The Angels
of Africa

24 November 2016

A letter is handed to you. In broken English, it tells you that you must now vacate your farm; that this is no longer your home, for it now belongs to the crowd on your doorstep. Then the drums begin to beat...

Victims of Robert Mugabe’s land invasions, Pat and Mandy Retzlaff began an epic journey across Zimbabwe, facing eviction after eviction, trying to save the group of animals with whom they feel a deep and enduring bond – the horses.


Theirs is gripping, true story of an idyllic existence that falls apart at the seams. A family forced to leave their home, the horses they rescue and their final journey to freedom.


We catch up with Pat and Mandy on their beautiful land in Vilanculos, Mozambique where they now run a small business, taking visitors on stunning horse rides along the coastline of Mozambique.  


Mandy, this is a harrowing story, and one that has been made into a book. Can you tell us about it?


In 2000 Robert Mugabe began to systematically invade commercial farms in Zimbabwe forcing families to flee and leave their much-loved animals behind. Our neighbours in Chinhoyi were nearly killed and quickly made the decision to leave for New Zealand leaving their horses behind with us. 



With the continuing trouble and increasing violence, we moved horses and staff across the country, leasing farms where we could. As the land invasions intensified we would have to move on, sometimes packing up in less than a few hours. 


As more and more farmers abandoned their horses, we took them in. 

After several more evictions we ran out of grazing for the horses and made a decision to move them to Mozambique. We developed an agricultural project in Chimoio and found the horses a safe haven there, but unfortunately the business collapsed and our investors quickly withdrew from Mozambique leaving us penniless with over a hundred horses to look after. 


My husband, Pat, realizing the horses needed to earn their keep, loaded them into an old truck and drove to the seaside resort of Vilanculos and started Mozambique Horse Safari. 


You never stop learning about horses as they can lead you in wonderful directions.

It’s hard for a lot of people to really comprehend the horrible experience of being evicted from your home and your life threatened.  How has this changed your outlook on life?


I think we have realized what is important in life - the simpler your life the easier it is. 


We were fortunate that we ended up in one of the most beautiful places on earth and are the custodians of some wonderful horses. It has been a huge struggle but it has been worth it.


How are the horses now? How did the horses adapt to the long trip and relocation?


We only have 28 horses left of the original 104, due to some terrible tragedies over the years, like disease poisonings and theft. Disease is rife in Mozambique as there has been no veterinary control for over 35 years. Ringworm is endemic in the Mozambican population and continues to rapidly spread through our horses.


We have learnt a lot over the years but the 28 horses are the love of our lives.



Tell us more about your volunteer program?


We have volunteers that come from all over the world. They come and work with the horses and ride these beautiful beaches. Our volunteers bring tack, veterinary products and help out with all aspects of running a horse safari. 


What challenges do you face in looking after the horses in a country like Mozambique? 


The main problem at the moment is drought. We face the worst drought in 50 years.  We are spending an enormous amount of money carrying grass and as winter looms it is getting expensive and more difficult. 


Our volunteers started a GoFundMe page to try and raise funds to buy a truck which will help us move to other areas to collect grass.


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.


How do the locals view what you do? 


It has taken a bit of time for the locals to get used to us - They first thought the horses were very large dogs! We now do a fishing village ride to the Mangalise fishing village where tourists sit down to a traditional Mozambican meal and the children come and sing for us. This has been hugely popular with our guests


Do you have any favourites amongst the horses?


Goodness, no favourites! They are all adorable and brave. They have been through so much but they are sweet tempered and willing.

Why would you risk so much for these animals?  Do you think that the horses “give back” to you after the incredible sacrifices you've made for them? 


I think the bond between horse and human is absolutely unique. There can be no other animal that can bring out so much emotion in a human. They respond to  love and will do anything for you if they trust you. Our horses have never stopped giving back.


How would you recommend people, especially young people, take a first step into equestrian sports?


If you have an interest in horses then volunteer and do everything you can to learn more about them. I can see that more and more young people are getting involved in equestrian sports these days, which is great! 


Try to work for people who are experienced and have good reputations.  You never stop learning about horses as they can lead you in wonderful directions. 


This really is a life’s work you have here.  Can you see yourself doing anything else?


Not at the moment, no.  We hope we can look after them for as long as possible.


How can people help?


We need continuing funds and donations for vetinerary supplies, animal feed, saddles, bridles, leather halters and lead ropes for the horses. In return for any support we will offer advertising space on our website and an allocated amount of free rides for the members of your club or organization.


Also, we love accepting volunteers to our place.  You can see all the info on our website at


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.


Text by Paul Stretton/FEI & Mandy Retzlaff


To read the full account of Mandy and Pat's incredible journey so far, you can buy the book on Amazon by clicking HERE.