 foals annually. The number of brood mares depends on several factors, including sales. The foals are reared in one-to two-year-old, two-to three-year-old, and three-to four-year-old groups and have been marketed at three different production sales in the past three years. Highest prices achieved include R60 000 for a stallion and R35 000 for a mare. Several riding horses are also used in managing 220 Huguenot breeding cows on Glen Alphen supported by extra feed, including 200ha of eragrostis. “If you can’t ride a horse, you can’t work on this farm,” Braam says.

Legendary sire
The Nooitgedachter stud is defined by one of the greatest and most controversial Nooitgedachter stallions to be bred from the initial state breeding programme. Born in 1974, Logan was initially rejected by breed inspectors and used as an ordinary workhorse on an isolated research farm near Vaalharts in the Northern Cape. But in 1980, Dr Frans van der Merwe, a professor in Animal Husbandry at Stellenbosch University, discovered him by chance during a visit to Vaalharts.

He was so impressed with the striking, well-muscled stallion that he enquired about his origin and promptly advised that he should be reintroduced into a Nooitgedachter breeding programme. Prof Cas Maree of the University of Pretoria (the university had a Nooitgedachter stud at that time) needed little convincing and arranged a stallion from Pretoria to replace Logan at Vaalharts.

And so, after sidestepping red tape, the fiery Logan became one of the breed’s most influential sires. “One of the things I liked about Logan was the fact that he was a ‘hot horse’, and somehow different,” recalls Braam. “He had the genes needed for endurance riding – something extra.’’

He is proud of the fact that line breeding in the stud is based on Logan’s genetics. But despite having sourced many direct and indirect Logan family members, Braam regrets not having focused earlier on this stallion’s genetic makeup and its ability to produce balanced horses with muscular hindquarters – the ‘engine’ of any horse. “Everybody knows this is where the Logan horses are,” he says.

Phone Braam Olivier on 083 640 3226 or email [email protected]. Other sources:, and