Lions and Rhinos and American Quarter Horses, Oh My!

Lions and Rhinos and American Quarter Horses, Oh My!

What do South Africa’s Big Five and AQHA have in common? Find out by joining us on a “safari” with a young aspiring South African professional American Quarter Horse trainer and enthusiast.

Young horse trainer sliding with a Palomino.

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By Ashley Baller, AQHA International

It’s not every day you find giraffes, rhinos or lions in the backyard, but depending on where you live in South Africa, catching a glimpse of the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros, and buffalo) is more likely to occur in everyday life. With robust culture and one-of-a-kind wildlife inhabitants, South Africa is nothing short of intriguing. Lara Colyn, a young aspiring South African horse trainer, takes on a “safari” through her transition from youth to professional, while painting a picture of the life of a South African American Quarter Horse member along the way.

“The story of how I got started with American Quarter Horses is actually pretty funny,” said Lara. “About 10 years ago, my dad sold our cattle farm. Without the ongoing tasks of managing a farm, Dad started driving everyone crazy. He was pacing everywhere, so we told him for the sake of everyone’s sanity, he needed to get busy.” 

“At the time, there was a new breed in the country, the American Quarter Horse. Due to the calm nature and versatility of the American Quarter Horse, and after careful research, Dad decided his next farm would be an American Quarter Horse stud farm. So, he started selectively purchasing prime stock. One day he handed me one and said, ‘Get on and see what you can do.’ Since my uncle was an A Grade show jumper, I started with English,” said Lara.

rider on a sorrel horse smiling with friendAlthough English was fun, memories of obsessively wearing her dad’s cowboy hat as a young girl inspired her to give reining and the western events a go instead. Sure enough, the “western bug” bit her and there was no turning back to English disciplines from there. To support her new-found passion, Lara’s father would contact AQHA to find the previous owners and trainers of the horses they owned to learn more about them and how to train them. As a result, Lara learned from a wide variety of local and international trainers. This training prepared Lara to compete in various local and AQHA-approved shows growing up.

Along with other talented youth and friends from South Africa, Lara also competed at the American Quarter Horse Youth World Cup  in 2018. 

Lara spoke highly of the camaraderie shared among riders in South Africa, “We’re a small unit, so we have to work together and be there for one another. If one person doesn’t feel confident enough to compete, you may not have anyone to show with, so building each other up is key.” friends riding bareback in a river

Unlike the plethora of tack stores you can find in some parts of the world, there are only a few western tack importation companies in South Africa. 

“It’s essential that we communicate what everyone’s needs are whether it’s saddles, bits, boots, bridles, etc., to make sure we’re covered,” said Lara. “We’re a really resourceful group of riders. It’s always fun, healthy competition.”

Outside of the arena, riders often enjoy going on safaris (an adventure that entails viewing wildlife) with their horses.

“The prey animals like cheetahs, leopards and lions can be found in game reserves, but we often ride between zebras, giraffe, buffalo, Springbok, Impala, Jackal and other game,” said Lara. “In fact, our neighbors have a game reserve and we can go riding there anytime. It's incredible how close you can get to the game while horseback. It's an awesome experience to ride into a herd and almost be able to touch them before they move off.”

In addition to showing and riding with friends, Lara was involved with AQHA’s South African affiliate  as a youth, which helped her hone her communication and leadership skills. Lara is now well on her way to becoming a professional American Quarter Horse trainer and certified instructor. “When my dad asked what I wanted to do in school, I said, ‘Equine science, please!’ I’m a horse girl at heart, proven by my tan arms and white legs,” Lara emphasized. She feels strongly that she becomes a credible trainer. She wants to provide proven results for the people and horses she will work with. 

Lara hopes to grow the breed and find ways to increase the genetic diversity of American Quarter Horses in South Africa. “I can’t imagine doing anything else but training American Quarter Horses,” she said. The calm mind, strong build and western style of the American Quarter Horse is what made her fall in love with them. Annually at the South African Horse Festival, all horse breeds are invited to compete against one another, and the American Quarter Horse stands out each year. 

As a young aspiring trainer, we asked her what tips she has for youth aspiring to pursue a similar path. Lara recommends three pieces of advice, “Don’t be bothered about who anyone else is or what they can do. Chase your own score and be better than your last run. You never lose because you always win knowledge. It’s OK not to win first place."

girl sitting with bay horse at sunset

Second, “Animal welfare is important – treat your horses well. We all have bad days, even horses. Listen to your horse and give them a voice. You and your horse are a team,” she advises. 

Lastly, Lara says, “Win or lose the same. Always keep the same face and be appropriate. Congratulate and support one another, even on your worst days.” 

A day in the life of a South African AQHA member is exceedingly captivating and catching a glimpse of South Africa’s Big Five while horseback has certainly been added to our bucket lists. Most of all, AQHA is proud of the trail that young aspiring horse trainers like Lara are blazing in South Africa and all over the world. Chase your horse dreams and enjoy the ride along the way!


About AQHA International

The AQHA International Department functions to serve and support international members and affiliate organizations through the implementation of innovative programs and services which accommodate a diverse set of needs to enhance the value of maintaining AQHA membership globally. To learn more, visit