From the Horse’s Mouth

Hi. I’m Sparkie.

I’m 11 years old and I live at a place called Shumbashaba Stables*, out in the beautiful countryside to the North of Fourways in Johannesburg, South Africa. I’m average size and have big brown eyes, and my favorite food is carrots, though I’ve been known to chew on a jacket, too.

I used to have a best friend by the name of Suzie, but she died this year. I was very sad. Luckily, I’ve had  my work to keep me busy and distracted.

Let me tell you about my work, because I happen to think I’ve got one of the coolest jobs out there. I’m in the Equine Assisted Therapy business. Which is a big word and you are right to ask what that means. Well, in a very broad sense, my job description is to empower people. What can be better than that? I play a unique role in helping children (and adults!) with special needs.They come ride on me, and somehow that helps them with their growth, their learning, and their healing. Sometimes I wonder what the big fuss is all about. All I do is be my regular old self and walk in circles, but for some reason the feel of my body, the gentle rhythm and the motion have a positive impact on disabled people.


Here I am at work


There are many different ways I can carry somebody on my back


This is my place of work. Isn’t it beautiful?


And not just disabled people. At Shumbashaba, we help people with special  needs as well as victims of violence, neglect, or trauma, and we work with youth at risk in disadvantaged communities. We even do corporate teambuilding workshops.

I say we because it’s not just me. We are an entire team of therapeutic horses. There is Timmy, there is Bella, and there is Beanie, the little guy, there is Comet, who frankly I think is getting a bit fat, there is Mr. Watt whom nothing can faze except when his food doesn’t arrive promptly, and we just got a new addition by name of Lucky. He might be lucky, but I happen to think that I’m the coolest of them all.

Me and Timmy, waiting to be shown at an outreach event



Here you can see the township of Diepsloot in the background



I love being the center of attention!

When I’m not busy providing therapy sessions, I get to work my second job, which is giving riding lessons to other kids. The ones who don’t come for therapy. Though who is to say they don’t get it anyway?

Sometimes I can’t wait for my riding lesson days because then I get to move much faster, which is something I love doing. Come on, what did you expect from someone with a name like Sparkie? Comet might have to be kicked again and again to so much as break out into a trot, and then only with a carrot dangled in front of his nose, but not me. I love running! I can sense when a rider is ready to canter for the first time – even though they never seem to believe me – and then I just take off. They always cry and sob after I stop again and then I feel bad. But you know what? The next time they come back with a spring in their step and more confidence. Empowering people, see?


Am I not particularly good-looking when I do my second job?
Yeah. I kinda didn’t want to jump that one.


You gotta go when you gotta go, even during a show event


She just wouldn’t be thrown off, even though I tried!

I sometimes even have to throw these kids off, just a little bit, to get my point across. Once a girl called Impatience was riding me at her very first showjumping event, and I got so excited about being allowed to jump that I got a bit overenthusiastic and galloped all the way out of the arena up the hill and into the trees with her. Oops! They weren’t very happy with me afterwards. But I must say she has gotten a lot more patient with me since then.

Come visit me and check out our stables sometime. I’d love to show you around.

Just remember to bring me a carrot or two.

*Please scroll down for more information on Shumbashaba and how you and/or your children can be involved.


SHUMBASHABA – Horses Helping People

Sharon Boyce +27 84 500 0672
Jacky du Plessis +27 82 872 9265

We are in the process of setting up a community trust and once registered will be launching a drive to raise funds needed to meet growing demand, particularly with respect to neighbouring Diepsloot, an economically marginalised township of some 200,000 residents.

In the meantime your assistance in any of the following areas will be most welcome:

  • sign up your kids for riding lessons (proceeds support outreach activities)
  • volunteer one or more mornings a week to help walk horses during therapy sessions
  • contribute your expertise in other areas (accounting, event management, etc.)
  • sponsor a horse either fully or partially by providing a monthly food allowance.

To get a really good idea of what Shumbashaba and horse therapy is about, watch this short video:

Horse Therapy in Johannesburg from Jo Ellicott on Vimeo.

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