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Mozambique horse safari

This is the amazing story of two amazing people, Mandy & Patrick Retzlaff who single handedly moved over 100 horses out of Zimbabwe during the land seizures and into the safety of Mozambique

If you would like to support the Retzlaff’s, embark on a volunteer program or partake in a beach safari please email for further details.

Compiled by: John Laing – Chimhavira Overland Safaris cc

Text: Mandy Retzlaff – Mozambique Horse Safaris

A long time ago before the Second World War, Patrick Retzlaff’s grandfather Paul bred horses in Berlin, his stables were famous and they trained Gimpel who won the Germans a medal in the Olympics. Paul married Baroness Munchausen and they lived a privileged life in Berlin where Paul owned a bank in partnership with a Jew called Lewinsky. Their bank was called the Retzlaff Lewinsky Bank.

Their lives changed with the rise of fascism and soon Paul and his family were black listed by the Nazis for their sympathetic attitude towards Jews. They packed everything up and sailed to Tanzania where they bought a coffee farm called “Voice of the Lion” The family knew nothing about agriculture and had no knowledge of farming coffee. There are some enchanting family photographs of the family in mud huts with their priceless heirlooms around them and one can only imagine how difficult it must have been and how hard to adapt to lives that had changed so radically. Patrick’s grandmother soon succumbed to veldt sores and died of septicemia.

When the war broke out the Retzlaff’s were interned, except for Godfrey Patrick’s father he was naturalized and fought for the Brits against his own cousins in Northern Italy. After the Second World War Godfrey returned to Tanzania. He worked on the groundnut scheme, which employed ex service men and women. There he met Vera an English girl who has been a WREN in the navy and they married. After their marriage they dairy farmed at the base of Mount Mehru and Patrick and his brothers were born in Tanzania.

When Tanzania gained independence Julius Nyere put policies into place that were detrimental to the country. Vera was worried about the boys’ education and their own security due to the land nationalization program and so they made a decision to leave Tanzania and start a new life in Rhodesia, now called Zimbabwe.

Mandy had a very similar background and was born in Ghana; her father was an architect who worked for the colonial services after the end of the war, Mandy’s mother was a nursing sister. They too left Ghana after independence as Mandy’s father’s position was no longer secure and they settled in South Africa.

Patrick and Mandy met when Patrick was at University and married in 1978. It was the height of the bush war as Rhodesia battled with terrorism mainly affecting the farms, which were the economic wheel. All men were called up for service and many women ran the farms while their husbands spent long months in the bush.

Eventually South Africa gave in to external pressure and Rhodesia was forced to hand over to Robert Mugabe who became the new president of one of the most beautiful countries in the world. During the transition Robert Mugabe assured everyone that he offered the hand of reconciliation and every Rhodesian would now be a Zimbabwean and would work together for the benefit of the country.

Unfortunately in 2000 Robert Mugabe held a referendum and found that he was rapidly losing popularity to Morgan Tsvangerai. As the economy fell with Government over spending an opposition party was formed in the labour unions. The majority of Zimbabwean had already realized how lethal Robert Mugabe was with the killings of the Matabele in the early 80’s.

As Morgan’s popularity grew so did Mugabe’s anger. He had to suppress a nation and as it was an agriculturally based economy he had to get rid of us. The Retzlaff family were one of the victims of the 2001 trashing and looting of farms in the Chinhoyi district.

Patrick and Mandy’s neighbors were nearly killed and what they had to endure during the hours that they were barricaded in their home can only be imagined. After their ordeal the neighbors made a decision to leave for New Zealand and asked if Mandy and Patrick could take their horses.

Mandy and Patrick moved horses and staff all over the country leasing farms where they could. As the land invasions intensified they would have to move on, sometimes packing up in less than four hours.

Mandy recollects, “When I look back on it now it seems like a horrible dream. As more and more farmers left the country horses were left behind. As so many people were loathed to leave their beloved horses and did not want them to be put down we took them in. We always thought that the madness would stop and that we would be able to use the horses for various things if we were able to farm again.

After Mandy & Patrick’s 6th eviction they ran out of grazing for the horses and made a decision to move them to Mozambique. Out of necessity they got involved in an agricultural project in a town called Chimoio 80 km from the border, here they found the horses refuge. Unfortunately the business soon collapsed as Mozambique was not ready for commercial agriculture, people they had lent money to were unable to pay back and in some instances paprika was sold outside the country through bribes paid by desperate farmers. Investors quickly withdrew from Mozambique leaving Patrick and Mandy penniless with 104 horses to look after. A terrible situation for anyone to find themselves in.

Patrick loaded 7 horses into an old truck and drove 455 km to the seaside resort of Vilanculos and started Mozambique Horse Safari with not a bean in his pocket while Mandy looked after the rest of the herd in Chimoio.

The horses adapted to their new life very quickly, Patrick was positive that they would soon be on their feet again. Unfortunately on the 17th of February 2002 barely two months after Pat’s arrival, Vilanculos was hit by a cyclone and the damage to tourism was absolutely disastrous, it took nearly two years to rebuild Vilanculos.

Patrick and Mandy astonishingly and successfully moved 60 horses out of Zimbabwe and to Vilanculos, 10 went to Benguerra Island and 50 remained on the mainland, sadly only 70 from the original 104 had made the journey. The reason for the deaths was put down mainly to disease; Mozambique has had no veterinary control for over 20 years. Ringworm is endemic in the Mozambican equestrian population and rapidly spread through the horses. Animals were slaughtered and butchered for meat and some were lost to road kill after fencing wire had been stolen from the paddocks, 13 were donated to the Beira Equestrian Center.

The Retzlaff’s have survived and it is a miracle but mainly through the determination of these two amazing people who have never wavered and have kept going though their rather extraordinary life.

Mozambique Horse Safari has now been in operation for nearly three years. The Retzlaff family now offer some of the best beach riding in the world. They have been touched by the letters receive from satisfied riders who have spent time with them. It is special to be able to say Mandy and Patrick are extraordinary people who are proud of their horse’s achievements and continue to love and support their animals.

The horses have kept Mandy and Patrick smiling, they have taught then important lessons and kept their family together through some unbearable times.

In Mandy’s words, “Hopefully we will be able to continue to look after them and face the challenges ahead, all the time looking forward to a brighter future in Mozambique and maybe in the not too distant future we can all go home.” bears testimony to their love of Africa.

On the 14th of November 2010 disaster struck, under pressure for Grazing during October half the horses were taken down to graze by some lakes 12 km inland from the Vilanculos stables. It was beautiful, fresh drinking water in abundance and huge grasslands. The grooms set up a camp there, on the 14th of November Luka (Stable Hand) brought in two horses with high temperatures. The initial fear was tick disease, the horses were treated but no response. They were then treated with anti biotics. Another two were brought in and then three. In desperation Patrick brought in a wonderful vet called Allan, blood tests were taken for African Horse Sickness and various other things. All came back negative. By then 16 had died.

More were coming in, Christmas and New Year was a nightmare. Tissue samples were sent down to South Africa, as they were not allowed on the plane a client had to take them wrapped in a sandwich. As more died more samples were taken. The path results eventually came back positive for Crotalaria type poisoning. This must have been growing in abundance at the dam and had been brought in the early days by the Portuguese to fix nitrogen in the soil. Horses are usually very good at not eating poisonous plants but the Retzlaff horses must have developed a taste for it as there was plenty of grass.

Every horse that was down at the lake will succumb to the poison as there is no cure. It can stay in their system up to six months. Mandy and Patrick have lost such special horses, so beautiful with temperaments to match. They fought so hard but it was a battle lost.

May their hoof beats always be heard on the beaches of Chibuene as their spirits run free and they will be sadly missed by everyone who loved them so much

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