Hosted riding safari in Kenya’s Masai Mara
If you’re interested in a riding safari you’ll enjoy Alice’s report of her recent ride across the Masai Mara with Gordie Church of Safaris Unlimited. The group of eight was co-hosted by Alice which meant that every little detail was looked after from check-in to making sure everyone had a cold drink at the end of the day. It’s the second hosted riding safari she’s run and there more in the pipeline so do get in touch with Alice if you would like further details.
Safaris Unlimited was started by Tony Church in 1971 and is now run by his son Gordie who has been leading safaris since he was 18. Together with his wife Felicia (and two small children) they host fabulous riding safaris across Kenya’s wilderness. To ride with them has been on my hit list for a long time so after interest from clients on a previous hosted safari, this trip was arranged for October 2018. I wasn’t disappointed. Gordie is the ultimate gent, a superb guide and he and his team run an exceptionally slick outfit.
We had 13 from their stable of 30 with us, mostly Thoroughbred crosses between 14.2 and 16.2. They were all good – nothing nuts or half dead – didn’t pull too much and most had a good jump. The riding is very chilled, no one got saddle sore, it’s all about viewing African wildlife safely.
Each camp was identical in set up, just different in location. The spacious tents are comfortable with cot beds, a proper chest, hanging space, and solar powered torches. Just outside is a double basin sunk into a wooden table and a big mirror. Felicia’s influence is in evidence here with fresh flowers on the wash table, dressing gowns and magazines in the tents – in fact all the trimmings you could want. It was extremely comfortable. There are about 20 housekeeping staff on each ride and they run like a well-oiled machine – with huge smiles and an infectious sense of humour.
Food and drink
For six days we lived off a solar powered fridge and ate like kings. Not just in camp but at picnics and sundowners, where the canapés were particularly fabulous. The food was light and fresh and wonderfully varied. Some of the absolute highlights were marked by food and drink stops – I shall forever more associate Bloody Marys with being stalked by playful lion cubs. (We’d just set off after a break when we came across a pride with some very playful cubs which tried to stalk us, much to the disdain of their elders).
We started at a campsite on the bend in the Mara River a short distance from Mara north airstrip. The wildlife is incredible here including elephant, hyena, lion, hippo, crocodile and masses of birds. It was a pretty awesome introduction, especially to those who hadn’t been on a safari holiday before. Even I’d forgotten quite how good the Masai Mara is.
Our first full day riding – about seven hours in the saddle – included two river crossings, watching 23 hyena, lion and plenty of plains wildlife. After a very wet afternoon it was wonderful to arrive at the second site, high up on an escarpment overlooking the Mara plains below. It’s the area where Out of Africa was filmed and the view is out of this world. Watching the sunrise the following morning, with the migration dotted on the plains below like a giant oil slick, was an extraordinary moment.
We spent a rest day here doing game drives as all the kit and saddles were so wet from the previous day. These two game drives were among the best in my 20 years travelling to Africa. We saw a river crossing, lion stalk wildebeest, huge numbers of birds (including martial eagles, my favourite), eland and buffalo.
The ride to our last campsite was another long day in the saddle but punctuated by a couple of river crossings, meeting some local Masai herders and plenty more wildlife. Riding out from camp the following morning we had a wonderful cheetah sighting. The evening sundowner saw a hyena amble past us on its way to investigate a lion chewing on a gazelle (which we hadn’t noticed) a few metres away. As you do while you are trying to finish your G&T!
As mentioned already this was amazing and I didn’t feel that we missed out by riding rather than being in a vehicle. The fact that you can do both meant we got to see absolutely the best of what the Mara has to offer. Gordie’s wealth of experience meant we were always downwind of anything interesting and had incredibly close sightings where possible.
This is one of the best riding holidays I have done, and also the most chilled. It’s mainly walking – partly for safety but also for getting close to the wildlife. That said we had some good canters, three or four a day, and one good gallop with some giraffe and wildebeest. We were all riding fit but I think you could get away with it if you weren’t. As ever with riding, the horses will spook now and again so you need to be balanced and there were one or two moments where you needed to be confident of what you were doing. There was some (optional) jumping every day which was great fun.
In my group everyone rode well, but Gordie commented that this was the first group he had had where everyone rode all the time. They are super flexible and even non-riders are looked after very well on a riding safari. Having taken a group I would really recommend this for private groups of four or more. It was utterly fabulous.
Any questions on a hosted riding safari in Africa?
If you’ve got this far and not found an answer to a question you have that we should have included, please ask in the comments section below, or pop us an email. We’ll be sure to reply and may amend the article to include our answer.
We would be delighted to help you plan a holiday, or answer any questions if you’re at an earlier stage. Our team of experts have travelled widely throughout Africa. They can offer expert advice on every type of safari from family and beach holidays to riding and primate safaris. If you would like to talk to Alice who has been there and done it, please just send us an email or give us a call.