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The barriers to entry are high, and making a success of horseriding is an opportunity afforded to an elite few. South African Oscar Ncube is one of those elite few, but his journey was a little bit different to most…
Oscar was born in Alexandra, a township in Gauteng, South Africa. His Dad was born in Durban and worked in the mines, so they moved wherever his work took them.
Oscar wasn’t gracefully placed on the back of a riding school pony as a young child. In fact, his first experience on a horse was when, at the age of seven, he leapt on to the back of a pony belonging to the lady his mother worked for, Linda.
Before that, he would run around pretending to be a horse and playing horses with Linda’s son. Oscar says his mother’s former employer was ‘lovely’ and when the pony ran off and Oscar clung on, she realised that "I might have a bit of talent" and offered to teach him to ride. What she probably didn’t anticipate was that with such a simple offer she would change Oscar’s life path forever.
Since then, Oscar has gone from strength to strength. After working for WEG competitor Roger Hessen, and showjumper Erika Pretorius, Oscar is now based at Farnham Stables, one of South Africa’s top jumping yards and under the guidance of Barry Taylor and Lorette Knowles-Taylor, the opportunities have come thick and fast.
He now trains and competes as part of Team Nissan, a group of elite riders all based at Farnham. He says that without a doubt, the Farnham family have been the biggest influence on his riding career.
“There’s always something new to learn. I love a challenge and hearing new ideas from different people,” he tells us.
His list of achievements gets longer each year, but some highlights include being chosen to represent SA at the All Africa Games in Algeria in 2007, gaining his Springbok colours, competing in the FEI World Cup Qualifier series in 2009 with Paparazzi, as well as with Wincent 28 and Aquablade in 2010.
He was also the first black rider to qualify for and compete in the SA Derby in 2009.
Oscar has always had big dreams, and as a rider from an underprivileged background, buying a top horse to compete was out of the question. Luckily, Avis came to the rescue by leasing him a quality horse – and it paid dividends.
When you ask Oscar what horse changed everything for him, you’d expect it to be that pony he snuck onto as a kid.
In fact, the horse he cites as his life changer was Avis Paparazzi, the first horse to really give him a taste of what showjumping is like at the top echelons of the sport.
“He was the first horse I jumped in 1.50m classes, and it made me so proud of everything I’d achieved,” he says of the big chestnut who he made history with at Derby.
On top of riding at Farnham, Oscar now teaches for over 40 hours per week, focusing on young horses and junior riders.
His competitive horses range from youngsters jumping in the lower grades up to horses who are established in the big classes, and everything in between! In fact, if you run into him at a show, he’s almost invariably jumping off one horse and straight onto the other.
When he looks back on his early life, and how far removed it is from the position he is in now, he can’t help but laugh.
“I can’t imagine myself doing anything other than riding! Probably would have been a farmer!”
His ultimate goal is no surprise. He wants to have “a string of good horses, jumping in the big grades and (as for almost all South African riders) to hopefully compete successfully overseas!”
Text by Sophie Kate Baker
Images by Jacqueline Wood