If you're planning on going on a riding safari — don't do anything before taking note of Rose Gamble's ultimate riding safari check list
I’m not sure the feeling of galloping through long, amber grass on horseback — giraffes lolloping alongside, an endless expanse of African sky overhead — can be matched. There are safaris; and there is this.
Okavango Horse has been going since 1986, when founders Barney and PJ Bestelink began guiding groups of friends on horseback through Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Thirty years later, the horse riding holidays company is well and truly established with two camps and a third, fly-camp, running in the high season.
Barney’s herd of horses is 60 strong. The relaxed air of adventure still lingers. Days are spent riding through wild acres of lush, water-wilderness, shallow reed-beds and sparkling floodplains. All that separates you from the wildlife is a few metres of dusty air.
Here are 29 things you should squeeze into your duffel bag as you prepare for a holiday unlike any other:
1. Pack light; air transfers into the bush tend to be in small air craft with a weight restriction of 20kg per person. A soft, holdall bag which can be crammed into the corners of a tiny Cessna is ideal.
2. You’ll need at least two pairs of jodhpurs along with t-shirts or shirts in khaki or neutral colours. Avoid white; it stands out in the bush and catches the animals’ eyes. It’s best not to catch a buffalo’s eye…
3. I took my short boots and chaps. When the flood waters are up you’ll get wet feet. Go for leather rather than suede chaps to avoid getting waterlogged.
4. Take as many pairs of socks as you can stuff into your bag. Wet feet are par the course of splashing about in flood waters.
5. Suntan lotion: a high factor in a small bottle which you can squeeze into your saddle bag works well.
6. Insect repellent, anti-malarials, anti-histamine. I use travelpharm.com to purchase the anti-malarial Malarone under its trade name at a fraction of the cost. Consult your doctor before you travel.
7. The wet season runs between November and April, though rain, in reality, is seldom. Or at least in comparison to our British weather, it’s seldom. Pack a parka just in case.
8. Muscle rub. You’ll spend six hours a day or more in the saddle. This could be useful.
9. Swim suit. A lot of camps have a swimming pool. Okavango Horses’ Kujwana camp has a small pool overlooking a gold-green plain where the horses graze in the afternoon. A float post-ride is highly recommended.
10. Reading material. If anything was going to send me over the 20kg limit it was this lot. Take a book (one is fine) for siesta hour.
11. Flip flops, espadrilles; something to rest those otherwise-riding- boot-clad feet in.
12. When you’re not riding you’ll head out on a bush walk or, if the water’s up, float amongst the lily-pads in a traditional wooden canoe. Take a pair of trainers or light walking boots.
13. And a knowledgeable guide.
14. Take a torch. Heading back to my tent one starlit evening, a very large grey flank appeared in the beam of my torch. Realising it belonged to an elephant, I returned rapidly to the campfire to wait for it to pass.
15. The day begins at 5.45am. Make yourself a coffee, hop back into bed (temporarily), and watch the pink African dawn creep in bleary tendrils across the sky.
16. Pack your phone and your toothpaste into a monkey-proof box while you’re out riding. Primates have a penchant for swiping nick-knacks out of tents.
17. Fuel your hours in the saddle with freshly baked bread and hard boiled eggs.
18. You’ll receive a riding form when you book your safari. Fill it in; you’ll be matched to a different horse each day, depending on ability and experience. Okavango Horse’s co-founder, Barney, had a magical ability to produce perfect pairings.
19. Fall in love with your horse. The lovely homebred Mabowa, which means mushroom in local dialect, was my favourite.
20. Keep your eyes peeled; you’ll see incredible spectacles.
21. Brush up on your birds. You’ll soon be spotting long-toed lapwings; black-bellied plovers and identifying pale chanting goshawks at 50 paces.
22. Wildlife is unpredictable. Practise looking unconcerned while being charged by an irritated elephant.
23. It’s the lead guide’s responsibility to divert any angry beasts in the opposite direction to guests. A brave guide is a good idea.
24. An armed rider could be useful considering the above. I’m told the trusty shotgun has never actually been used, however.
25. Siesta in the heat of the day. It’s a hard life.
27. Sundowners. Raising a toast to the disappearing sun forms a vital part of the day. Did I mention it’s a hard life? Drinking your G&T on horseback is optional.
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27. When arranging transport for an alfresco supper, consider arriving — and leaving — on horseback. Classy.
28. There are safaris, and there is this. Nothing can quiet prepare you for it.
29. I’d say take your camera, but don’t; just take it all in.