Jess chats to Gerti Kusseler, co-owner of Wait a Little Riding Safaris, South Africa
Jess has recently returned from a South African riding safari with Wait a Little, who run superb rides in Big Five wildlife areas adjacent to the Kruger National Reserve. She and co-owner Gerti Kusseler had a chat one evening over a sundowner.
How do you choose the horses?
We’ve got a mix of Boerpeds, Shire crosses and Friesian crosses. I wouldn’t really put Thoroughbreds in there any more – we have one left but they tend to struggle too much with the terrain. On the rocks and hard ground I just find the crosses are much tougher. Everything that’s pure, like the Warmbloods, struggles too much.
What kind of attitude does a safari horse need to have?
This is difficult to answer. The best safari horse, of course, is the one that is brave, strong and healthy, with a good work ethic and not too strong. It’s important that the horse is not too skittish and is trainable towards the basic aids. Some are born lead horses, others are not so brave, but fine within the group. I had one horse I had to sell as it never got used to giraffe, another one, a Friesian mare was so stubborn I didn’t trust her that she wouldn’t run off in front of a lion. Mares are difficult if you keep the horses as a herd, so we do not have mares anymore (only one left and she behaves like a gelding).
What are the main problems you experience with the horses?
African horse sickness is a big issue and we’ve lost numerous horses to it. It tends to be young horse problem – we vaccinate them once a year and generally after the third vaccination they’re not susceptible. We’ve lost two horses to thorns in the joints.
Care for the horses is immaculate, is there anything particular you do?
We wash down after every ride. It’s very good for them and reduces risk of sweet itch and mites. We also use a little bit of anti-fungal shampoo over their backs, and leave that for a while before washing them off.
We occasionally have horses with saddle sores – it’s something I’ve been fighting my whole life. Even with new pads and new saddles you still have the odd horse, we have three at the moment, with poor conformation and it’s hard to find saddles to fit as well as we would like. I’ve had saddles made for them, but we still struggle.
What are the main things your guests need to know?
People need to be experienced riders and be aware that they will be in the saddle every day. They should also know there are insects in Africa! Packing a change of clothes in your hand luggage is essential; just jodhpurs, a pair of socks, fresh underwear and the boots you want to ride in. We have shirts and helmets, but it’s really important to have the rest. Borrowing is not ideal.
What sort of jodhpurs and boots do you recommend?
Cotton jodhpurs are best for the heat, but they’re all much of a muchness really. I’d definitely advise boots and chaps over long boots. You can take chaps off when you get off the horse and they’re easier to carry on flights.
How do you choose staff?
If we need a new member of staff we employ through recommendations from our current team.
Clare is our stable manager and has been working with us since 2008. She is responsible for all the horses as well as managing the three volunteers who are always at Wait a Little. Inno also started in 2008 and was our first groom. Mathews joined in 2015 and travels with me to shows (Gerti competes two dressage horses in South Africa). Isaac also helps with the horses. Inno, Mathews and Isaac learnt on the job and are all very smart. I have not actually employed new staff in the stables for a very long time.
Philip mentioned that it has taken years to establish the way he approaches wildlife on horseback. Could you expand a little more on how this has changed from when you started to now?
We had no idea when we started how the horses would react to wildlife and vice versa. So we did that very slowly and only when we realised the horse is bomb proof and will stay in front of anything did we dare to go a little closer. We also only approached certain animals like elephants and lions in the beginning privately, with another experienced guide/ranger, so not with clients. It took us years to physically look for lions. In the beginning we tried to avoid them and if we bumped into them we would get off the horses. After a little while they got more curious and Philip started to chase them away with the bullwhip, which we then found to be the best tool in case animals get too close.
How do you think the terrain you ride in affects the way you approach the wildlife.
Well if you look at the open plains of the Serengeti or the Masai Mara, you can just gallop away if you get into difficulty. We simply can’t do that here. Firstly the bush is far too thick, secondly we’re already close to the animal the moment we see it. That’s the reason we can only accommodate experienced riders who appreciate the excitement of getting close to the wildlife on horseback.
What has been your favourite moment from your years of riding with wildlife?
Honestly Jess, I have no idea, there are sooooo many. May be wild dog pups running in-between the horses’ legs or when we found a pangolin. But I could also talk about the first time we saw a black rhino from horseback or when we saw the elephants in a pool in the river, which looked like a hidden paradise, playing and bathing in the evening sun.
Any questions on riding safaris?
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We would be delighted to help you plan a holiday, whether to Kruger, Phinda or the furthest reaches of South Africa. 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 someone who has been there and done it, please just send us an email or give us a call.