mare and jackal
mare and jackal

(Photo : Summerhill Stud)


It’s a well publicised fact (because we made it so,) that Summerhill has recently weathered an abortion storm induced by the equine Herpes virus. That we managed to contain it to so small a number has been the subject of recognition by two of the country’s top veterinary advisors, Professors Alan Guthrieand Martin Schulman of the Research Institute and the University of Pretoria’s Veterinary Faculty respectively. What’s emerged from this whole thing is that every farm in every major racehorse producing country in the world, knows the virus, where it’s estimated that more than 80% of their horses have been challenged by it, while in South Africa it’s suggested that at least 50% of the populations on all farms (and in every racing stable) have been exposed. The fact is, early intervention, decisive leadership and sound bio-security measures and management have saved the day, and we’re pretty much back to normal, with more than 45 quite normal foals born since the commencement of the season.

One thing we have learnt in the process of managing the virus outbreak, is that there are challenges in parts of Africa which no other country could begin to imagine. Because it was essential that we retain a vice grip on the isolation of the affected mares, we had to manage them as though they were on a separate farm, with different staff, different vehicles, different clothing, equipment etc, and then there was another difference: predators, of a kind you would encounter only on this continent.

The virus was at its peak during the coldest month of the year, when temperatures at night were down as low as -7º C, and our Zulu watchmen were housed in a small portable hut on the edge of the paddock alongside a blazing brazier, designed to keep the staff warm as well as providing light in the vicinity of the foaling mares. As it happened, before we were aware of the outbreak, we suffered two abortions on a Saturday evening, and because of the sharpness of their instincts, the jackal happened to get there before the staff did, for the early morning feed.

Knowing there could be “pickings” henceforth, we had two frighteningly hungry packs descend upon the paddock every night, one from Summerhill and the other from our All Black neighbour, Alan Sutherland’s farm next door. I should add that Alan’s jackals were the hungrier of the two prides, and had to be constantly fended off by our Zulus during the nightly vigil! They were joined in their prowling by caracal and serval, leaving our team with as much of a job foaling the mares, as they had dealing with the predators.

Yes, you come to Africa for the game, but this is not the way we wanted to play it!