Stumbling upon WWOOF [World Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms] was a stroke of good fortune. It has been a long-time dream to travel to Ireland, and I was looking at ways to work my way around, as obviously I am not in a position to just go on an expensive holiday abroad. WWOOF is an international organization and has an office in most countries. How it works is that you sign up as a member in whichever country you wish to travel to and then receive access to a list of host farms in that country, and you can then contact those of your choice and hope they have a vacancy for you. Essentially, you work in exchange for accommodation and food. While I was freelancing I thought I would give it a try in my home country before dragging Damian across the world to find it doesn’t work in our situation.
The first farm that caught my eye was T’Niqua – obviously because of the horses – and I sent an e-mail. I was over the moon when I received a favourable answer and we were invited to WWOOF on the farm for two weeks in October 2013. We arrived hopeful, excited and without any idea what to expect. As we drove in, the two Percheron horses were just being unhitched from the coach and I was astounded to be up close to horses of this size for the first time. Mandla and Storm are the epitome of regality and grace before their carriage. The owners, Bettina and Michiel, welcomed us and showed us to our room in the beautiful farm house. We spent some time chatting and getting to know each other and then Damian and I explored the farm and met the other two horses, Wiki [Weekend Warrior] and Troy, as well as the dogs, Zorro and Lady.
When you sign up to WWOOF you need to be prepared to assist with whatever tasks are required of you on the farm, and by what I had seen on most listings, this involves a lot of farm work. My two weeks consisted of pulling weeds from the paddocks so that they could be fertilized and allow the grass to grow as grazing for the horses. Some of my thoughts on that can be read at: Exchanging Stilettos for Gumboots. Damian would sit with me in his pram and play on his iPad, and as he got more comfortable, would prefer to stay inside and watch TV. I was very proud when I was able to leave my spare cellphone with him and he could dial me when he needed me to come in and help him. They were also still busy building a new guesthouse due to open in December so there was always lots of activity and people around. Every morning began in the guesthouse with all of the staff and builders joining in prayer to start the day.
As hard as we worked, we were also spoiled with trips around Plettenberg Bay and eating out at the Surf Café, Lookout Deck or enjoying pizzas at the beach after a lovely evening walk. Damian also got to ride Wiki quite a bit and joined in with riding for the disabled at Piesang Valley Riding school.
Our second weekend on the farm coincided with the FAMSA High Tea held at Ouland Royale and Mandla and Storm were making their public debut with the newly revamped wedding coach. During this short time, I had lost my heart to Storm who had come to the farm after a very rough past and didn’t quite trust people. I would spend ages with him, speaking with him, stroking him, and he would eat his entire hay portion from my hands just so that I could get him used to me being in his space.
After the two weeks were up, I was returning to Cape Town to write exams, and Bettina and Michiel invited us to come back afterwards. We had established a lovely rapport with them and Damian and I loved being a part of their lives. We arrived back just in time for the horses next appearance at Plett for Peace, which turned out to be the first time I got to ride Storm. I carried on weeding paddocks for the next while, but as the guesthouse progressed I found my niche with taking on the marketing aspects – listing the guesthouse on all of the booking sites, creating the website, writing promotional copy and managing bookings.
We were spoiled some more with our hosts throwing a birthday party for Damian and going to great lengths to make it really special for him. He loves the police, and so they arranged for friends from the police department to surprise Damian by arriving in full uniform in a police car, which they took him for a drive in the garden in. The cake also featured a photo of Zorro, the German Shepherd ‘police dog.’
The guesthouse opened on the 12th December for a fully booked season. Damian and I both loved interacting with guests from all over the world and the hive of activity and festivities over the season. We got to ride a lot more and enjoy the coach as both were a huge hit with the guests.
We attended our first horse auction at Fijnbosch Nooitgedacht Stud and were thrilled to fetch the little Nooitgedacht gelding, Jazz the following Monday. Even more enchanting was his sweet nature and how he followed Damian’s pram all over the farm on his first day while hiding out from the rest of the herd who weren’t so welcoming.
We ended up staying for 5 months in total, and when the decision was made that we would return to Cape Town for the Cape Town Cycle Tour, I had to admit it was time to return permanently and find a regular income again. It was with much sadness that we left our T’Niqua Stable Inn family where we were treated with so much love and care. Everyone we got to work with and the precious horses will always be in our hearts. There are just so many stories to tell of our time at T’Niqua and I am just sorry I didn’t blog them as we went along.