Wild Shagyas at the Garub Water Hole in Namibia

The wild horses at the Garub Water Hole in Namibia are a tourist attraction by itself.

According to Namibia-Travel.net’s online travel guide, the Garub Water Hole lies near the”little place of Aus (…) some 120 kilometres east of Lüderitz on the National Road B4, which connects Luederitz and Keetmanshoop – one of the most scenic routes in Namibia.”

According to Namibia-Travel.net website, the origins of the wild horses at Garub seem unclear:

“Nobody knows exactly where the wild horses originated from, but they are supposedly descendents of those from the German Schutztruppe. Another theory proposes their origins to lie in the former stud of Baron Hansheinrich von Wolf of the Farm Duwisib south of Maltahöhe.” http://www.namibia-travel.net/southnamibia/aus.htm
Picture courtesy of http://www.namibia-travel.net/

In Graham Howe’s article On the Trail of Wild Horses, he explains that “wild horses were first sighted on the Garub in the 1920s. Posters in a rustic wooden lookout suggest there are as many legends about their origins as horses.

Historians debate whether the horses were shipwrecked on the Skeleton Coast in the late 19th century, runaways from

 Namibian stud farms, or the descendants of German and South African cavalry horses dispersed in desert battles during World War 1.”

Furthermore, Howe traces the origin of the horses to three bloodlines. “Cape Boerperd, Hackney, and Trakehner – the last of these imperial descendants of Prussian stock bred by Baron Hansheinrich von Wolf at the Duwisib stud farm in the early 19th century.”http://www.ioltravel.co.za/article/view/3949247

In their 2007 travel book Namibia Space, Chris Marais and Julienne du Toit also encounter the herd of wild horses in the African Namib National Park. They say that for the past 100 years, approximately 140 horses have been living on 40,0000 ha.(approx 99,000 acres) with little human interaction.

“Where did these marvellous mounts come from?” Chris and Julienne ask themselves…

Much to our delight, they also have a surprising answer:

“The University of Kentucky says they’re mostly Shagya Arabians from Hungary – cross bred by German colonial forces in South West.”


Could this be true? While short of being a pure-bred wild Shagya herd, the Shagya breed does indeed have an influence on South African horse breeds. Accordring to F. J. van der Merwe and Jinny Martin, a famous Shagya named Silver Eagle laid claim to that fame. In their genetics article Four Southern African Horse Breeds, they explain as follows:

“In 1953 a very special stallion, Silver Eagle, was presented to the government of Lesotho by a benefactor and admirer of the Basutho Pony in Cape Town. Silver Eagle’s sire was a Shagya Arabian from Babolna in Hungary and his dam a purebred Arab from India. He survived at the government stud in Quthing until 1966 and produced well over 100 offspring from a group of selected part-bred Arab mares. The offspring were distributed throughout the country and must have had some influence on the latter-day Basutho horses although it is not clear how much”

The question remains, how much Arabian blood is left in the wild horses at the Garub water hole? Quite a lot it seems! 🙂

In 2001, a scientific study anaylzed the genes of the Namibian feral horses. According to Genetic variation in the feral horses of the Namib Desert, Namibia., the abstract of the article agrees that while the horses might not look like typical Arabians, their genes show a stong percentage of Arabian blood:

“Genetic variation at 7 blood-group and 10 biochemical genetic loci was examined in 30 horses from a feral herd from the Namib Desert of Namibia, Africa. The observed genetic variability was extremely low compared with that found in domestic horse breeds. The low variation was most probably a result of recent small population size and a small founding population size. Genetic comparison of the Namib horses, which were of unknown origins, to domestic horse breeds, showed that the Namib horses had the highest genetic similarity to Arabian type horses, although they did not closely resemble this type of horse in conformation” http://www.sabinet.co.za/abstracts/savet/savet_v72_n1_a5.xml

The article continous to say that it’s indeed possible that the feral horses of Namibia go back to the Shagya Arab breed.

For a hard copy of Namibia Space, purchase the book in from Amazon: