Annabel was determined to make my birthday special and had spent weeks planning what to do and inviting different people I have met during my time here. She had run her plans by me previously just in case I didn't like her ideas but she told me it was purely "hypothetical " and I was to forget what she had said because she wanted my day to be a surprise! Haha!
Anyway her plan involved a friend called Michelle who we have met previously. Michelle lives on a farm within the Rhebokskloof Wine Estate (where we went for Christmas lunch). On the farm she does a number of things, the main being training some of her 200ish horses as stunt animals for films. The horses are trained to rear, play dead and drop dead from a flat out gallop amongst other things. She is also a pretty amazing stunt rider herself from what I have been told as well as being able to do a number of other stunts such as jumping from great heights. Not a bad career really! Amongst the films she has worked on and supplied horses for are Racing Stripes (we met the thoroughbred ex-racehorse who was painted in black and white stripes for this film), The Young Black Stallion, The Lost World and probably over 20 or so other films I've never heard of, to name but a few… Just and Ants both worked with Michelle as stunt riders on one of the films a few years ago!
Obviously this income isn't solely able to run the whole yard and feed nearly 200 horses and various other animals so Michelle offers a number of other services including trail riding, wedding carriages for Rhebokskloof and quad biking. It's the quads that interested Annabel who planned to take us up the mountain, through various grape plantations to a big rock on top of Paarl Mountain with panoramic views as far as Cape Town…sounds good to me!
Unfortunately on the morning of my birthday I woke up to rain and miserable low lying grey clouds…after temperatures in the high 30's this was a big disappointment and on going over to the main house for breakfast Annabel confirmed that she had spoken to Michelle and they had decided the plans would have to be changed. I was very disspointed but there is nothing anyone can do about the weather.
I was cheered up though with a few small presents (small enough to carry in my backpack) from everyone including a nice new Billabong bikini which I had spotted in the Billabong outlet store on the way back from Port Elizabeth which was nice.
After breakfast I went back to the guest house to shower when I could hear Adam rummaging around in the bedroom and then disappearing again for a few minutes. Then he came back and told me to hurry up because Annabel had arranged for lunch at Rhebokskloof with Michelle but as it was booked so late they could only get an early table so I had to get a move on…
I got in the car and was told Justin wasn't joining us for lunch so the four of us made our way to Rhebokskloof. Once within the gates we turned off into Michelle's yard which was the first time I had been there and Annabel was keen to do a guided tour. She took me into the main tackroom which is a jumble of old outbuildings so caked in ancient cobwebs you can hardly see the walls and ceilings. In each rooms was a huge assortment of various saddles and bridles from all over the world and from various era's. Michelle's film tack. There were also many other horsey items, some of which I recognised and some I didn't. It was clear that some are used regularly but by the thick layers of dust on others it was clear they hadn't been used in years. The whole place was a complete jumble sale although extremely fascinating. Michelle then impressed us by confirming that she knows exactly what is in each room and she would know as soon as she entered if something was missing. Some of the saddles are worth thousands of pounds and some would be very difficult to replace. At some point during this little tour Annabel and Michelle disappeared leaving Adam and I to look round with my Dad…
Next we were taken to the main barn to see Michelle's favourite stallion a black Friesian. Michelle reappeared and drew out attention to the thickly matted cobwebs everywhere, as if we hadn't already noticed. It was clear that the cobwebs hadn't been cleared in at least 100 years if not longer and the spiders had created thick impenetrable layers that were almost completely solid. Who knows what was lurking behind them! I was told that another family friend, Jackie, had been horrified when she first entered this barn and refused to return. However Michelle is rather proud of her collection of cobwebs and we soon learned why.
Apparently these cobwebs contain natural penicillin and if a horse is injured you pack the wound with a few washed cobwebs and you have an instant and natural bandage that can heal even burst arteries. It sounded very impressive although I'm not sure I'd want her packing any of my cuts with cobwebs even if she had washed them first!!!
Next we were introduced to her favourite stallion whose name unfortunately escapes me and it was clear he has been subject to much of her film and stunt training. At just the slightest command from Michelle this horse will run and stand on a block! He is clearly very devoted to his two legged friend and unlike many stallions was more than happy for her to run around him and even between his legs in the stable while he just dozed unconcerned and then nuzzled her affectionately. For those of you who understand horses he is also used for breeding but shows none of the aggressiveness, or possessiveness, of many other stallions when mares are around (there was one in the next stable with only a low wall between them).
Once back in the yard Annabel had reappeared and so had the sun…she was very excited to tell me that the plans had been changed but that we would be going quad biking up the mountain after all…now! Adam had even managed to sneak our trainers in the car hoping I wouldn't notice! In perfect timing Justin also arrived at this point. We would be going to lunch afterwards but Justin was unable to join us for that so to save me guessing what was up I had been told he wouldn't be coming with us at all.
Unfortunately due to the change of plans no one else could join us until later although Annabel had contacted her friend Erilda who would join us for lunch a little later on. So Michelle, Dad, Annabel, Justin, Adam and I all jumped on the quads already lined up in the yard and headed out.
We drove up the long gravel driveway to the main complex of Rhebokskloof and then headed behind the main buildings where we crossed small fields and deeply rutted tracks to the grapevines behind. From there we weaved in and out of the various plantations, some of us sampling the grapes on offer along the way, and headed gradually uphill. Michelle drove on ahead a few times so she could stop and take pictures of us and eventually we reached the very top. Once there we parked up on top of a huge rock and Michelle opened the hamper she had strapped to the back of her quad. Inside she had several bottles of pink champagne and a huge (film prop) samurai sword. She then proceeded to hit the top of the champagne bottle with the sword sending the cork flying. Something she apparently does with all groups she brings up here. Unfortunately though she was in such a hurry for a drink she forgot to wait for the bottle to settle after the bumpy ride up and the top of the bottle smashed clean off and went flying across the rock! It was very funny!!!
Luckily though the pressure ensured that all glass was heading away from the bottle itself and after checking the rim we tucked in anyway. Justin was feeling a bit fragile from his heavy night last night and after a couple of sips declared he couldn't drink anymore so I finished off for him!
We relaxed and enjoyed the views for a while and also walked to a different viewpoint a little further down the track. From there we had a bird's eye view over the local farms and Michelle told us all about who owned them and how much the ones for sale were fetching (very little by all accounts, a good investment for anyone who can afford it). Adam was very interested at this point. Michelle pointed out her dam where she takes a daily plunge in all weathers. I am told that the water in this particular dam never gets any warmer no matter what the weather and is so damned cold that people are often surprised it isn't frozen over. This has never deterred our crazy Michelle though who jumps in for a swim every day without fail no matter how cold it gets in winter!
All too soon we headed down again on the quads, Michelle taking us a different route, and headed back to the farm. Justin left us (secretly I think he needed to go and sleep off his hangover) and Erilda joined us and we enjoyed a very lovely lunch in the restaurant. Whilst waiting for our food Michelle took Erilda to the wine tasting room. Erilda loves a drop of wine… Adam and I followed although I was disappointed to fine out it was all red wine on offer. Being a good sport I tried it all though and was surprised that I actually quite liked most of it. Michelle is a bit of a connoisseur herself and has visited most of the wineries in the area and clearly knows her stuff. She knows these particular wines very well and was able to describe what each one should taste like as soon as it was presented to us. Michelle and Erilda then treated themselves to have a dozen bottles each and we headed back to the table.
After lunch we left Michelle to do some work and the rest of us headed back to the farm for a cooling swim in the pool. By then the weather had completely cleared, in contradiction to the weather report, and it was getting quite hot!
Justin's friends, Justin Roylance and Justin Schultz joined us mid-afternoon where they were told about the change of plans for the day but it was ok, Annabel had a plan…
Ian, the Vet, who I have mentioned previously, was having a leaving party for one of his vets who was going to work abroad and we had been invited. Annabel's main reason for excitement though was that he had hired sumo wrestling suits and a bouncy castle (or jumping castle as they call it). As well as the cocktails he was planning to serve up!
Annabel had previously arranged for some very posh hampers to be filled by Rhebokskloof when we had originally planned to see sunset up Paarl Mountain and we collected these hampers on the way and took them with us. They were traditional wicker basket style hampers with all sorts of goodies inside from pasta salads, spring rolls and various meats to different cheeses and lovely little cheesecake desserts. She really does think of everything!
At the farm the party was slow to get going with all the vets and nurses shyly hanging around nervously eyeing the sumo suits from a safe distance. So to get things going the Justin's decided to have a go! It was hilariously funny with my brother being incredibly competitive despite being only a couple of inches taller than myself. Schultz for example is huge and Roylance is pretty tall! That said the three of them had a great time tumbling and jumping on each other and even decided to take over the bouncy castle in their suits for extra bounce! We kept Ian and Mel's little daughter Lily (who the bouncy castle was hired for) at a safe distance!
At times two of them would team up against the other and roll or throw each other, I got some great photos! When they stopped for a breather, and because it gets incredibly hot in those suits, some of the others decided to brave it and have a go. They then decided to rouse the black workers from their slumber and invite them to join in as well. These guys are very timid and understand very little English to make matters worse. It's like looking back to England a hundred or so years ago and watching Royalty invite their housekeepers to join in the fun…these guys just didn't know what to expect or whether to take the matter seriously. Once they did join in though they really enjoyed themselves although at times they did take it a little too seriously. It is important to remember that even now these guys will fight to the kill on the streets of Africa and they can never show weakness amongst each other.
Later on I was finally persuaded by Justin to take on Adam as he was dying to see what I would do. I was probably a little disappointing though as I found the whole thing so hilariously funny I could hardly stand up because my legs had gone like jelly…needless to say Adam won our little fight despite me getting help from all three Justin's! I had great fun though and would love to do it again.
At some point my Dad took me on a tour of the farm. The place is huge and as clean, clear and sterile as any human hospital, if not cleaner! Obviously I wasn't allowed to enter the two theatres although I could see through the windows but I was taken on a tour of the rest of the building. I was fascinated by the huge treadmill they use to rehabilitate horses and the padded cells used for anesthetising and waking up all kinds of animals.
I was shown horse skeletons and skulls with bullet wounds where the horse has had to be euthanized. My Dad told me all about how to shoot a horse correctly to get a quick and painless result and what happens when you don't know what you're doing (if you shoot one directly between the eyes you'll make a very big mess and the horse won't die…). Clearly this sounds a little depressing, especially given that it's my birthday but in truth I found the whole thing fascinating! In England only licenced professionals can carry out euthanasia but here anyone can do it!
I was also shown some big round stones about the size of a softball. There were 5 in total and they were just like very smooth rocks that you might find on a riverbed. These stones had been removed from a horse's stomach and are a bit like gall stones. There were 6 in total although the owner had kept one. Each one had a flat side where they slotted together perfectly and the total weight must have been horrendous. I was told the horse had been a show jumper that had been doing very badly at competitions. Needless to say he was jumping much better after the op! Maybe I should have been a veterinary nurse after all! Either that or a stunt trainer!
When we returned to the party I found out that Annabel and Erilda and taken each other on in a contest of strength and determination and we had clearly missed a very entertaining show! Annabel won though which didn't surprise me, she certainly has the determination!
All in all it turned out to be a really nice, action packed day and I loved every minute. Probably my best birthday ever and I'd like to offer a big thank you to Annabel and my Dad for organising it and to everyone else who came along!!!