“Sunset in Africa. You feel as if nothing in the world can touch you.” Our guide, SW, sits beer-in-hand perched on the rickety railing of a dock surrounded by lily pads, where we have paused for sundowners after a long day on safari. The still water reflects the orange and purple glow of the setting sun as beers and ciders are passed around and gin-and-tonics poured.
This is no ordinary safari—this is a horseback adventure. Horses are, after all, the ultimate four-wheel-drive vehicle (or four-legged, as it were) and can go where jeeps and even land rovers can’t, through thick bush, across rivers, up mountainsides, and can even get up close and personal with animals who shy away from vehicles full of tourists. South Africa's thriving horse culture offers all kinds of horseback adventures across the country, but a wildlife safari on horseback is the pinnacle. Seeing the scenery from the saddle encompasses a level of immersion in nature that a standard safari vehicle just doesn’t offer, and a relationship with the wildlife that is unparalleled.
We’ve spent the last several weeks on horseback safari, beginning with the Horse Safari Company near Kruger National Park and later at Horizon Horseback Adventures in the Waterburg Biosphere area outside of Johannesburg. The main focus, of course, is the wildlife, but this is no zoo. It’s not just a matter of riding out of the lodge and finding an abundance of animals, it’s more like a scavenger hunt. Each day, we enjoy rides through open meadows, wooded hillsides, rocky outcroppings, around lakes and through creeks, searching for elusive animals by learning about their behavior, their typical hangouts, their patterns, and following tracks. This makes each sighting rewarding, as if we’ve won a prize for our hard work (and up to six hours in the saddle each day is definitely hard work!).
We often come across zebras in open plains, who let us ride right through the middle of the herd. Giraffes often take us by surprise, as they graze well-camouflaged in the trees and we only see them when we’re almost next to them. Since they don’t see the horses as predators, they let us graze alongside them, watching wearily, while they move silently through the brush. During one ride, on a long canter through some trees, we were joined by a herd of galloping wildebeest.
Later on in the same evening as twilight sets in, we remount our horses and set out for an overnight stay at a campsite in the bush. A group of giraffes, actually called a tower, cross the plain in front of us, painting the quintessential picture of Africa with their elegant elongated necks traversing the sunset, their silhouettes gliding against the pink and yellow backdrop. SW, who has just recently been kicked in the knee by a horse tangled in a wire fence, despite the pain maintains a smile that genuinely reflects his unbridled love for Africa and its magic. “This is Africa. This is what Africa is all about,” he says. This land casts a spell on you, and every visitor vows their first trip won’t be their last.
Want to read more about our safari adventures? More posts to come, about our rides in Kruger, Waterburg, and more!