The sport of kings has a queen in the making - at just 7
Little Anotha is making quite a name for herself on KZN's increasingly popular rural horse-racing scene
While most seven-year-old girls are playing dress-up or day-dreaming about ponies and princesses, little Anotha Buthelezi is happiest when thundering down a racetrack on her beloved stallion, Black Barry.
Since the age of four Anotha has been racing competitively in the northern reaches of rural KwaZulu-Natal, where the sport of kings is becoming big business.
The Grade 1’s latest feat was the Dundee July, held in her home town on Saturday, where she finished seventh out of 28 competitors.Anotha was the youngest contender in the 1,800m ladies’ race where there was no age restriction and the only requirements were that the entrants be competent, experienced and not weigh more than 70kg.
The origins of rural horse racing seem to date to the 19th century, but since about 2005 it has enjoyed something of a revival in KwaZulu-Natal with the Dundee July.
At these race meetings almost anything goes – some jockeys come kitted out with helmets, saddles and silk finery, others choose to ride barefoot and bareback. Age and size doesn’t really matter.
The Dundee July, which started as a small event for local breeders, has grown into the second-biggest horse-racing event in the province, boasting stake money of more than R1-million.Anotha has ridden in the Dundee July three times, but is yet to bag a prize.
Her father, Menzi, one of the heads of the KZN Rural Horse Riding Association, can hardly contain his pride in his young protégéé.
Buthelezi, who owns eight horses, used to compete in rural races until recently.
“I was very good but I stopped competing to make way for young blood. Most rural horse owners don’t ride because we want youngsters to start riding. What we want is to take them off the streets and onto horseback, so that they don’t get into trouble.
“You’d be surprise how big horse racing is in areas like Zululand, Dundee and Mpumalanga.”
When it comes to his daughter, Buthelezi – who lives with his family in Sibongile, a township outside the town of Dundee – has no concerns about the shy little girl riding competitively.
“Anotha has grown up with horses. I own eight horses, who live in a paddock, near the track in Dundee, so she is very used to being around them.“Anotha is a confident rider. All our horses, including Black Barry, have a good temperament. Compared to the thoroughbreds in the Durban July, they are better behaved.”
As she continues to ride in monthly district events, Anotha’s experience as a jockey grows.
She also trains twice a week with a group of young boys who love racing as much as she does.
“When Anotha races other little girls get really excited to see her. I think they are like her fan club. Our hope is that they are inspired to also try out riding,” said Buthelezi.
While Anotha loves riding, she has no interest in becoming a professional jockey.“I want to be a vet when I grow up. I love Black Barry very much; he is a good horse. I like to take care of horses like him,” she said.
Buthelezi is not concerned about his only daughter’s safety when she rides.
“She wears a helmet, and knows how to handle her horse.
“I don’t want to put her under pressure. I want to give her the confidence to participate, and perhaps in two years’ time I can put more pressure on her. For now, I just want her to enjoy herself.”