Exploring the wilderness of East Africa on a horseback safari is an adventurous alternative to the traditional luxury Kenyan safari. Ride among grazing antelope and become part of the herd. Whether it’s a half-day or multi-day journey, this is the ultimate way to experience the wilds.
This was a luxury Kenyan safari with a difference. I’d heard about how close one could get to wildlife on a horseback safari … and wanted to try it for myself. And what a thrill it proved to be!
Our group arrived at the lovely ol Donyo Lodge, Kenya, where we had a day of horse activities planned. The children got a chance to ride the most docile creatures imaginable, perfect for beginners. These horses had been expertly trained to be careful with novice riders and youngsters.
The adults spent the afternoon on an outride. The absence of the sound of a car engine was startling … and most welcome. I was astonished at how close we were able to get to animals such as giraffe, zebra, waterbuck, eland and ostrich without them taking flight. It was as though we were accepted into the herds, something that would have been unthinkable on foot.
We had a most fun day getting into the groove of riding again (I hadn’t done it for years). Then a group of us more experienced riders joined an outfit for a multi-day horseback safari in the Laikipia region. It was a custom-tailored journey lasting a week and offering the ultimate, never to be forgotten, horseback experience.
On the first morning, we were up with the birds. After a cup of tea, we saddled up and trotted into a rugged wilderness. Our safari guide, David, was highly experienced, and he instructed us on how to behave during encounters with predators. His knowledge of the flora, fauna, history and culture was quite remarkable and added immeasurably to appreciation of the safari.
We stopped in a secluded valley for a picnic breakfast under an olive tree, with fresh fruit followed by bacon and eggs, sizzled on an open fire. Then it was onward into wild, elemental terrain.
As well as David, who lead our horseback safari, we had a back-up guide, grooms and a driver. I must say, I was terribly impressed with our horses. They were all well-schooled thoroughbreds or thoroughbred crosses (Irish draft and native Somali ponies). These horses were responsive, tough and fit. They were English trained and neck reined. The tack varied from English to stock saddles, polo, French trekking and Australian stock with snaffle bridles. All in perfect condition.
David explained that if a horse went lame, one would simply untack and climb onto a spare horse. A groom would take the injured horse back to camp.
Our horseback safari was operated with the support of luxury, mobile, tented camps. No trimmings were spared and by the time we arrived in camp each afternoon, it was set up and ready for our enjoyment. The walk-in tents were a spacious 3m all around with camp beds (double on request), mattresses, sheets and blankets, towels, soap and torches. Gas lights and hurricane lamps lit the tents and the camp at night. Each double tent had its own toilet and hot shower. All the mod cons!
On our first night, we camped near a waterhole and a pod of hippo serenaded us with their honking. Pavarotti, eat your heart out.
Each day seemed more thrilling than the last. We rode past elephant and plains game, and one morning came pretty close to a pride of lion snoozing under a tree. The horses behaved impeccably.
When we were riding over short-grass plains, David allowed us the opportunity to canter and even gallop, which was marvellous. Probably the highlight for me was cantering beside a herd of more than a hundred wildebeest and zebra, their hooves drumming on the dry earth – a magnificent and memorable experience.
Jumping over fallen trees, crossing rivers and pushing long stretches were all in a day’s ‘work’. And how wonderful it was. On reaching camp each afternoon, we’d enjoy a warm shower before gathering around the fire for drinks, dinner and later, a well-deserved night’s rest.
Some days were long: more than six hours in the saddle and covering up to 50km. But the rewards were plentiful: vast African vistas, the soaring cone of Mount Kenya and close encounters with big game.
We camped for two nights in log cabins at Lake Rutundu, on the slopes of Mount Kenya. The outrides from there took us into heather-covered moorland, rosewood forests and craggy mountainscapes. I even tried my hand at fly fishing in Lake Alice and had a dip in crystal-clear rock pools.
Ours was a daily round of adventurous rides, sumptuous picnic lunches and fascinating conversation round the campfire at night. I wished the journey could have gone on forever.
But all good safaris must come to end. At our farewell dinner, we celebrated our successful trek with a host of new friends and toasted an inevitable return. I knew that in the coming weeks and months, my mind would be filled with the powerful feelings I’d had, inspired by total wildness, freedom and escapism. We were hooked!