The incredible true story of a safari horse that fled in a storm and became the lead stallion of a herd of zebras has been immortalised in a new book.
Running Wild, written by South African author, travel journalist and environmental scientist David Bristow (www.davidbristow.co.za), charts the colourful life of Zulu, a resilient Boereperd x Namibian wild horse.
Born on a farm, the dark bay stallion was initially backed and ridden by a young girl, but bankruptcy forced his sale to Onderstepoort, a veterinary testing facility.
There, Zulu was used for the research and development of snake anti-venom but became surplus to requirements, and was sold on.
He was bought by Limpopo Valley Horse Safaris, based in Mashatu Private Game Reserve, and it was there that his story took a turn that entered him into the sphere of local legend.
In February of 2000, a tropical cyclone caused a storm so severe that the horses escaped their enclosure and ran free into the bush. All but Zulu returned and it was assumed he had been killed or lost.
But four years later her was discovered not only alive and well but running as the lead stallion of a herd of zebras. Recaptured and returned to Limpopo, he went on to become a horse revered on safaris for his incredible bush smarts — especially his unrivalled ability to detect leopards.
David encountered Zulu first hand when he rode on a safari at the reserve while working as a travel editor in the late 1990s but it wasn’t until years later that he heard how the horse’s unique story had unfolded.
“Around the mid-2000s I started doing mountain bike events at Mashatu where the general manager David Evans, a friend of mine, told me the story of the ‘great storm’ of 2000 and what followed. I was a writer, he suggested, so why not write about it?” David explained.
“At the time I was doing a lot of freelance travel writing and photography, as well as working on bigger coffee table book projects. Doing a paperback was not on my plate, but was in my dreams.
“David kept on at me, so I started looking into the story. That must have been mid-2015. Bit by bit it hooked me as I travelled around Southern Africa following the life story of this amazing horse, and talking with people who had known him.”
While not an out-and-out equestrian, David has ridden for most of his life and says what strikes him the most about horses “is their amazing power, both physically and emotionally”.
He set out to write “an African adventure story in which a horse is the lead character,” utilising his environmental knowledge of the bush to recount the tale of “the only horse ever known to have ‘become’ a zebra.”
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“I wanted to get into the inner life of horses as much as I could, for two reasons: in order to understand what forces drove or led Zulu during his years of running wild in the African bush, and in order to satisfy real horse aficionados who would read the book,” he said.
He describes the book as “narrative non-fiction”, combining a factual account of Zulu’s life with passages from his own imagination filling in the stallion’s years in the wilderness.
“The third quarter, the real heart of the story, is completely unknown, factually. However, it is also the most interesting and was the most fun writing,” David said. “ I had to imagine what might have and what could have happened to Zulu during the nearly four years of running wild and establishing himself as the alpha stallion of a herd of wild zebras.
“Although large parts of the narrative are conjecture, the entire book is stitched together with real people, events and anecdotes that are real. Zulu was a very real horse and his story was intriguing and unique.”
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