Cart Horse Protection Association-Celebrating 25 years of work

Words: Jo Elliott

The Cart Horse Protection Association (CHPA), celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, has monumentally improved the lives of working horses in the Cape Flats.

Working in harmony with the cart driving community is incredibly important for the CHPA. Over the course of 25 years, they have developed a good working relationship with the drivers so that they can work together to improve conditions for the horses.

Marike said, “We would rather have someone call us if something’s wrong with a horse, and we go out and help the horse, than they be afraid of us. We’d rather have that good relationship, so that we’re the first port of call if anything goes wrong.”

The need for cart horses

One of the working horses at CHPA

The Association started with the intention of improving working conditions for cart horses. These had deteriorated as drivers were removed from their original homes in District Six and into the Cape Flats. The loads changed with this move as drivers were further away from the markets they had previously worked in. With drivers now turning to collecting scrap metal rather than products from the markets, the heavier loads and longer travel distances meant horses were becoming increasingly overloaded and overworked.

In the twenty five years since the CHPA has been around, conditions for working horses have thankfully improved. Marike Kotze, the Public Relations Manager and Online Fundraiser for CHPA noted this change.

She said: “80% of the horses looked really terrible, they looked like this (thin to the point where you are able to clearly see the horses ribs through their coat). The loads were really bad and the horses were generally not very well treated. Now it’s the other way around. They’re really well taken care of. They look good and about 20% of the horses look like this.” (referring to their poor condition).

The CHPA brought in several measures to tackle the issues faced in the cart horse driving community. The horses now all have to be registered and are given a unique number plate. This was introduced in 2010 and makes it easier for citizens to report it when a cart horse is being abused or overloaded. They also provide feed, shoes and vet treatment for the horses at highly subsidised prices. They fix harnesses and carts as well and provide education for cart horse owners and drivers.

Building relationships

Building relationships also extends to the communities in which the cart horses work. The CHPA relies on the public for information on when and where cart horses are being abused.

They work closely with neighbourhood watches and security companies as well. This is to monitor the areas where the horses are and check if there are any problems. Marike said, “The people in the areas that we work are very vigilant. They’ll call us and they’ll say, look, we’ve seen a horse here, we’ve seen a horse there, the driver’s beating the horse or it’s overloaded.”

Limiting the industry

Much of the CHPA’s work at the moment is working towards limiting the cart horse industry. This is to ensure that the current group of cart horses does not grow exponentially.

Horses cannot be brought in from outside of the industry and be registered. The only new horses allowed to be registered are foals from registered mares (not stallions, as they could mate with numerous mares).

Marike explained this, saying: “It’s just a way of curbing breeding and also to keep the industry as small as possible. Because we are subsidising so much of the cost, we have to keep it as small as possible so that we can afford to take care of all the horses. At the moment we have about 270 horses on the road. A few years ago it was double that amount.”

Earlier this year, they ran a gelding drive. This is an initiative to neuter male horses, much like male dogs or cats. They received an overwhelming amount of support for this, raising 67,000 rand, which was more than double their initial target. For the CHPA, this programme was a result of 25 years of effort. Many of the cart drivers were reluctant to geld their stallions, believing that this cuts the horses power. Gelding the horses not only reduces the population, but is better for the horses. It calms them down and makes them easier to handle.

Continuing education

Like everything else at CHPA, the gelding programme was a result of continual education from the organisation to the drivers. This doesn’t take the form of formal training programmes though. It is more of an ongoing dialogue and relationship between the staff and the drivers.

The more experienced drivers will also pass their own knowledge onto the younger drivers. Marike explained: “We have a lot of the older guys who know what they’re doing and have been working with the horses for years, and then we’ll have the young guys who come into the industry and they don’t know so much, so we’ll even work through the older guys to teach the younger guys.”

The work that the CHPA is doing is more important than ever. The number of working horses on the road is expected to increase over the next few years. This is due to the climate crisis, as horses and carts are a more eco-friendly option than cars.

Adopting A Cart Horse

Adoption of retired or confiscated horses is also a big focus for CHPA. This is something that can be a challenge at times. It can be for a number of reasons, both financial and otherwise. Their Recovery and Rehabilitation Centre is currently home to 44 horses that need homes. Naturally, the more horses that are in the centre, the more money is needed to pay for their upkeep.

Marike said: “We’re really pushing the adoption programme, we’re trying to get horses out and adopted. It’s not always difficult to find homes but sometimes it’s difficult to keep homes. We have a lot of issues because we’re very strict with our adoptions. So the adoptees sign a contract that says, if ever, for any reason, they can’t take care of the horse, we’ll take the horse back. In the last year alone, we’ve had eight horses that were returned to us because people simply couldn’t afford it anymore. A lot of rescue organisations have that policy, but we actually do it. We’ll go and take the horse back and rehome it again.”

As well as looking for new homes for the horses at the R&R, the CHPA also runs a “Sponsor A Stable” campaign in which people can donate money to help with the upkeep of the horses who remain in the centre.

Things Are Better

With anything, there are always the bad apples, but things have much improved for the cart horse community as a whole. As Marike said, “We really just try and make the situation as best as we can for the horses, so they’re happy and healthy working horses.” Working together with the drivers in the Cape Flats, they have ensured that the horses in these communities are able to thrive, and that the drivers are able to continue the work that is so vital in supporting their families.

To donate to the CHPA, visit their website:

Originally published at on March 13, 2020.




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Jo Elliott

Jo Elliott

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