Hartford House

The Home of Good Conversation, Fine Wine and Classic Horses.

Award-winning hotel and restaurant situated at Summerhill Stud on the picturesque KwaZulu-Natal Midlands Meander, South Africa.

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A Meeting of Thoroughbreds

Volvo V40 Cross Country D3 Excel / Stephen Smith (p)

Volvo V40 Cross Country D3 Excel / Stephen Smith (p)

Extract from Country Life
August 2013
By Stephen Smith

The fabulous food at Hartford House and the sleek racehorses at Summerhill Stud are reason enough to head for Mooi River. Especially when you’re in a Volvo V40 Cross Country D3 Excel.

Hartford House is known for its food, created with only the finest ingredients by one of the country's, and perhaps the world's, great culinary geniuses, Jackie Cameron. The food, in short, is enough of a reason to take the short drive from Durban to Mooi River and just beyond, to a place of rare beauty.

But the real business of the estate is Summerhill Stud - world-class and a showcase of equine excellence. We were told that there are around 200 broodmares at Summerhill at any one time. Each mare has a foal, a yearling and a two-year-old. That’s 800 thoroughbred horses on the farm, excluding the stallions. Race horses from Summerhill race, and win, across the globe and feature in many leading racing stables. So Hartford is a nice fit for the new Volvo V40 Cross Country, a thoroughbred in its own right and one of my favourite cars of 2013 so far.

An athletic blend of body shapes, more hatchback than station wagon (although the marketers have no doubt come up with a nifty name all of its own), the standard V40 is a stunning car inside and out. The V40 Cross Country uses these good looks as a base, and then adds a few little extras for a more countrified air - bigger wheels (up to 19 inches), an integrated skid plate in the rear bumper, honeycomb mesh grille, roof rails and a few other subtle touches. The vehicle is also 40mm higher off the ground than the standard V40, to negotiate dodgy roads, while the two most expensive models are available with all-wheel drive.

The roads from Durban to Hartford are a mix of beautiful highway and B-roads with potholes and bumps. A car with a firmer suspension would have felt every one of those bumps, but the Cross Country has been fitted with a suspension setup well balanced between sportiness and comfort. In fact, one of the most impressive things about the V40CC is the lack of body roll around corners, when one remembers that higher ride height. Despite the raised ground clearance and the all-wheel-drive option, the V40CC doesn't pretend to be an SUV (in the Volvo range that is taken care of by the XC models), and that is the essence of its charm. It is a hatchback, and it is good at being a hatchback - it merely has the added benefits of not jarring your spine every time you hit a pothole, and it isn't severely compromised when you leave the city.

Volvo has given the V40CC an extensive range of models, starting with the 132kW/270Nm T4, powered by a 1.6-litre direct injection turbo-petrol engine. At the other end of the scale is the T5, powered by a 187kW and 400Nm 2,5-litre petrol engine, complete with turbo. It's a familiar engine in Volvo's line-up, and in the Cross Country it gives acceleration from 0-100km/h in just 6.5 seconds. In between these two petrol engines is a pair of turbo-diesels, either a 110kW/350Nm 2-litre D3 or a 130kW/400Nm 2-litre D4. Ours was the more modest of the two, but it was more than powerful enough for the job, and yet returned fuel consumption figures of just 5,9l/100km over our journey. Six-speed automatic gearboxes are standard across the range, except for the T4 which is also available with a six-speed manual transmission. 

People slipping behind the wheel of a Volvo for the first time will be pleasantly surprised by the quality of the finish and the feeling of elegance. Back in the day, Volvos were known for little other than their safety and dependability, but these days a Volvo interior is right up there with the best of the premium German, British and Japanese brands. Standard features obviously vary across the range, and although our D3 Excel model is in the bottom half of the range, it is still very adequately equipped. 

Once we had reached Hartford we didn't leave, preferring instead to wander across the estates, trying optimistically but ultimately in vain, to walk off five-course dinners and three-course breakfasts. Yes, pudding at breakfast! But what a place to stroll; horses galloping through the morning light, mist lifting off the dam, enveloping a flyfisherman and then releasing him from its grasp, guinea fowl cackling in the distance. When we did leave it was to get back to Durban, frootling along the Midlands Meander and enjoying the car for what it was designed to do - add a bit of adventure to your life.

So where does the Cross Country go wrong? The only thing I could come up with is the model configuration - if you want all-wheel drive you have to have a 2,5-litre petrol engine. That doesn't make sense to me at all. A turbo-diesel AWD model would make far more sense, and would suit the Cross Country moniker that much better.

Volvo describes the V40CC as a car that will put a little adventure into people's everyday lives, and that's a nice way to sum it up. No, it’s not a 4x4 that can actually go cross-country, but it is a car that elevates itself, and its driver, above the humdrum monotony of everyday life. Buy one of the all-wheel-drive models and you'll be able to go to places far more remote than Hartford House - although after staying there I doubt you would want to.

Fact file :

Name:  Volvo V40 Cross Country D3 Excel
Body type: Hatchback
Engine capacity:  2,0-litre turbo-diesel
Power output: 110kW
Torque:  350Nm
Price: From R319 900 (T4 Manual Essential) to R419 800 (T5 Geartronic AWD Elite). D3 Geartronic Excel as tested costs R353 700.


Country Life features Summerhill Stud

summerhill stud south africa

Autumn evening in KwaZulu-Natal
(Photo : Summerhill Stud)

Country Life is a fresh, invigorating publication that captures the essence of life in the South African countryside. The pages entice readers with an armchair escape to a quiter, simpler life; an exploration of South Africa's natural beauty, delightful dorpies, passionate people, artists, crafters and the discovery of our bountiful Nation's fascinating heritage.

Country Life recently featured Summerhill Stud in an article written by Olivia Schaffer entitled "In a league of its own", an extract from which follows :

Summerhill Stud in the KZN Midlands is a thoroughbred establishment in more ways than one.

Countless rural folk seek better jobs in the cities, often overlooking the wonderful opportunities country life can offer. For instance, horse handlers in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands are given unique opportunities to travel abroad on the Summerhill Stud educational programme. Following an intensive three-year life skills course on the farm, they are rewarded with working scholarships on the American and European farms of the horses’ owners.

Elliot Bhengu, a broodmare handler, and John Motaung, a work rider, were the most recent horse handlers to secure a place on the programme, and I happened to be on the farm when they returned.

“I have learnt so many different tasks,” said Elliot, still beaming with enthusiasm, “and it has made my work back here easier.”

John’s excitement was equally contagious, even though it was the second time he’d been chosen to go to America. “I learnt so much,” he says. “Now I look forward to sharing all that I’ve picked up with the other guys at Summerhill. I’m very grateful to Summerhill for what it’s done for me.”

Velaphi Mbanjwa, Siyabonga Mlaba, Robert Mbhele, Richard Hlongwana, Thulani Mnguni and Mali Zuma are others who have enjoyed work experiences abroad and who have thus benefited from the programme. They chose to remain in rural KwaZulu-Natal rather than seek jobs in the city and have reaped the rewards of their decisions.

Summerhill Stud, with its undulating emerald-green pastures in the foothills of Giant’s Castle, is as picturesque as it is unusual. As national Breeder of the Year for four consecutive years, and the only racehorse stud in the world boasting a five-star country house on its estate, it is one of a kind. Uniquely, it’s also home to stallions owned by the Rulers of Dubai, the world’s most powerful racehorse owners and breeders.

“Of all the studs in the world, apart from their own, Summerhill is the only one where the sheikhs stand their stallions,” says Mick Goss, the CEO of Summerhill.

As Mick drives me around the estate, he tells me there are between 700 and 800 thoroughbreds here. I’m also reminded that activities on the farm are determined by the changing seasons. It’s autumn, with the lush green of summer turning to shades of yellow and red, and the foals are being weaned from their mothers.

“We leave a herd of about 20 weanlings with an adult horse to ensure discipline is maintained,” Mick explains, adding that necessary procedures such as worming and hoof trimming ensure the young horses are handled extensively.

He tells me the more mature and better-bred yearlings are taken to the National Yearling Sales and that they are sensitively introduced to human contact so the handler can show them in the best light. “This is a vital process,” says Mick emphatically. The yearlings have never been ridden (the training starts when they’re about 20 months old) and they are sold to the highest bidder, who could be a trainer, a bloodstock agent or an owner who sees their potential.

The less advanced foals are kept for the Ready to Run Sales in October. These potential racehorses know what’s expected of them by the time they are sold because they’ve been taught the basics on tracks that have produced countless winners.

Winter in the racehorse industry also has its charm. Though it’s the time of the Vodacom Durban July, Africa’s greatest horseracing event, contested at Greyville Racecourse in Durban, things are quiet on the farm. Lands lie fallow, the veld takes on a golden hue, and although prospective young racehorses are being put through their paces, a certain peace prevails.

“With spring comes new life,” says Mick. “The trees burst forth with fresh greenery and budding flowers herald the return of warmer weather. Mares take on a nurturing role with the dependent foals and stallions go about the stud duties for which they are kept.”

Summer, I gather, is a busy time. It’s when international owners take up residence at Summerhill’s award-winning Hartford House “toescape the cold in Europe and the UK, to absorb the gentle Midlands sunshine as the lazy days drift by, and to visit the offspring their mares have produced.”

There’s lots of youthful activity, with newly independent foals frolicking in the fields as the guests look on in admiration. It’s also the rainy season, with balmy days ending in exhilarating thunderstorms followed by mild evenings under a star-studded sky. And so the cycle continues.

Summerhill’s horses are bred and reared as naturally as possible. They graze on pastures of erogrostis, rye, cocksfoot, clover and kikuyu, supplemented by Vuma Horse Feed, a commercial product manufactured on the farm.

This labour-intensive industry is an important job creator and Summerhill has a dedicated workforce, many of whom are the third or fourth generation of their families on the farm.

An exciting new project is the Al Maktoum School of Excellence, planning for which is at an advanced stage. “We see it as providing top class training for management candidates in the South African thoroughbred breeding industry,” explains its co-ordinator, Barbara Meier. “Our mission is to identify, train and develop the industry leaders of the future.”

The school’s first intake is planned for this month.

Whether its stallions, brood mares or people, all have played a role in the success of Summerhill. All are woven into its colourful tapestry.