Stallion Barn under light Snow
Stallion Barn under light Snow

Summerhill Stallion Barn under light Autumn Snow

(Photo : Leigh Willson)

“This fall is a godsend.”

We all know how destructive snow can be when it comes down heavily, as it did after the sale of two former Durban July winners, Tecla Bluff and Devon Air in 1996. It was as if the gods were objecting, and in parts of our district, the snow lay more than two feet deep. But when it comes in a few inches, as we woke to see yesterday morning, it brings the first moisture ahead of the spring, and it sprinkles our paddocks and pastures with a liberal dose of ‘free’ nitrogen.

We’ve mentioned it before, that despite the Midlands’ reputation for its beautiful indigenous forests of Yellowoods, White Stinkwoods and Cape Chestnuts, the reality is these occur only on the Southern and Western-facing slopes of the valleys. The bulk of the territory was hitherto great, open savannah country, with millions of acres of waving veld, perfect for the big grazing herds of red hartebeest, eland and the black wildebeest.

It was only when the European settlers first arrived here in the early 1820s that the trees you see so many of these days on your travels through our region, were first imported. Those that came from Australia were not built for snow, so that when it comes down heavily, the gums and the wattles take strain, and they shed their boughs, and often their trunks, by the drove. By contrast, those of European origin, the conifer and the cedar varieties, carry their burden with equanimity. In 1996, if you were driving past a grove of gum trees at the hight of that snowstorm, it sounded like the Great War’s Battle of Delville Wood, with the sound of gunshot banging off every few seconds as another branch or limb dismembered itself. Destruction was everywhere, and our workshop roofs collapsed under the weight of tons of the white fluff, squashing Mercedes lorries, Massey Ferguson tractors and any number of expensive implements underneath.

There were tribes of Englishmen trapped in the vicinity, those who’d attended the broodmare sale, and for them to tell us this was by far the biggest snowfall they’d witnessed, was some statement.

As for the horses, they are far from deterred; on the contrary, they’re invigorated by the change, and to illustrate this, we go back once again to 1996, when on the first morning, we brought them all into the stables. The following day, when we went out to gather them in again, they would have none of it, and we had no chance of catching those galloping around the paddocks, weighed down as we were by our gumboots.

For the time-being though, and for as long as it’s not too heavy, we can rejoice. This fall is a godsend, and will set us up for a decent spring, and a productive foaling season.

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