A routine ride along Noordhoek Beach turned into a desperate struggle for Marilize Burger and her horse, Bitou, when they got stuck in quicksand.
Despite her familiarity with quicksand, Ms Burger, says she was caught off guard by what she encountered close to the shore on Tuesday last week.
“Patches of quicksand normally appear almost glossy or shiny. These sections looked completely firm and even dry,” she told the Echo.
“Bitou’s back legs started sinking, and despite my usual technique to ask him to move forward, he tried to jump out several times but couldn’t. I’ve never encountered the quicksand being this deep or more challenging than him sinking to his knees, making the situation quite severe.”
Ms Burger then jumped off and immediately started sinking too. She then jumped sideways toward the waves and reached forward to pull Bitou’s reins over his head.
“He kept trying to get up but couldn’t – I pulled as well. He was breathing very heavily at this point after several attempts of getting up. But then I realised that he wasn’t sinking any further, so he was safe for the moment.”
After calming Bitou down, Ms Burger shouted and pulled at the same time – hoping to give him a “fright” so that he would try again. He managed to jump and climb out and she moved him into the tide where she thought it would be safer while she looked for a space to cross to a drier patch. But it wasn’t
“Every time I tried to cross, he would start sinking again. We got to what I thought was dry sand, but I sank in, and Bitou sank too.
“I realised that I could crawl out, but because it was slightly uphill and he was already tired, he would struggle to get out a second time. I let go of the reins, slapped him on the neck and shouted ‘go go go’. He then launched out and proceeded to trot home to his stable.”
Ms Burger also managed to crawl out after having sunk down to her knees.
Dr Ryan Tucker, a senior lecturer in sedimentology and palaeontology at Stellenbosch University, said quicksand formed when granular materials such as sand, silt, or clay interacted with water.
“Due to the saturation of water between loose sand grains that cannot escape, it creates a soupy liquefied substrate that lacks competency. Therefore, anything applying weight to this unit will sink into it.”
According to Dr Tucker, the odds of sinking entirely are pretty slim.
“People and animals are usually less dense than the soft sand. However, it’s not impossible, just very unlikely. The big worry is getting stuck, especially if the tide comes in. That can lead to a drowning risk before you can get out.”
If you ever find yourself stuck in quicksand, Dr Tucker suggests a few steps to help you get out safely.
“First, stay calm and resist the urge to use your phone. Don’t try to force your way out; instead, take steady breaths. Lighten your load by removing your backpack or any extra gear. Lie on your back and spread your body weight, similar to floating in water. Stay flat and use a swimming motion to gradually move yourself out of the quicksand. If there’s nearby vegetation, try to pull yourself onto stable ground for a safer exit.”
South African National Parks (SANParks) has cautioned the public to steer clear of the Noordhoek Beach shoreline for the next few days or until the quicksand clears.