Horses make us powerful, invincible and adventurous. A few hours or days in the saddle can lift a good holiday into a whole new dimension. Whether you’re a born-in-the-saddle semi-centaur, a weekend warrior, or a wet-behind-the-ears wannabe, there’s a horseback holiday that’s just right for you.
You don’t need a passport for a perfect family riding holiday in the malaria-free Waterberg. Horizon Horseback offers a wide range of horsey activities to keep everyone happy. Ride with wildlife, have a lesson, do a gentle scenic hack, play polo crosse, or try your hand at rounding up cattle, – there’s something for every age and every ability, and even lots to keep non-riders sweet. www.ridinginafrica.com
If you feel guilty about going on a riding holiday and leaving your horse behind, hitch up your trailer and head out to Koro Creek, where non-riders can play golf, and you and your horse can explore the reserve. www.korocreek.com/equestrian
Heaven – and horses, too
Wait a Little Horse Safaris offers great horseback safaris in Big Five reserves close to the Kruger National Park, which you would think is about as good as it gets – but then they added Gourmet Big Five horseback safaris for small groups of four to eight riders. It’s über-luxurious accommodation, four to six hours of riding a day in Big Five country, game drives, optional walks, gourmet food created by two dedicated chefs, and an extensive wine list. What’s not to love.Oh and, by the way, the food on the standard trails is pretty darn yummy anyway.
Lyrical allusion aside, horses do, in fact, have names. But the song still works. It’s nine days straight across the Namib from Windhoek to Swakopmund. There are long, flat stretches of desert plain, mountains with huge boulders where you have to dismount and walk, long extensive grasslands, beautiful canyons, and ultimately, the ocean. This trip is not for beginners, and even regular weekend riders may find new muscles they never knew they had. But the peace and surreal beauty of the Namib are unmatched. The gravel plains extend for miles in every direction to distant hazy-blue lumpy horizons, with no grass, no roads, no fences, and the biggest stone is the size of a chickpea. You can put your horse into a three-quarter pace canter, stop after twenty minutes and look around and nothing has changed! At night you sleep inside an inverted bowl of stars that reaches right to the horizon. The Namib will do your head in, in a good way. www.namibiahorsesafari.com
The beautiful ‘Kingdom in the Sky’ of Lesotho is one of the few places in the world where horses are used as regular day-to-day transportation, as opposed to a diversion, and Basotho ponies are renowned for their hardy constitution, calm nature and sure-footedness (essential in that mountainous terrain). Even absolute beginners can confidently head off on a ride of a few hours – or even a few days. Multi-day trails usually involve overnighting in local villages, so they can be as much a cultural adventure as an equestrian one. www.malealea.com
For such a tiny country, Swaziland has it all – great wildlife, awesome scenery and fascinating cultural destinations. Chubeka Trails based at Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary offers rides ranging from, literally, a fifteen-minute pony ride for your toddler to four-night trails with lots of wildlife, steep, scenic mountains, river crossings, and interaction with local communities. The shorter overnight trails are doable by relative beginners, and even complete novices can ride amongst (non-predator) game. A really great option, even for first-timers, is the one-hour, one-way Sunset Trail, where you ride through the reserve to a hot spring for sun-downers (and an optional soak), and then are transported back by vehicle. www.biggameparks.org/properties/chubeka-trails-6
The Okavango Delta is one of the most astonishingly beautiful places on earth, and you just must visit here at least once in your life. Wherever you stay, you’ll almost certainly fly in, which may qualify as the most scenic air transfer in the world, and it just gets better from then on. Fabulous camps with great food, mokoro trips on gorgeous limpid, flower-strewn waterways, wildlife, birds, and scenery, with long, hard, scenic rides through real wilderness that are not a beginner’s option. www.africanhorseback.com
Zimbabwe is still a bit of a secret destination – yes, the tourism industry never died, it just carried on quietly and calmly, keeping the economy going, contributing hugely to conservation, and keeping thousands of families fed by creating employment. James and Janine Varden have been running canoeing, walking and horseback safaris right through the not-so-good times, and now that things seem to be picking up, it’s only getting better. You could ride for a week through Matobo, or opt for a 12-night riding, walking and canoeing safari – the best of all possible worlds. www.ridezimbabwe.com
The well-worn cliché of riding into the sunset is a classic symbol of a happy ending – the satisfactory conclusion of a perilous adventure. Take a romantic canter along the beach at Vilanculos or on Benguera Island – wind in your hair, salt-spray on your face – and know that you are part of a happy ending. The horses at Mozambique Horse Safari are all rescued from farm invasions in Zimbabwe, where the chances are pretty good they would probably have ended up on the braai. Out of the frying pan and onto the beach. (See the book One hundred and four horses by Mandy Retzlaff.) www.mozambiquehorsesafari.com