We might be in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, with no definite timescale on when things might start returning to normal, but this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be allowed to dream about a future holiday — and for us, preferably one on horseback.
For most equine adventurists, deciding they want to embark on a horseback safari across the vast and wildlife-filled landscapes of Africa is the easy part. There is no question that cantering alongside a herd of wild zebra, creeping up to an elephant bull drinking from a watering hole or gazing out across jaw-dropping scenery should be high on every rider’s bucket list. However, the biggest question that arises is: which horse safari and destination is the right one for me?
In the process of turning the dream into reality, it is not uncommon to find yourself with a hundred browser tabs open as you attempt to navigate the large expanse of the internet to find the perfect horse riding holiday. A horseback safari is a big trip and so it is easy to feel overwhelmed or pressured by the task of getting the decision exactly right. If you are finding more questions than answers on your journey, some of the best advice is to talk to someone that lives, breathes and rides Africa.
H&H speaks to Isabel Juby, marketing and sales manager and horse safari consultant at African Horse Safaris, who shared some of her top tips for choosing the right horse safari for you…
1. What is your riding experience?
“Being honest about your riding experience is one of the most important factors when determining which ride is right for you. We offer a guide to riding levels and then speak on the phone to chat through riding experience, but this may vary company-to-company, so take the time to get it right. It’s about ensuring you will get the most out of your safari by joining a suitable ride, with other riders of the same level. Whether you have been riding since you could walk, or are new to the sport, there are many brilliant options for all levels, and even some perfect family horse riding holidays.
“In order to venture out into the lands of big game such as lion, elephant, and buffaloes, you will need to react effectively to any situation out in the bush, even galloping out of trouble if required, so need to be a fit and balanced rider who feels they fall into the intermediate plus or advanced category of experience.
“Worried you might not be up to this? It is important to choose a ride which will not ‘over-horse’ you. This is for your own safety and enjoyment — and for that of your group too. If you haven’t got as many hours in the saddle under your belt, we often recommend our more flexible safaris which can vary the length and speed of the rides. They also offer an abundance of other activities, such as game drives and nature walks, if you fancied a break from four-legged transport.”
2. What are your expectations for your dream horse safari?
“Do you dream of endless canters across open savannah, with herds of zebra and wildebeest stretching as far as the eye can see? Have you always imagined yourself high in the saddle tracking elephant herds through the flood waters of the Okavango Delta or galloping across vast and breath-taking desert landscapes? Are you looking to strip back to basics like the explorers-of-old and sleep out under the stars? Or would you prefer a luxurious bush-escape, where you can enjoy a relaxing dip in the plunge pool after your morning ride? Knowing how you imagine your bucket-list horse safari makes it easier to turn that dream into a reality.
“Trail-based rides require a good level of experience as there is less room for flexibility when you need to get from A to B. There are some long days in the saddle, but the sense of excitement and achievement when pulling into a new camp is extremely rewarding.”
3. When are you wanting to travel?
“Africa is a kaleidoscope of different terrains and unique landscapes, many of them best discovered from the saddle. Africa’s wildlife is never static, and their movements are often dictated by rainfall. This this can lead to some destinations being more seasonal than others. For example, the world-famous wildebeest migration in Kenya’s Masai Mara is between July and October. This is the time to travel if you long to canter through vast wildebeest-filled plains. Likewise, if you have always dreamed of throwing up water as you splash your way through the Okavango Delta, you will need to travel when the yearly floods have arrived down from Angola. If you have your heart set on a particular experience, it is worthwhile bringing this into discussion when planning your trip.
“The long and short of it is that there is no bad time for safari. Different seasons offer different experiences. It is important to determine what is important to you. Some riders really struggle in hotter weather and will prefer the cooler winter months, whereas others are sun-worshipers and are not bothered by heat. Budget can also come into play as certain rides offer high and low season rates. It is important to find a balance between your preferred type of weather, your budget and your chances for the best wildlife viewing.
“The winter months are often considered brilliant for wildlife sightings as the bush is dry, the grass short and the wildlife must stick closer to the available water sources. Competition is therefore fierce, and you can get incredible predator sightings. If you love the heat of summer, you will be rewarded with stunning cloud-filled sunsets, lush green landscapes, and many newborn animals. You will have to be prepared for some rain, but this usually comes in the form of an exciting and dramatic thunderstorm which quickly passes. Spring and Autumn are personal favourites — the transformational months, with vivid changes as mother nature moulds the landscapes.”
4. Who are you travelling with on your horse safari?
“Whether you are a solo explorer or looking for a family holiday, there is a horse safari for everyone. Most trail-based rides have set group departure dates making them perfect for solo-travellers, couples, or groups of friends. As a solo-traveller, you meet a group of like-minded adventurers, all with a shared interest of horse riding. Over 50% of our bookings are single travellers, so these trips are designed to accommodate.”
5. What is your budget?
“There is no denying that riding in Africa is not a low budget holiday and can often be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. As a result, choosing the right horseback safari for you is imperative. We suggest that while researching the right horse riding experience, you also have a look into the costs of international flights from your home to Africa. This will help give you a rough idea of what the costs would be on top of your safari and help to set your budget. All our rides are all-inclusive, so from the moment you touchdown in the airport, you will spend very little.
“Again, expectations have a big role to play in deciding which ride is best for you. If you are seeking to immerse yourself in pure wilderness above all else, then the experiential horse safaris can be more affordable. If you want a taste of luxury accommodation but have budget restraints, we can look at you travelling in the low or shoulder seasons. If you want to splurge and have more time, then it is worth considering extending your safari, such as spending some extra time exploring different destinations in Africa, such as Victoria Falls or Cape Town.
“Your best bet is to chat to someone in the know and who has travelled to these destinations. They will have a good idea of the costs associated. As a rule, East Africa tends to be in a higher price bracket than Southern Africa. This is largely due to the costs of park fees and conservation levies. These costs can be high — but remember, you are paying for the exclusivity of being the only ones out there and are directly aiding the preservation of these wilderness areas and the wildlife that inhabit them.”
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“Chat to a reputable company as they will have already hand-picked the best horse safaris in Africa. These rides will have been selected for their exciting and varied riding, excellent guiding, top quality accommodation and most importantly, wonderfully cared for horses. By chatting to someone who has experienced all the different options, you are able to gain unbiased advice and first-hand comparisons and experiences. Remember, that whatever your budget, there is never a compromise on the quality of the horses, guiding or the adventure.
“I will warn you now — riding in Africa is extremely addictive, so your first trip will very likely not be your last!”
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