Shepherd Zira is part of the South African Lipizzaner team, as its first black professional equestrian rider.
The South African Lipizzaners in Kyalami, Johannesburg, is affiliated with the world-famous Lipizzaner Spanish Riding School in Vienna. The South African centre not only attracts the public with its shows, but its white stallions are also embedded in South Africa’s heritage. Riders follow a rigorous training programme and Zira’s selection to ride as part of the prestigious team is a great achievement.
“To me, being part of this team means a lot and I have never been part of anything like this before,” explains 22-year-old Zira. “While I also work at other yards, I feel needed as part of this team and this keeps me motivated.
“My father has been one of the two people who have truly inspired me. He worked as a groom at Randjesfontein and I would go there every day after school. I originally wanted to be a jockey, but became too tall.”
The other person who inspired Zira is A-Grade showjumper, Ronnie Healy, who has competed on local and international circuits. It was Healy who spotted Zira and then started coaching him, also sourcing sponsorship for Zira so that he could dedicate his time to riding.
Zira started riding when he was 11 when he was first given a pony to ride at a riding school. “The instructor knew I could not ride and did not have money for tuition so she basically put me into a lunge arena and left me to my own devices for three months,” he explains. “I was then offered a lesson and she was amazed at the extent of my progress.
“Although it has taken me a long time to get to this point, my ambition is to compete in the Olympics in both show jumping and dressage. I have wanted to do this since I started riding,” he says. — Rebecca Haynes