| The History
of the Breed
The Rhodesian Ridgeback owes his heritage to
the Dutch Boers who began settling in colonial southern Africa.
A number of different breeds contributed to the gene pool
of the Rhodesian Ridgeback including the Bloodhound, Greyhound,
Pointer, Mastiff, Airedale, and Africa's Hottentot Dog, among
The European settlers needed a multi-purpose
dog, a truly fearless hunting hound on the Aflican veldt,
a watch dog on the farm, and a gentle companion in the home.
However, he is most famous for being used to hunt lions. He
accomplished this through his ability to locate and hold the
lion at bay so the hunter could get close enough to get in
a shot. This required amazing courage, agility, tenacity and
endurance. He comes in different shades of wheaten, meant
to blend in with the surrounding grass and bush of the veldt.
His coat is short and sleek, so as to not become entangled
and to allow for easy maintenance and parasite removal. He
is neither too big so as to be clumsy, nor too small to render
him ineffective in hunting large game. He is a swift runner
capable of running thirty miles an hour! In addition to his
athletic ability and functional purpose, the Rhodesian Ridgeback
is also beautiful to look at: graceful, regal, and fearless
in appearance. The hallmark of this breed is the ridge of
hair which runs backwards along his spine; a cowlick that
has two whorls (crowns) opposite each other in the upper third
of this ridge.
By 1924, the South African Kennel Union
registered the first Rhodesian Ridgeback. The American Kennel
Club recognized the breed in 1955.
Growing up in South Africa
by Elizabeth Akers
The morning ride As the sun rose, so the soil
changed colour. It went from that deep blood red to that African
red in minutes. Dark shadows and shapes rose up around me
as I began my early morning ride.
The horse under me was spirited and eager to
stretch her legs. Around me ran several farm dogs. They were
almost invisible against the red earth, yet, they glistened
and shone like burnished copper as the sun's early rays hit
the earth. They too were eager to stretch their legs and run
the smell of the cooking fire from their hides. They snorted,
and smelled the air. Some sat watching me, remaining perfectly
still until they knew I was ready to move out. I caught their
excitement as some of the dogs did pirouettes and played together.
We began our first ride of that morning at a
sedate walk. Well, I tried to keep Lady sedate. She sidled
and pranced and chewed snippily at the bit, tossing her head
swiftly. Today, she truly just wanted to be out in the open.
We followed two of the dogs and allowed the breeze to take
us away. We were in the middle of the Karroo. We had nowhere
to be, no one to meet and no time constraints at all. We could
go as far as we wished as long as we wanted and wherever we
We travelled slowly and I watched the dogs run
in the open veld. Bounding effortlessly over rocks, running
up onto a kopje and down the other side. Leaping over the
dry stream bed, that once it rained would contain water, (but
you know the farm dogs never seemed to mind water as my dogs
here in the U.S. do!), they would blend into the scenery and
simply be burnished pieces of moving artwork.
I would stop to watch a gompou watch me. The
big male bustard would be still as a rock, I guess he hoped
I would not see him we would stand staring for a few
minutes until Lady reminded me she was getting bored and then
on we would go, out into the salt pan. We would usually work
for a while before I headed back to the farm to change horses.
This was absolute bliss. Me, my horses and the
The farm had German Merino sheep, show horses,
several farm cats, eight or nine dogs, all but one of which
were Ridgebacks. The single "other" dog was the house dog,
although he did not live in the house, he lived at the house.
The ridgebacks lived with the farm help at their rondavels
We were about 15 miles from the nearest dorp
(village), and I don't remember how close the closest neighbour
was, I never met them in all the time I lived there. There
was electricity, but only because we had a generator. The
refrigerator was operated with pariffin (kerosene). The stove
was a huge black coal-burning monster. The beds had thick
feather mattresses and the house was huge. It is built in
the Cape Dutch style, I have always loved the gables of the
Cape Dutch houses. Gleaming yellow wood floors went throughout
the house with slate tile on the kitchen and bathroom floors.
There were 14-foot ceilings and tall sash windows. It sounds
grand but it was not a grand house, it was simply the farm
The stables were a short way away from the house,
built of brick; they were big airy stalls. The bedding was
sweet-smelling straw and it was always a comfort for me be
around the horses there.
I am not a morning person, I hate mornings,
I would prefer to sleep till noon and spend the night awake.
However, the only time I was always eager to get up early
was when there was a horse waiting saddled and bridled for
me to ride, I had absolutely no trouble getting up early then.
I would usually take the first horse out at
daybreak. I would start off through the pink tinged morning
and slowly wake up with the birds. I used to relish the utter
aloneness, and the beauty around me. Most mornings the dogs
would accompany me for the first few miles. The ridgebacks
were not trained, pampered house pets. They were working farm
dogs. They had never had a collar or leash on them. They ate
mielie meal and lights once per day. You could smell the food
cooking for miles around. It stank!
The horse and I would walk for a few miles,
find a dry pan to "work out" on and then proceed to actually
work and train in as formal a setting as the karroo could
give me. The dogs would range ahead of me, to the side of
me, and some lagged behind. After a while, one or two would
split off and go where only they knew they needed to go. Perhaps
they smelled a buck in the distance or the scent of a jackal.
I never went with them as I had my own schedule to follow.
Some of the dogs would stay with me and watch when I began
to put the horse through its paces. They seemed to enjoy the
peace and solitude as much as I did. By the time I was ready
to go back to the stables and change horses, the dogs were
usually long gone and doing what I assumed were "their rounds."
I would continue to work as many horses as I could until about
9 a.m., when it became too hot to ride.
In the evenings, I would ride again, and would
catch glimpses of the dogs as they sauntered in from various
directions for their evening meal. When I was done with the
horses, I would often go and sit at the fire with the labourers.
There I would listen to their gossip, myths
and lore. There were the latest problems besetting "Oom Jannie."
who was courting whom, why Japie was in jail "again," and
other down-to-earth real life dramas and loves and stories.
I would stay, just soaking up the evening. The fires would
burn low, the music and dancing was wonderful, several "klonkies"
playing the penny whistle or mouth organ, and everyone making
their "dop" last through the evening. We would often sing
old favourites, "Sarie Marais," "Jan Pierewiet," "Bebbejaan
klim die Berg" and the old Afrikaans songs from all our of
It was during these fireside evenings that I
learned to speak fluent Afrikaans (I did not do well in that
language in school), Xhosa and some Zulu. I was also taught
Fanagalo and some Swahili. Griet the house person would laugh
at my pronunciations and soon the entire group would be holding
our bellies with laughter at the strange sounds I was trying
to emulate. I learned so much more than how to say words in
another language I feel so fortunate to have had such
marvelous teachers. The African people are wonderful and their
mythology is so very rich.
I learned about the Mantis being the Creator
(a myth), the "go-'way" bird (this is a lowry bird), the "Piet-my-vrou"
bird (a cuckoo), and age old stories like the honey bird leading
the ratel to the honey bee nests. I learned that every snake
was somebody's soul, therefore it was wrong to kill a snake.
If you killed it, someone who would die would be doomed to
drift somewhere without a soul. Several of the farm labourers
were of Bushman origins, others were Bantu, and yet others
were of mixed blood. The people taught me so very much, they
enriched my life in a way I could not have had, if I had stayed
in the cities.
The dogs would be stretched out around the fire
fast asleep. Sometimes I would sit with one close enough that
I could stroke and pat him or her. The dogs were always happy.
They did not seem to have a care in the world. They knew what
they had to do and went ahead and did it alone or with the
Sometimes in the mornings they would play
obviously just for the heck of it. They would chase each other,
streak after something only they could see, stand stock still,
alert to some smell that drifted to them on the morning air.
They never had a fight, that I can recall. There was boss
dog and the rest fell into line behind him. It has been so
long I don't remember all their names I know there
was a Tonka (after the Tonka trucks), and he was always the
To see these dogs running across the Karroo
was beautiful. Their tawny coats a bit dusty, but gleaming
all the same. They would run stretched out looking like a
Thoroughbred horse. They melded in with the colours of the
surroundings so well. The red outcroppings of the kopjes,
with scrub bushes dotting the landscape, were a wonderful
backdrop for the dogs. As the evening set, or the morning
colours changed, so did the surroundings. There would be pinkish
skies, and the reds and dull greens would blend together with
the browns and take on a purplish hue at times. Looking toward
the farm house in the distance one would see the bright green
of the pepper trees, wavering sometimes almost like a mirage.
Behind the stable are was a lucerne field. The lucerne always
seemed to be emerald green even when it was being dried
and they were tetting.
Occasionally a troop of baboons would come close
to the house looking for food. They were usually chased off
by the dogs, if any of them happened to be around. Their boggams
would be loud and raucous and I would watch the mothers with
their little ones. The teenagers were my favourite to cheer
on I didn't mind if they tried to steal the corn, I
didn't have to plant more, or put it up for storage, I was
just there. (very selfish).
The toilet, separate from the actual bathroom,
was on a septic system. It was a real toilet, in the house,
not an outhouse, and it was always cool in there. I had come
rushing in from the stables one day and hurried to "the loo."
There was an odd sound from behind the toilet, but in my haste
I paid it no mind and as I got ready to leave the room I froze.
There wrapped around the pipes behind the toilet was a very
beautiful Cape cobra. However, I was not in any position to
admire the beauty of the poor thing just then. I am deathly
afraid of spiders, but I do have a healthy respect for snakes
of all kinds, so I stood very still, and yelled my head off
for someone, anyone, to come and do something, anything, now!
Griet, the housemaid called for help too and finally, I was
watching the swift dispatch of the snake. I felt sorry for
it, but I knew that it was in too small an area to be captured
easily or safely. So, off he went to be someone else's soul.
I certainly miss home I think where one
grows up always remains home, no matter where one lives and
makes a home. I still feel very fortunate for my childhood
and early adult years. I feel I had a wonderful upbringing
with some very special family members and opportunities. I
often think of the food, the scenery, the people, the places
I used to enjoy frequenting. Odd little scenes often pop into
my head as I am reminded of one event or another.
Camping on horseback in the mountains
We sent the horses to the nearest town by rail.
We collected them, saddled up and started on our trek to a
camp site. Now, in the mountains, one does not reserve a camp
site like you do here in the States. You camp where you can,
near a river, build a fire, hang your food in the tree, and
either sleep on the ground under the stars or you pitch your
tent. There are no showers, toilets, beds, or mod cons.
We began riding through the town on our way
30 miles south to the mountains. The first event to frighten
us was riding the horses though a demonstration. Rocks flew
in every direction and we scrambled to get out of that area
as quickly as possible. We got past the town and out into
the country. We crossed open veld and rode through the sands
of a wide river. It was relaxing and beautiful. The weather
was lovely, the flowers were colourful and all was well with
the world around us as we rode.
We saw a small flock of ostriches nearby and
admired them for what they were; truly beautiful big birds.
The ostriches were not exactly ignoring us, they were in fact
rather upset at our closeness, and all of a sudden we had
to ride for our lives as the birds started to chase us! Those
birds may not be able to fly but they can run! We managed
to out maneuver them, perhaps they gave up once they realized
we were leaving their territory, and we settled in again lazily
riding alongside the river.
With a loud yell one rider and horse went down
into quicksand. Another rider started to sink, and we tried
to throw halter ropes to the riders in the sand. The horses
thrashed and screamed and it seemed like hours went by as
they laboriously tried to get out of the sucking sand. They
made it, horses and rider safely at the edge of the quicksand,
all of us exhausted, but the two who were stuck were in bad
shape. It took us a little while to catch our breath and recover
some of us just from the fright of what we had witnessed.
We continued on, however, slowly and carefully, so that we
put as much distance between the river and ourselves as quickly
The next event occurred in a short space of
time as we rapidly became lost in the bush. We eventually
came upon some farm laborers and asked directions. We followed
those directions and eventually ended up in a village where
we stopped at the local hotel for refreshments. We gave our
horses to some local children who walked and watered them.
Unfortunately, my horse was in no condition to have water
and went down with colic. There was no vet to be found in
the area. Instead of getting the needed medical attention,
poor Marty, the mare I rode, was walked slowly and hosed down,
then walked some more until her colic spasms had passed. This
took quite a long time and put us way behind any schedule
we thought we may have had. When we thought she was fit enough
to continue on slowly, we mounted up and went on towards the
It was late at night when we reached our camping
site. It was close to the river but we had found a fenced
off area where we could keep the horses so that they did not
wander all over mountain. Our big concern was that the fenced
in area was one mile from our camp and we were worried that
leopard in the area would find one of the horses a tasty meal.
That first night we collapsed after attending
to the horses. Their camp did not have a river running through
it, so we had to first water the horses at the river them
turn them loose in the fenced in camp. After that we had to
walk the mile to the fenced in horse camp, ride the horses
to the river for water, return them to the camp, then walk
the mile back to our camp. We took nature calls in pairs.
One morning, after having spent the night listening
to strange growls and sounds from quite a distance we took
turns answering the necessary nature calls. The first two
trotted off into the bush and later returned to tell us about
the growls they had heard through some bush not too far away.
Then it was our turn to go through the bush, and as we came
to a sandy animal trail, we saw large, very catlike, very
definite paw prints in the sand. They had churned the sand
up a bit and right in the middle was a large wet patch.
Well, I am sure I turned several shades of ash
and white and we both got down on our hands and knees to smell
the wet soil. We had to find out if this wet, mussed up patch
was made by a big cat, a baboon, or one of the other types
of animal that lived in the mountains. We convinced ourselves
it was a leopard. We knew leopard were quite numerous in these
mountains so it was not hard to look at the soil and be quite
definite about what had preceded us to this spot. We raced
back to camp, all thoughts of potty breaks totally forgotten.
Breathlessly we told everyone about the possibility of a leopard
so close to our camp and what precautions we should take.
We were quite stunned to see the everyone rolling on the ground
holding their sides laughing. It had all been a set up! They
had deliberately made the paw prints, the wet spot and mussed
up ground. When they heard we had even gone down on our hands
and knees to smell the ground, they laughed even harder. Needless
to say, we saw no real leopard that trip and we had a very
enjoyable time exploring the mountains on horseback, swimming
in the river, and just generally being at home.
The Boetie Stories
Boetie is the creation of Elizabeth Akers.
He is a brave young ridgeback who is at wonder at the world
around him. He has many adventures and is the originator of
many ridgeback characterics. He and his siblings will show
you what ridgebacks are all about.