When you are riding you are one with the horse, one with nature and only the sound of the wind, no vehicle engine rumbling along, it is just you and your steed, immersing yourself in wildlife.
A wide range of countries is on offer for riding safaris, some of which are:
Botswana – there are four specific areas within Botswana for riding: The Tuli Reserve, Makgadikgadi Salt Pans the Okavango Delta and the lower Linyanti Area. These areas are all very different and complement each other well both in terms of experience and scenery. Another great possibility is to ride and canoe – two silent forms of exploration!
Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, Botswana:
An extraordinary riding safari, one of the best times to visit is fairly early in the year through to August/early September. If timed right, you could also see the wildebeest and zebra migration from the Savuti in the north across to the salt pans and to the western side of the park to the Boteti River.
The salt pans are huge and the scenery stark, yet stunning. One can ride out and back to camp over three days or longer. The area is flat sandy Kalahari Desert and your guides and horses will lead you over the grassy plains, over white salt pans and to island outcrops of palm trees.
These salt pans have a crust several inches deep that one can ride on, take a gallop over the endless lands and sleep out under the stars on a camp bed, under the biggest view of the Milky Way.
Covering around 6200 sq. miles, the pans are the remains of the ancient Lake Makgadikgadi formed thousands of years ago. The wildlife here is desert adapted and includes springbok and oryx and you also have the opportunity to walk with semi habituated meerkats.
There are two wonderful safari camps located in the depths of the Okavango Delta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Prime delta – crystal clear waterways and apart from riding one can also enjoy exploring the deltas palm filled islands on foot, or in a canoe (called a mokoro), or have a traditional game drive in an open 4x4, or by speedboat.
However, the riding safaris here – only for experienced riders, are classed as some of the best in the world.
There are several camps one can stay in to ride exclusively, or stay in a premium luxury camp and start the day with an aerial view across the delta as a helicopter transports you into the riding area for a day’s excursion. An ideal stay would be between three to seven nights.
Riding through open grasslands, through water ways searching for wildlife, in one of the world’s last true remaining wildernesses, you may see elephant – they usually ignore you, or giraffe, who look down on the horses as a lowly (literally) inferior cousin.
Not only is the wildlife viewing from the back of a horse a huge joy, but also beneficial since being elevated, you can look at the animals on the same level and no engine noise! Just a whinny from your horse.
Early morning riding following elephant trails through seas of grass covered plains, Linyanti is a favourite of ours. What is super about this area is that one can have a very active and different safari - horse riding – there are many elephant and buffalo here, followed by a walking safari with a knowledgeable professional guide for a few days as well as going out by boat.
As you ride, the horses move silently and largely unnoticed as you become one, you can also move with the wildlife herds as they graze over grasslands and then cross through rivers and streams to the next juicy meal of sweet grasses.
Your senses are heightened as you can feel the grasses brush by, or the cool waters as they lap your legs in a river crossing, hear the grunting of the buffalo or the rubble of the elephants stomachs as they rest under a mopane tree in the heat of the day. All this you miss when sitting in a noisy vehicle.
Truly astounding, one of the most wonderful horse riding safaris is conducted in the Limpopo Valley area of the Tuli block in eastern Botswana. Covering around 30,000 hectares of wilderness, there are not only good wildlife sightings including their noted elephants, but also cheetah, lion and a host of antelope species.
Unlike the majority of Botswana which is relatively flat, here sandstone outcrops and hills, form this wilderness which is also noted for its baobab trees, and not forgetting the Limpopo River that provides a barrier and border to South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Tuli has open grasslands, gorges and valleys and the riding safaris include a few nights sleeping under the stars in a traditional Boma, or in simple canvas tented camps. A true safari with the small of the campfire, long days of riding end with the sounds of the night surrounding and serenading you to sleep, the chirp of a scops owl, the lion roar, adds to the fact that you are fully immersed in Africa.
Namib Desert, Namibia:
Another excellent riding safari is in Namibia in the sand dunes of the Namib and with the favourable exchange rate to the Namibian Dollar to the GBP/USD, this is a super destination.
One could go riding in the Namib, see the Skeleton Coast, see the stars in the best place on earth (because the air is so dry the sight is extraordinary), have a safari in Etosha and then even fly afterwards directly from Windhoek to Cape Town in South Africa for a few days relaxing in the beautiful winelands.
Some of the 10 day rides are more demanding and are for experienced riders, but others can be for intermediate riders, but in terms of scenery and challenge – this is probably one of the most extraordinarily beautiful rides in all of Africa! Certainly combining this country with another in Africa would be a wonderful and very different contrast in terms of environments and scenery – completely different.
There is no other country with such vast expanses of desert in every colour and hue, miles and miles in which to gallop, and the iconic sand dunes, especially from Swakopmund down towards the famous Sossusvlei make this perfect riding country.
Though one may believe that there is no wildlife, in fact the desert is bountiful – reptiles, springbok, ground squirrels, majestic oryx, dainty yet hardy springbok, jackal, brown hyena and even cheetah.
There are rides in the Namib Desert, in Damaraland, with its rugged ancient landscape formed by tectonic movement. Likewise the Fish River Canyon is a natural gorge, the second largest in the world, has eroded escarpments and there is also a ride that ends in the area of the famous Wild horses of the Namibia Desert to the east of Lüderitz.
Explore the remote north of Tanzania near the Kenyan border around Amboseli, having a true wilderness adventure on a mobile safari across Maasai farmland, home to plains game such as giraffe and zebra and also other antelope.
Mount Meru is often visible on the horizon and your all-purpose safari horses are a mixture of local breeds and thoroughbreds. Your hosts and guides have horses to suit all temperaments, abilities and personalities.
Though the pace can be challenging, we have had many seasoned riders tell us that this was their favourite riding safari, most genuine, traditional, the scent of the human is masked by that of the horse which allows you to get so close to wildlife.
It is an exhilarating experience, no engine sound or pollution and of course, being on horseback is such a special experience. I simply cannot recommend it highly enough! We have amazing rides here as well as on Lake Natron which has breath taking scenery!
Masai Mara – Migration rides:
Between June and September each year, planned and set riding safaris are led across the Masai Mara, possibly Kenya most famous of national reserves in order to become part of and one with the annual wildebeest and zebra migration.
Two million animals swarm up from the northern Serengeti in Tanzania and cross the border, obviously the timing is not a definite science but the wealth of animals once arrive can be exceptional to ride with.
There is always good resident wildlife too, any time of the year. The riding starts with a mobile safari over the plains that moves every couple of days, your new camp is set up ahead for you.