We are strolling through Anja du Toit’s beautiful property in Nairobi’s Karen estate.
She takes me round Malo Stables where the horses have just left on a riding tour with some of her clients.
Having lived in Kenya for 14 years now, the Danish businesswoman explains that her main motivation for setting up the stable was her family.
“I was working in dangerous zones like Somalia and given that I am a mother to two boys, I started thinking that it was not fair to my children to put myself in that much risk. I also wanted more time to enjoy horse riding which I fell in love with as a child, but just couldn’t do that with a full time job. I then started looking at my hobby and decided to see if I could make a business out of it,” says Anja.
Her initial idea slowly evolved to include taking people on rides which is really good for the horses anyway, and making it an experience by offering breakfast, sundowners and picnics.
She has, however, been finding that very logistic-intensive and she needs at least four clients to make it financially viable.
The rides take participants through the beautiful Ngong Hills.
“I don’t do less than two hours because if you have beginners especially, they can’t really get that far unless you’re walking slower. It also takes a lot of infrastructure to get the horses to the edge of the forest which is where we start off from. How far we go depends on the client’s experience level,” she says.
A lot of people that come regularly on these rides with the guides often become interested in learning the techniques to become better riders.
Sometimes it’s also because they see her compete.
‘‘I win trophies quite a lot with my horses particularly in the dressage discipline and that inspires people to want to learn. I therefore have a riding school operation as well, particularly focusing on individual lessons with three people maximum,” she adds.
Anja has numerous accolades and professional qualifications to her name. These include being a professionally tested (in South Africa) and trained dressage judge in Kenya, being a chairman of dressage for the Kenya Horse Association, and having a training qualification from the FEI (Fédération Equestre Internationale).
While some of her training is sponsored, she pays for a lot of it out of pocket and admits that it can be a very expensive hobby.
“I have trained some of my guys who start with the beginners since they are less expensive than me. A beginner would start on a lunge which is a long rope so the rider doesn’t have to worry about control of the horse and in turn just focus on balance,’’ she says.
Learning how to ride a horse, especially for adults, is a long process. ‘‘It can take three weeks or even three years. You have to be committed.’’
Lunge lessons cost about Sh4,500 for a one-on-one session with her guides, or Sh6,000 with Anja herself.
If you are looking to buy a horse, however, Anja says that thoroughbreds are still the most common breeds in Kenya, and they are taken from the racetrack.
“Those owners can sell a horse when they are old or don’t do well anymore. You can get the price down to about Sh200,000 depending on the quality, but it will likely be an injured or very difficult horse,” she says.
“Normally, a fully-grown one would probably go for about Sh500,000 and since it has been working really hard as athletes, it needs about six months to rest, recover its joints and muscles then you can start somewhat retraining it to get the racing out of their head. Some are even put on steroids and you need to get them off that. Often, they will surprise you and turn into the most wonderful animals.”
Anja also imported four mares from Europe to breed from and has in turn gotten youngsters which are unfortunately difficult to sell because they are a lot more expensive than what you would get at the racecourse.
“A foal I probably wouldn’t sell for less than $20,000 (Sh2 million). In Europe, you could even pay more,” she says.
She explains that this price is because of the breeding.
“I’ve brought in quality mares and bought expensive semen from stallions in Germany. I then brought in vets to do the insemination and transfer of embryo which is even more expensive.’’
She decided to keep them because they have become such amazing competition horses for people that ride with her and they go on to win.
Another option would be to sell them in South Africa though someone she knows because the competition seems bigger and can therefore fetch better prices.
If buying a horse is not for you and yet you are still interested in them, perhaps riding lessons or a horseback tour through Ngong Hills would be the way to go.