Introduction to Horse Safaris

Nokota Horses

Image Courtesy of François Marchal

When most people think of “safaris”, the thing that comes to mind is the Kruger National Park: there are, however, many more options when it comes to viewing wild life than people know. One such new avenue is the world of horse safaris.

Horse safaris are not a new phenomenon in South Africa, but the segmenting of eco-tourism into increasingly niche markets does perhaps suggest how important and competitive the industry has become over the past few years. Whereas safaris were, traditionally, hunting expeditions embarked on by European visitors to Africa and colonialists, they are now predominantly journeys undertaken for the purposes of observing wildlife in a natural environment. Additionally, a proliferation of safari operating companies has made it an increasingly affordable activity, available to nature lovers and enthusiasts of all ages. in other words, put down your handbags or briefcases, and above all don’t forget your digital cameras!

Horse safaris, like more generic safaris, can be single day outings, mobile camps, or operate from a series of fixed camps over a longer distance and pre-determined route. In terms of day outings, the safari will follow a circular route in that the base camp will be both the point of departure as well as the destination. If there ever was a time that the aphorism, “it’s not the destination but the journey that counts” holds as a veritable truth, it is surely the case in safaris: the value in a safari is being privileged enough to witness the beauty of nature that has been protected from the intervening, and often destructive, influence of the human race.

Day outings are a good option for those who lack the necessary constitution to endure several days and overnight stays without the typical amenities that we too often take for granted. The mobile safari is a great experience for those with an inclination towards “roughing it” as the camps sites are struck and broken down each day by the individuals on safari. This type of safari is, perhaps, the most ecologically friendly of the various options as the temporary tents that are used for sleeping arrangements do not allow animals to get used to the presence of humans in their surrounds.

The longer distance safaris trek from base camp to satellite camps, and often eventually lead back to the point of departure camp where the horses used on the safari are permanently stabled and taken care of. The overnight safari trips can be great fun, and are advantageous in the sense that one truly gets to immerse oneself in nature, not merely observe it. Further, the wilderness at night is an entirely different world than at day, an alternative that is not often experienced unless night safaris are offered by your operating company.

The horses used for horseback safaris allow tourists to travel greater distances than they ordinarily would by foot. Moreover, getting so close to a horse (truly noble and magnificent creatures) is a worthwhile experience in and of itself. Horses used by operating companies are well trained animals, and are safe to ride so long as the rider doesn’t abuse the privilege of having been given the horse’s trust.

Different types of saddles are used for varying conditions, but rest assured, saddles are designed to meet the comfort needs of both rider and horse, and are often lightweight. For longer distances, saddles that distribute the weight of the rider widely and evenly over horses’ backs are used, ensuring that no harm comes to the animal. This also allows the horse to carry the rider for a longer period of time, thereby extending the safari experience.

If you’ve tried the more traditional types of safari before, and are looking for a new way to experience the beauty of the African bush (and more specifically, South Africa’s remarkable landscape), a horse safari might be the option you’ve been waiting for. Novice horse riders are also welcome to make bookings with tour operators, although it would be advisable, in the case of a long distance journey, to try and get some experience on a horse before leaving on your adventure. If you’ve already tried horse back safaris and are now addicted, perhaps consider looking at the property for sale in Knysna as the area provides many opportunities for the activity.