Several years ago, I discovered the concept of horseback safaris, and the idea was immediately added to my travel wish list. In the Spring of 2012, I realised the dream, spending ten days in South Africa.
Although I was excited to be undertaking something which I had lusted over for a long time, I was anxious too: not only was it the first time I’d booked and organised a holiday by myself but, as with most equestrian endeavours, this trip was not going to come cheap. In addition, I was keen to ensure that I wasn’t travelling a long way and spending a large amount of money to be faced with poorly-cared for animals and an experience which left me disappointed. For these reasons, I chose to book with a specialist equestrian travel agency.
Unicorn Trails organised me a tailor-made trip, taking care of my flights and itinerary. I stipulated that I wanted to ride on beaches and see giraffe from horseback – challenges which were duly met!
I spent the first part of my holiday on the Wild Coast Beach Trail – during which time I celebrated my birthday – taking in the spectacular scenery of the Transkei and galloping along beaches. To remind me that you can always learn something about riding, my horse, Troy, showed me that there are many things horses can do when you trust them and allow them to do their jobs. Half an hour into my first day on the trail, we were scrambling over a bank of rocks on horseback – a task I wouldn’t dream of asking any of the horses I’d ridden in the UK to undertake, but one which the natives didn’t even think about.
I said a sad farewell to the Wild Coast team after four days on the trail, and departed to fulfil my second objective: seeing giraffe. I spent the remainder of my trip at Horizon Ranch, and managed to tick giraffe off my list within 15 minutes of getting into the saddle! Here, the horses live among the other animals, so most of them do not fear the horses and you are able to get remarkably close. One of my best memories is, having quietly watched three giraffe happily grazing, we turned to continue on the trail at a canter, and were joined by a small herd of zebra.
My other favourite part of my visit was a game drive at a nearby reserve. I hadn’t been keen on seeing game from a car, feeling that it wouldn’t be as special as viewing the animals from horseback, but of course, the natural world is amazing whatever you’re sat on. Our guide was fantastic and we got a brilliant experience, seeing three of the “Big Five” in one afternoon and evening: we managed to take in elephants, rhino and a lion, as well as other small animals such as ostriches, warthogs and zebra.
Our experience with the elephants was breathtaking: having spotted a fresh pile of dung, we spent an hour driving around trying to find the culprit – it’s amazing how difficult it is to find something as large as an elephant – and were about to give up when a call came over the radio that another group had found some cheetahs, though we would have to drive quickly in order to join them. We all clung on as our guide took us off on a bumpy ride, rounding a particularly sharp bend and having to come to an abrupt halt: we had found the original animal we had been chasing, blocking our path.
The engine was duly cut and we began to take pictures of the elephant, but she was unhappy. Our guide slowly backed our vehicle off the path and into some bushes, and we all held our breath as the elephant stared us out. She was slowly joined by five others – a juvenile elephant, plus others from their herd – as she had sent out a distress signal. Several of the elephants flapped their ears at us – a bad sign – and two had a trunk-wrestle as we watched completely stunned and feeling incredibly privileged. It was an experience which I will never forget.
I am happy to say that my fears regarding animal welfare were unfounded: the owners of each ranch care deeply about their horses, and all are in excellent condition, often much fitter than horses I ride in the UK. If you would like to know more about my visit to South Africa, please leave a comment or get in touch.
Have you been to your dream destination (on horseback or otherwise) or is it still out there waiting for you? I’m looking for further inspiration, so do get in touch and let me know.