One of the biggest hit songs from the musical year 2019/20 was Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus’ ‘Old Town Road” (remix). In the song, the rapper sings about riding horses and the lifestyle of being a cowboy. But that is even beside the inspiration, ever since I was a little boy, I always had a fascination about this gentle soul of a mammal called a Horse.
Dating back to my growing up days when I still used to watch soaps, and there are these particular two I can recall – ‘La Tormenta’ (which had a one Santos, who had his horse he connected with and treasured so much) plus ‘Hidden Passions’ whose story rotates around three sisters who owned a ranch, and again they too rode horses in this telenovela. So, as I kept growing up, I always wondered if there are any of that kind here in Uganda.
On one of the annual school trips that used to be organized in my primary school, we went to the Zoo in Entebbe where I saw grey donkeys. You wondering what I did next? Of course, I quickly shot the million dollar at the tour guide on whether it was allowed for someone to take a ride on one, to which I later owned the moment and actually paid for two trips around its dwelling so I’d have a real feel of the experience. In my vacation in 2011, we went back to the zoo, this time they had brought a camel there. The animal is tall, damn! But that could not stop me from throwing in some shilling as required for me to be able to hope onto it.
But again, I hadn’t got a chance to horse ride and during kaboozi (long conversations with buddies) while at school, we used to ‘lie’ to ourselves that the only place in Uganda that had ‘embalasi’ (local name for Horse) was Kiwatule Recreation Centre. Of course, this made this place a go to place I put in plans, so when a couple of friends decided we do a small small outing in 2014, your guess is as good as mine on where I suggested we go. Long story short, I took my people to Kiwatule RC, and to my dismay it was donkeys which were there.
I do believe in many things but one that always stands out is manifestation (which is professing that something will happen someday/ will be acquired). I have so many plans and wishes for this life of mine, eh! One was to always dine at Kingdom Kampala. So, I have this buddy of mine Ernest, whom I always told the fascination I had for that place. so, one day end of January, we link up and decide to finally act on that Kingdom Kampala plan I had had for some time now. While there, we had fries as we caught the cool evening’s breeze. He recorded me on his phone as I said the plan, I had for this year 2020, horse riding inclusive. I really wished this to be the year I’d finally check it off my bucket list. Among my other plans was to travel lots, something I had begun on last year in December (under the flagship travel series ‘#LambulaNeMugib’ which translates to Venture with Mugibson) where I visited and experienced the beauty of Ntungamo & NKozi. I later carried on to this year (going to Mbarara and Masaka) till the pandemic kicked in and everything almost had to come to a halt. Remember the lock down? Ban on transport?
Having spent the past four and a half months home, I really needed an escape, a breather. Away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Something to reawaken my spirit because man, my personality trait thrives best on the outside, since am more of an outdoors person. So, the other week, nga I come across a post by a friend who owns a touring and travels startup called Travel Maniacs announcing a horse riding weekend plot to which I quickly reached out and he shared the details.
Sunday 10am, was the time we agreed to link up and get going. So, yeah over the weekend, on Sunday to be exact this did happen. Converging at Total Uganda house, we set off to Gayaza to the ranch. I had come an hour earlier, while seated on my next to the window seat, I had initiated conversation with one of the people we were going with. I later got to find out she was called Faith, and works in a Tourism and Travels company. We actually hit it off in kaboozi, and I literally hadn’t got her name, nor her mine because this happens all the time. When the conversation is too lit, names are rarely asked, photo taken and, in some occasions, we might even forget to exchange contacts. In our company and circle was Joan Isabella and Cathy, with whom we were neighboring the other in the coaster.
It was actually a kind of distant drive as the journey took us close to an hour to get to Gayaza. Being by the window, I kept peeping through the window to see of any sign that we had arrived. While still enroute on the main road, I saw a signpost written on “FlameTree Stables” and it clicked in mind that we were almost there and about to do something I had looked forward to for the past 10+ years plus. Because I was taught that the shelter for horses is a stable, so the title alone was already symbolic. Having wound the tarmac road, our driver for the day branched off onto a murram road that leads to the stables. It was easy to find because everyone from Gayaza town knows where the only place with ‘embalasi’ (horses) is located within the area. Also, there were a number of signposts along the way.
We arrived at the scene; on the spacious grounds of Flametree stables our feet were finally. While at the gate, our temperatures were checked with the temperature gun and requested to put on our face masks, like you and I do understand the current situation we are in as a country, and world at large. We got in finally, and my oh my, the last time I ever saw such a big number of horses was in a ka Microsoft Office Video of Windows 7. You know that ka video that comes by default in the libraries of Windows in the folder “Sample Videos”. Yes, that was when. And here I was, they were before my very own two eyes.
This was about that time I unleashed my rural urban excitement, what we like to call in Luganda “amaalo’. Had brief walks around the place so as to get used to the environment since our booking had been for the 2Pm shift. For the mean time, we took as many photos as we could bambi. Hope the photographer guy’s back has healed by now; not with the way he had to keep shifting angles so as to capture our fire shots and poses very well.
Because a little curiosity never hurt, I together with Faith, Cathy and Isabella sought to ask a few questions about this place Flametree Stables, its background and how horses are handled, why they behave the way they do and all. My fellow inquisitive junkies and I initiated conversation with one of the gentlemen who worked there at the stables, whom we would later identify as James. In our talk, he shared that:
FlameTree stables was established in the year 2009 by Miranda Bowser, and has been a dream destination to many who wish to ride a horse, have a walk on one, participate in the horse racing sporting, or even learn how to since they have a horse school. The stables were started with 25 horses and their population has now grown from 40 to 240 horses at the moments.
In the office we had found at the stables, I had seen horse equipment with different names such as ‘Josh, Warren’ and others labelled at the top of each on the wall and I of course could not not cease this moment to ask about the naming and why equipment looked different yet horses appear to have the same stature. To this Mr. James responded saying; ‘each horse has its own gear: its own bridle, bit and saddles because just like it is in humans, we are all people but have different body builds, shapes, variant shoe sizes, eye size etc, the same applies to horses. Each one is to fit a specific horse. He told us that about the names written at the top of each shelf was for differentiation and identification purposes.
I have also always seen horses do a kind of feet stamping exercise, so I asked this to James as well. Also, there was something about their stalls having brown substances poured in them that also caught my eye. To which he responded “Strong as they appear, horses are very fragile animals. At the bottom of their horse shoes (legs/feet) is a soft part, so we do put the husks to prevent themselves from hurting their feet since they stamp their feet against it. because of that soft part, that is why it is also not advisable to walk a horse on a tarmacked ground as it injures their feet. Insects such as flies usually disturb horses, which is why they always stamping, to brush them off of themselves and their fur.
Just like my hunch had always told me, horses are like babies, puppies, etc, they do like being rocked, appreciate being talked to, petted and they do bond with their riders. It is therefore key for the rider to be in tune with their horse. However, under panic, they can be terrified as well and act up.
As we were lost in the exchange of knowledge with the instructor, our conversation was cut short as the clock had ticked 2 o’clock. We called the rest of our travel mates to come we prepare to do what had brought us; – horse ride. 🤭 James told us that before we get aboard, we had to sign a ‘Disclaimer”, as has been the policy since time memorial. Of course when you read the terms on the paper before you sign, they kind of look terrifying, just like a scenario when joining school and you were meant to sign rules and regulations, that mini fear to mess up always happens mentally, but well, we signed and protection gear (helmets) were given to us. ⛑️ We were encouraged to be brave and as calm as can be. Having made sure all of us had our helmets on, the horses were brought out; one for each individual. Being that we had zero experience in horse handling/ riding, an instructor was assigned to each of us. These instructors were to be with us every step of the way
Coincidentally the contact I had earlier made; – James was assigned to me as my instructor. He brought me a tall brown gentle soul of a horse, whose name I later found out was ‘Monty’. See the connection? 🤭 Mugisha seated on Monty; two aces of the letter ‘M’. 🐎
Given the height of the horse, there are provisional tires near each humping point before set off, where one steps onto so as to be at same height with the horse and they then sit. They are like stairs of some sort. Having climbed onto the horse’s back, my feet were then firmly clipped into support hangers of the horse, and the leather sorta straps handed to me. So, these are apparently used for directing the horse on what to do; in case you want it to go right, you gently pull back the straps and turn then right, and so is the case of the left. For the case that you wish the horse to stop moving, you swiftly pull the straps. To tell the horse to get in motion, you strike its belly using your feet.
During our 30minute walk (on horseback), I engaged James more; asking what inspired him to join the horse business. He said it is something he was passionate about, and was captivated the most after watching a video online about how horse shoes are fixed. Once he was through with school, he wanted to join an industry that was less competitive; where he could practice his passion.
I was also kind of curious about the name of the place. Like why FlameTree Stables? To which he gave me a story of how the person who started the place, found that the now horse ranch located in Kijjabijo village (Gayaza road) found there a breed of trees that are called ‘Flame Tress’ hence the name. To which he also asked me back; – “wamma mukama wange, olowoza lwakyi ejjo emiti bajjiyita flame tress”(translated to, ‘so, what do you think those trees are called flame trees?’) to which I really couldn’t guess. So, when you look at flame trees, the flowers on them are flame liked shaped and they are reddish orange. The way you see a flame of fire.
It was at this point that I was climaxing my horseback walk around. I put in practice what I had been taught earlier by the instructor and guide; so, we reached this ka hill, I turned Monty’s leather straps right so we could climb a hill and he followed suite. Kind of felt nice. No, it actually felt really gooood.
I think the thing for me was more than the horse-riding experience, but also meeting new people, and really bonding. That was top tier feels for me. One could think we went to the same high school or some sorta thing.
This was my first horse riding experience, and I can gladly sigh in relief; now that I have got that one off my bucket list too; – pheww!!
There is a misconception that horse riding is expensive but at Flametree, the more you are the cheaper. Make it a point to pass by, if horse riding is something that has always tickled your soul and fantasy. There are also ponies for the little ones.
Wish to conclude by encouraging you to make it a point to always do the things that make you feel alive. Remember as we live this everyday life, it is also important to actually LIVE. In life, endeavor to always collect more memories than materials, because material things may expire, get stolen or out of style, but memories always stick. Make them count. Also, that money you work so hard to get, always spare some of it to spend on yourself, you could buy yourself a new shoe, cloth, take yourself out, go on a trip- anything. Isn’t that why we work anyway?
Bottom line, ‘t was fun repping from Old town road;- riding on a horse. 🐎🎠