by Jen Herman with Laura Pittenger for (http://www.equestrianadventurer.com)
Article © 2006
As part of my career break I spent a month in southern Africa, which led me to the Okavango Delta in Botswana, where I took a six day horseback safari, which gave me plenty of time to see elephants, zebras, giraffes, and lots of other wildlife. The Okavango River Delta is 5 million acres of fertile land that gives shelter to many different native animals such as lions, elephants, giraffes, kudu and even cobras.
I traveled with African Horseback Safaris, which turned out to be a great choice for my equestrian vacation. Sarah-Jane Gullick, the owner and founder of African Horseback Safaris, has created a unique version of adventure travel providing well-kept horses, an amazing staff and luxurious camp accommodations (or at least as luxurious as tent camping can be!) with no more than 12 guests at any time.
I traveled to Botswana during December, which is the end of the gestation period, and there were baby animals everywhere. I felt this really made traveling at this time of year particularly special, although you can have many different experiences depending upon the time of year you go. The staff was always willing to accommodate special requests for other activities. We went on a jeep game drive one day when it was raining. During the flood season they will also take you canoeing if you like.
Days in the Delta begin quite early, since that's when some of the best game viewing takes place.
Our five o'clock wake-up call consisted of a staff member delivering hot coffee or tea and biscuits in bed, followed by a light breakfast and then the morning ride. Upon returning, an elaborate brunch greeted us, followed by a resting or siesta period. We then usually had afternoon tea to reenergize us for the evening ride. The last ride of the day was followed by "sundowners"- cocktails on the deck while we watched the sunset, followed by a full dinner spread for the hungry riders. Wine was served with all dinners.
As a special treat on my trip, on the last ride the staff arranged a surprise champagne brunch in the bush. They caught all of us off guard by telling us to look at the snakes in a particular tree. Finally we turned the corner to see a beautiful spread laid out for us.
I'm a vegetarian but this wasn't a problem at all. When we signed up they asked us about special dietary needs and were happy to accommodate. All of the food was delicious, especially considering what a remote place we were in. The camp uses solar powered ovens to maintain an eco-friendly environment.
This equestrian vacation is not for the beginner rider. I hadn't ridden much since I was younger, but being in good shape I was able to hold my own. The safaris consist of walk, trot and canter. Riders have to be able to gallop for short stretches if necessary.
During your sign-up you list your riding abilities and the type of horse that you like to ride. Typically our days consisted of two horseback safaris. The morning ride was generally four to four and a half hours. Our evening ride was shorter and generally ran between two and two and half hours. The team of guides and grooms did an amazing job of pairing each rider with two different horses that they traded between during the safari. This gave me the opportunity to get to know the horses I was riding, and really added to the experience.
Each ride had at least three guides and a maximum of six guests per ride. Both the lead guide and the rear guide carried first aid kits, radios, and rifles for safety.
African Horseback provides both English and Western saddles, although most of the riders on my trip used English tack. The horses we rode were Namibian Hanoverians, Arabians, and Kalahari/Arab crosses.
They were well trained and immaculately cared for, and each horse only went out on one ride per day. A vet made frequent trips to the camp to check up on the horses and I learned that he uses homeopathic remedies whenever he can.
It was only when we rode up to a "breeding herd" of 14 elephants with three babies that the reality of where we were and how close we were to the wildlife really sank in. One elephant started flapping his ears as if to charge, and we all mentally planned our escape routes.
From suddenly spotting a hippo surfacing in a lake to waking up to "Scarface" the baboon on your porch, on this equestrian vacation you never knew what you were going to see and experience - it was not just another day at the zoo!