10 of the best horseback safaris in Africa
‘In riding a horse we borrow freedom’ ~ Helen Thomson
As the first of the horses descended the bank into the murky Mara River, I asked our guide – having seen enough Great Migration documentaries in my time – ‘What happens if a crocodile attacks a horse?’
My mother, sister and I were on an 8 day horseback safari with Off Beat Safaris, following the huge herds of zebra and wildebeest in the Mara. Now, shaking in my riding boots at the prospect of swimming across a river, I was not so sure if I was that committed to following the herd.
Our guide smiled, looking very blasé: ‘Well then,’ he said, ‘you jump onto the horse in front of you.’
I was now rather attached to my chestnut pony, Gigolo, and we had already survived multiple buffalo charges, jumped and cleared piles of fallen trees and held our ground against lions. I was not about to let anything happen to him.
I was grateful to find out a tracker had been waiting by the river, scouting for hippos and crocodiles. The crossing in murky water, which reached up to our knees, was nerve-racking, but petrified faces turned to smiles of relief as we climbed the bank on the other side. There was a lot of nervous giggling as the horses shook off the water.
This is the difference between the typical safari and a horse safari: You no longer have the reassuring grind of a landrover engine under you or the comforting metal of the vehicle’s door beside you. There is no longer the predictable acceleration and a pedal to floor in an emergency. Besides it being a far “greener” way to explore the wild, you are no longer a mere observer of wildlife, but become part of their circle of life. The antelope fortunately read you as one of them, the predators – one is not so sure. Yet, if you are after sheer immersion in nature with the ultimate adrenalin rush, here are nine other horse safaris that will have adventurous riders chomping at the bit.
7 day horseback safari, Okavango Delta, Botswana
There is only so much you can ask of a horse, even a bomb-proof one, but cantering through the waters of the Okavango Delta alongside a herd of lechwe will have any man’s (or beast’s) heart racing.
As the Jewel of Africa floods it becomes harder to navigate by car, but not by horse. You can see far more on horseback as you are able to move along game trails with local animals, particularly herd animals like giraffes, which take the horses into their stride, riding alongside you for miles and making the journey all the more pleasurable.
Southeast of the Okavango lies another Botswana ride. However, you’ll be using a very different type of horsepower to ex Top Gear’s Jeremy, James and Richard to manoeuvre through the palms and baobabs of the Makgadikgadi Salt Pan. With all the dust and appaloosas, this ride embodies a “John Wayne in the Wild West” feel. When you’re not riding you can visit the charismatic meerkat clans, explore ancient islands of rock and baobab, and learn about the ways of the Kalahari Bushmen.
Think bucket showers, the Great Dyke Mountains, packed lunches, glamping, and of course horses. You will find that your comfort zone is pushed beyond the edge of your saddle on this horse safari, particularly when zebra stallions are trying to gather the mares into their herds. Parts of the Mavuradonha ride are uncharted, with no specific route or trail – just you and your horse blazing a trail through the Miombo wilderness.
Sand and Surf
8 day beach ride, Mozambique
If desert palms are not your thing, and you prefer the coconut-producing palms found on the pansy shell shores of Vilanculos and Bengurra Island, this is the ride for you. Hop on one of 104 horses rescued from Zimbabwe and head off amongst the dhows, coconut plantations and flocks of flamingos. It’s the type of holiday the horsey characters of a Jilly Cooper novel would relish – swimming with your steed in the white horses of tropical waters.
The feeling of galloping on a beach puts the racing scenes of Seabiscuit and Hildago to shame (but keep a couple of furlongs between you and the next horse – the sand bites). Riding along South Africa’s Wild Coast, watching whales and dolphins, climbing rolling hill – it’s romantic ocean Africa at its best. The longest ride you will do is 40km, so arm yourself with the appropriate underwear (and don’t forget the tissue oil and Epsom salts) – this applies to all horse safaris.
11 day desert ride, Namibia
Namibia has a lot to offer, from ghost towns, wild horses and diamonds to elephants, canyons and the mysterious Skeleton Coast. As a rider on horseback you become so much more aware of the environment and you’ll gain a much better understanding of the humbling beauty of the arid landscapes and the hardy creatures that call it home. One particularly enticing feature would be the chance to admire the horses that have shaken off their domestic bonds and returned to the wild. Read more about Namibia’s wild horses here.
From dodging warthog holes to trekking the rocky terrain of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, trail ponies are remarkably surefooted. The Atlas Mountains act as a snowy divide between the coastline and the Sahara desert and you are just a crack of a stock whip away from Europe and the mayhem of Marrekesh. Experience the culture of the tribes that call these mountains home and enjoy unrivalled scenery. Who wants to go on a 30-minute camel ride anyway?
Something completely different
Game-counting on horseback, Waterberg, South Africa
Winston Churchill once said: “No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.” At Ant’s Collection they like to ensure that your time spent in the saddle is productive. Taking advantage of the horse’s manoeuvrability, height and non-threatening presence in the bush allows for safari-goers to count game like rhino, eland and the endangered sable antelope at close proximity during a game census. However, it’s not all work and after all that riding you and your horse can cool off with a swim and you can spend your evening relaxing around the fire, sharing stories of the day’s experience.
Enjoy Madagascar’s stunning landscapes and wildlife – including lemurs (primates with opposable thumbs that could technically grasp horse reins). On this safari you will learn about these varied and charismatic creatures while riding through the uncharted centre of Madagascar.
There are over 60 taxa of these charming primates, some of which are so small you could easily pack them in your saddlebag. Relax in hot springs, explore crater lakes and experience the traditions of the Malagasy people.