Kenneth Orupia rushes back to the stable with supplies urgently needed to conduct a surgery on one of his horses at Karen Riding School in Nairobi.
Seven-year-old ‘Boxer’ is being neutered, a procedure that takes about 20 minutes. The horse’s eyes are droopy and he looks like he needs to rest after sedation but he stays awake, perhaps aware that the veterinarian and his master are talking about him.
‘Boxer’ is one of the horses housed at the Karen stables. The rest are out grazing.
“I have 18 horses here and about 100 people walk through those doors every week to ride them,” he says.
He knows the horses by name, points out their characters and the problems they might have, just like a parent would of his children.
“Goldie’ is seven months pregnant,” he says. Another horse needs tooth extraction. ‘Sara’, a horse that had been kept out in the riding trails for long needs to breastfeed her foal ‘Magical Star.’
“She is very hungry and her feeding schedule has to be adhered to,” one of the employees says.
As horse ownership in Kenya grows, not everyone can afford a stable. Kenyans are now buying horses and housing them far from their homes. The stable workers train the horses and their owners, take care of them and have a veterinarian on 24 hours call to treat them if they fall sick.
Owning a horse requires commitment in time, money and passion. Mr Orupia has opened his Nairobi stable to other horse owners besides keeping his own.
“Owners pay Sh35,000 a month for their horses to stay here at the stable but they can pay for a half of the lease period which is Sh25,000,” he says.
He adds that horse mold, hay, water molasses, barley, carrots, apples, oats are just part of the few dietary requirements healthy horses require every day, making horse-keeping not a cheap hobby.
Tony Muthama of Hardy Stud says horses owners can pay Sh30,000 to house their animals in the stable.
The stable workers exercise and groom the horses. There is a half lease option which is cheaper where a stable owner is allowed to use the horse to teach walk-in riders and in races.
“The half lease option can only be discussed after we see what the horse is able to do. An owner may say we can use a horse for races but we find it is not capable of doing much,” he says.
Most of the horses at the stable are also insured. Horses can fetch luxury-car prices hence have to be insured. A horse can cost as little as Sh150,000, says Mr Orupia, but those are old and retired. A good one costs anything from Sh500,000.
“I know a guy who bought a Sh14 million horse and he had to put it down after it was kicked by another horse which broke its hip. That is money down the drain when you do not take insurance,” says Mr Orupia whose love for horses started when he was 12 years old.
In addition, a horse owner has to pay fees for hoof maintenance.
“Poor hoof care can lead to infection, joint hyper-extension, and even permanent lameness. In addition to daily care, horses should be seen by a certified farrier every six to eight weeks to be trimmed or shoed,” he says.
Equipment is also a key in horse keeping.
“Harnesses, for instance, vary in sizes depending on the horse. We get polo harnesses from Argentina while the rest comes from the UK,” he says.
Genius Mbugua, a father-of-three keeps his horses at Karen Riding School.
“Having a stable or shelter, maintenance of equipment, fencing and grooming are things I had to consider. You also need to proper beddings for the horse,” he says.
Mr Mbugua who has a two-year-old son named Jayden, 10-year-old Elvis and eight-year-old Susan, bought each of them a horse even if he does not own a stable.
“I have always loved horses and I wanted my children to own them but because we live in a court, I found this arrangement good for us. They come here on weekends to ride their horses without me having to break a sweat,” says Mr Mbugua.
He says he bought two horses from Mr Orupia and he got a white foal that his son Jayden rides elsewhere.
When the white foal was brought to the Karen Riding School, Mr Orupia says, it was trained to fit a child’s needs.
“We have to train the rider but also get the horse well-tempered. We teach the horse and the rider to communicate through body movements. For example, the horse should know that when the rider leans back then it should slow down,” he says.
Susan who has had her horse for about a year now rides by herself unlike many children. She is not afraid of them unlike Jayden who loves them but still exercises caution.
“I like the way it requires concentration and how you can be one with the horse while riding it,” says Susan.
Her horse ‘Goldie’ is pregnant and despite the visible growing belly, Susan is able to lead her to move just as majestic as the other horses.
The children started by doing hour-long lessons. Mr Orupia explains that horses cannot be taught something new for more than an hour.
Angela Cheror arrives at the riding school for an appointment with Mr Orupia. She wants to become a horse-racing jockey.
“I come here on Sundays and Mondays and I love that it is quiet and a little less busy than usual,” she says.
While she has been riding for a while, being a jockey requires much more than showing up to ride leisurely. It is a tough road and involves years of training to gain reputation and experience.
One of the trainers, Michael Micino, says there are four levels that a jockey has to go through before becoming a professional. That depends on the way someone rides and how many times one wins competitions.
‘‘To be a professional, one should have 30 wins,” he says.
A jockey also has to be 50 to 55 kilogrammes and Ms Cheror says she had to lose weight to meet the standards.
“There are not many black female riders and I want to make the cut. I work at ensuring that I meet the set requirements needed to be the best. It is intense but there is no two ways about it,” she says.
Ms Cheror will start with a 5Kg claimer and over time she says that she will make her mark as a professional jockey.
“She will have to be a disciplined, be a good rider and that will require her to learn how to gallop for example. She will be given a license which expires every season which is about one year,” says Mr Micino.
Mr Orupia says that although horse racing has been perceived as a white man’s game, given its history, more Kenyans are getting into the sport.
The Nairobi horse-boarding place also offers equestrian skills such as polo discipline, showing, racing and dressage.
Other Kenyans who have their own stables also come to train with their horses in the sand-filled ground.
“Horses need that cushion-like environment to train and while someone might have a stable to just keep them, they may lack the field like this for them to just ran freely and not get injured,” says Mr Orupia.