For most horse lovers, the idea of galloping across the wide-open African savannahs, following ancient elephant paths and coming across unique wildlife is high on their bucket list. But, planning a horseback safari can be daunting. If you’re most people I know, there will be a hundred browser tabs open as you try to navigate the black hole on the internet to find the perfect horse-riding holiday. You can easily lose yourself in the web, finding more questions than answers and giving up feeling overwhelmed. Our best advice –don’t just trust what you find on the internet, do your research and chat to someone that lives, breathes and rides Africa.
We have a team of safari guru’s at African Horse Safaris and here is our advice to choosing the right horse safari for you:
Riding experience and levels
Most importantly, be honest about your riding experience. We have a guide to riding levels on our website, but we always arrange a phone call to chat about your riding experience to ensure that all riders are on a similar level and that the rides are suitable for you. There are great horse safaris for all levels of riders, from novice to advanced, and even some perfect family horse riding holidays.
If you are an intermediate rider, don’t choose a ride that is too demanding. You might become anxious or hold up the rest of the group. If you are less experienced, we recommend safaris that combine shorter rides with other activities such as game drives and nature walks. Here you will have a more laidback introduction to horse safari, riding in areas with giraffe, zebra and many antelope species. For the more advanced riders, there are some fast-paced rides over varied terrain that make for some thrilling time in the saddle. When riding in areas where you may encounter big game such as lion, elephant and buffaloes, you will need to be well balanced in the saddle and able to react to all eventualities, even galloping out of trouble if required.
Expectations for your dream horse safari
Do you dream of galloping over endless savannahs with herds of zebra and giraffe? Have you always imagined yourself riding alongside the giant tuskers in East Africa or splashy canters in the Okavango Delta? Are you adventurous and keen to sleep out under the stars? Or do you prefer the life of luxury, where you can enjoy a relaxing massage after your morning ride? Knowing what image you have painted in your head makes it easier to turn that dream horse safari into a reality.
Most rides can be classed as either lodge-based or trail-based. The benefit of lodge-based rides is that they can be tailor-made to suit your schedule and they offer a variety of other activities such as game drives and nature walks. Some are fairly simple, while others rival the luxuriousness of the best hotels. Trail-based rides are for the more adventurous, covering more ground and offering a true wilderness experience. Many of these rides offer varied accommodations along the route, from treetop sleepouts to more permanent tented camps. Others offer fly camping in remote wilderness areas or sleeping out on stretchers under the stars.
Who you’re travelling with
Whether you are a solo adventurer or looking for a family holiday, there is a horse safari for everyone. Most trail-based rides have set schedules and are ideal for solo travellers, couples or groups of friends. Sometimes travellers feel like they are penalized for travelling alone, like paying extra or sleeping in substandard rooms. Unlike many holidays, horse safaris are generally pretty flexible, and many are designed with solo travellers in mind.
There is a selection of wonderful family-friendly destinations across the continent, some suiting a mix of riders and non-riders and others for groups of riders of all ages and abilities. Most lodge-based trail rides can easily cater to non-riding spouses, partners, friends, and children. Even some of the riding guests like to have a break from the saddle and take advantage of the wide range of other activities on offer.
Destination and time of year
Africa is a kaleidoscope of different terrains and beautiful landscapes, many of them only accessible on the back of a horse. The movement of wildlife is dictated by rain and some destinations are more seasonal than others. If you have always dreamed of riding with millions of wildebeest on the plains of the Masai Mara, then the best time to travel is between July and October. Likewise, if you dream of cantering through the marshy waters of the Okavango Delta, it is best to travel when the floodwaters are at their highest. The Makgadikgadi Pans transform from dazzling white salt flats to shallow lakes filled with flamingos after the Summer rains so riding in the dry and wet season are very different. If you have your heart set on a specific experience, it is worthwhile mentioning when planning your trip.
There is no bad time for safari. Each season offers a different experience, with the cooler winter months offering the best game viewing and perfect riding weather. The bushveldt can be dull and brown, but incredible wildlife sightings make this a great time for safari. If you can handle the heat of summer, you will be rewarded with dramatic thunderstorms and many new-born animals finding their feet – but you might need a sense of adventure as the rain can cause last minute changes to the itinerary. Spring and Autumn are considered shoulder season, and our personal favourite time of year to travel. These are the transformational months, with vivid changes in the landscape, excellent game viewing and migratory birds that bring a splash of colour.
There is no denying that a safari is expensive and often a once in a life-time experience. It is for this reason that choosing the right horseback adventure is so crucial. It is worthwhile doing some basic research into the costs of safaris and flights so that you can set a realistic budget for yourself. Again, expectations have a big role to play in deciding which ride best for you. If you are seeking adventure above all else, then often the more experiential horse safaris are more affordable. If you want luxury accommodation but have budget constraints, try travelling in the low or shoulder seasons when prices are lower. If you want to splurge, then perhaps extending your safari and spend some extra time exploring different destinations in Africa.
It is worth chatting with us as we know the destinations in and out, and some countries are generally more expensive than others. Much of this has to do with the costs of park fees and conservation levies – but remember, by paying these you have a direct impact on preserving the African wilderness and wildlife. For this reason, East Africa tends to be more expensive than Southern Africa, but if you want that quintessential Lion King scenery, then it might be worth saving up another year.
Chat to a reputable company as they have already chosen the best horse safaris in Africa. They showcase selected rides that combine unrivalled adventure, professional guiding, quality accommodation and horses that are as important as the guests. You also get unbiased comparisons of different rides and personal first-hand advice. Remember, even when you choose one of the more experiential horse safaris, there is absolutely no compromise on the horses, the guiding or the adventure! Africa is highly addictive and exploring it on horseback is an unforgettable experience. Adventure is calling – get lost in the wilderness, not the web.
Working in partnership with African Horse Safaris
Margot Jefferson is the Marketing Executive at African Horse Safaris, an online agency specializing in horse travel across Africa. When Margot is not looking for amazing new rides and keeping the website up to date, you’ll find her exploring the natural wonders of Africa, either on horseback or in her trusty 4×4. Margot grew up in the dusty fishing town of Walvis Bay in Namibia. This is where she fell in love with horses, spending most afternoons riding in the nearby dune belt and swimming bareback in the lagoon. Now living in Cape Town, she enjoys long trail rides through the winelands and gallops along the beautiful beaches when not out on safari.
African Horse Safaris focuses on Africa and offers the largest portfolio of expertly guided and unique horse experiences on the market, hand-picked by our safari specialists. We live and breathe Africa and our riding holidays are exciting, vibrant and unforgettable experiences. We are a small, dynamic company, aiming to get others as addicted to Africa as we are! We have ridden on nearly all our rides and love sharing our personal experiences and adventures across the African continent.