menu

The Love of the West
From South Africa to America

With Shannon Schraufnagel & Johannes Slabbert

This is what I love about HTCAA… I moved from Wisconsin back to Wyoming just a few weeks ago and as I’m working on the magazine and going through a bunch of submitted photos, I see this beautiful one…

 

As I read the information sent along with it, I realized the person who sent it, Johannes Slabbert, just so happens to live a couple of miles down the road from my new home. HTCAA is such a small world! And this photo was taken just a couple of miles from my home.

To be fair, a few weeks prior, his wife Mary Beth reached out to me through a fellow HTCAA Facebook friend when her friend mentioned that she knew someone (me) who was moving to the small town of Cowley, Wyoming. But I had no idea her husband had joined HTCAA or that he even was a trail rider. And that he also had some pretty great trail shots. What a fun surprise. And, I also think God has a sense of humor because Johannes’ photo won the most votes for our February Cover Photo! How fun to feature a beautiful trail photo that’s not far from my new home (including this one)!

 

I had reached out to Johannes to ask if he’d like to submit a story to go along with his great photos and the next day he called our business phone number and said he would like to send me a story but he isn’t much of a writer and thought telling me over the phone would be better. Even though it’s easier for me to receive a fully written story via email, I would much rather hear the story directly from the Member in person.

As we got to talking Johannes told me he’s nothing special, just a regular guy, but when you hear his thick accent you know there’s a story behind it…

 

The accent comes from being born into a 6th generation family in South Africa. You don’t meet many cowboys in Wyoming who were born and raised in South Africa! His family was mostly beef and sheep ranchers, but they were also into American Saddlebred Horses. He said that breed is actually very popular in South Africa as well as England. Who knew?



About 18 years ago he came to America to learn more about exporting Saddlebred’s overseas. But he never returned home. He met a preacher’s daughter, fell in love, and planted his roots in the States. Then, about 6 years ago he and his wife felt called to leave North Carolina and move to Wyoming. They went to Casper first but then made their way to the little town of Cowley to start “Water of Life Church” about 4 years ago. Along the way he and his wife had six kids, Vivienne (11), Hendrik (9), Victoria (7), Joshua (5), Billy (1.5), and recently they adopted their youngest one, Vera (6 months).

It seems a lot has changed for Johannes over the past 18 years but one thing that has stayed the same is his love for horses and his even stronger love for trail riding in the West...

 

Johannes shared one of his favorite places to trail ride and it isn’t far away from home – Weatherman Draw. It’s just over the Montana border in the northern end of the Pryor Mountains, which run from Montana down into Wyoming.

 

On this particular ride, it was right after COVID hit in April and everything was shutting down. He and his older kids needed a break (and I’m guessing his wife needed a break from the kids), so he packed the four oldest ones up, along with four horses, and headed up to Weatherman Draw.

Johannes said this is a favorite place to ride, and also take friends who want a real Wyoming experience. He said one of the best things about riding in the West is the wide-open, clear views you can get from the saddle. And that surely is true. That’s why my husband and I fell in love with the West, too. And apparently, Weatherman Draw is the place to see those iconic western views.

 

They saddled up and headed down the trail. “We had one boy ponied and two kids rode double,” Johannes said. “We had lunch by the buffalo drawing on the rock. You’ll find a lot of Indian drawings along the rocks. It’s a great place to take the kids for a history lesson, and a break from the rest of the world in God’s country, with beauty all around.”

It is said that Weatherman Draw, also called “Valley of the Shields” or the “Valley of the Chiefs” by Native Americans, has the most pictograph art than any other place in Northern America.

 

It was known historically as a place of peace and healing where many tribes, including the Blackfeet, Crow, Comanche, Northern Arapaho, Northern Cheyenne and Eastern Shoshone would come to in the winter.

 

It was a spiritual place for these Native Americans who came to it for vision quests, burials, healing properties such as herbs and healing waters, and a place for prayer.

Johannes said after their lunch they rode to the top of the mountain. He said, “It’s an easy trail to ride, takes about two hours to the top. On the way to the top, you’ll see the shields different tribes made on the rock walls, five shields can be seen. We always stop here and have a history lesson for the kids. We then rode to the top to the special view - my favorite view. You can see all the way into Bridger, you can actually see down into it. It’s a view that you can see for miles and all the mountains around you.”

 (Photo of Johannes looking out over this amazing view)

Johannes was riding his horse Ladd who is a Mustang from Devil’s Garden in California and his oldest daughter Vivienne, was riding Faith. Johannes said he bought Faith as a 4-year-old unbroke mustang from Nevada, “It was great to see Vivienne at 11 years old riding a mustang who had only been broke for 2 years.”

 

I asked Johannes if there was a difference between riding horses in South Africa and in America, he said, “South Africans don’t rope and run cattle like the American Cowboy. There’s a huge difference between the South African rider and the American rider. I didn’t pick up a lasso until 5 years ago, I think it was. Cowboy work is a whole different world here in America than in South Africa. In South Africa, if a horse doesn’t buck you off while working cattle or sheep you have a good horse! The horses here [in America] know how to slide and turn and much more. They are trained on a different level.” He continued to say, “But, horsemen are horsemen everywhere, even though everyone rides different. From South Africa to England, to America - horsemen are horsemen.”

And this is why he said he loves to share the history of the west with his children especially on horseback, “Raising kids on horses and taking them on the trails - you can connect with your kids more, taking the phones and TV away, and reconnect with your kids. Kids learning how to ride horses gives them confidence, a sense of achievement, commitment, and responsibility. Some may never play sports but if they know how to ride a horse – that is something.

 

Going on the trail for me is so special and we get to do this out west. It’s quiet, it’s refocusing. No cars, no traffic, no distractions… out west is free. The kids enjoy it and I feel they will look back on this and realize it was a special time in their life and they will cherish it.”

Johannes quoted Winston Churchill’s famous quote, “There’s something on the outside of a horse that’s good for the inside of a man.” And I think we all can agree that there’s something about raising kids on horseback that is good for their future. And, there’s something about trail riding out West that touches your spirit.

 

We hope to hear more stories and favorite places to ride from Johannes - and you, too! Do you have a favorite trail or trail story to share? Let us know, we’d be happy to hear about it!

 

Shannon Schraufnagel is the founder of HTCAA & The Trail Journal

Would you like to advertise with The Trail Journal & HTCAA?
Contact us today! TheMercantile@htcaa.org 844-744-8222

JOIN

Want to Become an official HTCAA Member?