A Symbol of Unlimited Freedom

The Wild Horses of the Namib attract thousands of tourists each year. And occasionally they cause headlines; lack of rain in 1991/92, and again in 1998/99 resulted in emaciated horses due to insufficient nutrition and weaker animals perished. As soon as photos of the emaciated animals were published, grandmothers raided their money-boxes and teenage girls sacrificed the savings in their piggy banks for fodder. The readiness of the public to rush to the rescue of the wild horses is remarkable and many humanitarian aid organisations can only dream of such a response. Why is it that the Wild Horses touch people deep in their hearts? What is it that makes us so passionate about them?

No doubt the mysterious origins of the Wild Horses are part of their allure, but it is not the real issue. Rather, we are fascinated because the horses have gained the freedom to live according to their own natural ways. They have broken free from their man-given role of stud, show-jumper or hobby-companion. They have rediscovered their natural behaviour and their own social systems.

Don’t we all dream of liberating ourselves from the constraints of civilisation?

We are also fascinated by the habitat which the horses have chosen. Between 100 and 250 horses share an area of 350-400km² – in mathematical terms this translates into 2.3km² per horse and the vastness of the desert instead of a paddock or stable. Which city-dweller doesn’t dream about a place to be alone and enjoy some breathing space?

And, we are fascinated because the Wild Horses have conquered an alien world. Life in the desert is harsh. But there is also triumph in coping with adverse conditions like heat, drought, wind and freezing temperatures. Who doesn’t admire Robinson Crusoe for coming to terms with nature without the gadgets of modern technology?

Freedom, space, nature – these are the qualities which man has lost as a result of civilisation and for which he yearns from deep within. It is no coincidence that these elements are often represented in a range of advertisements from cars to cigarettes. Freedom, space and nature are also the reason why holiday-makers from Europe visit Namibia year after year. The Wild Horses have something which not only fascinates us, but for which we actually yearn.

But the envy turns into pity as soon as freedom and nature take their natural course – that is, when horses starve or even perish during a drought. Man’s compulsion to intervene may be an echo of his conscience towards animals which, in his zealous attempts to take control of Earth he has crammed into reserves and zoos. With regard to the Wild Horses there is another factor: they are often seen as domestic animals for which man feels an added obligation. But, these horses are no longer domestic. They are part of nature, uncontrolled by man, and as such, subject to the laws of nature. The death of weak animals at times of drought is the natural cycle taking its course.

This does not mean that the horses should be left to fend for themselves. But the time has come to replace the myth around the horses with a realistic picture. And to make us think about whether the skinny horse that we pity isn’t perhaps happier than the handsome steed in his dark, lonely stable. Or perhaps it is happier than us in our apartment on the fifth or fiftieth floor.