Lockdown life for safari horses

May 29th 2020  |   Botswana, Kenya, Riding Safaris, South Africa, Tanzania  |  by   Alice Gully
Lockdown life for safari horses

“One can get in a car and see what man has made. One must get on a horse to see what God has made.”

Riding safaris are among the most popular holidays we plan so we were wondering what our loyal safari steeds are up to during this worldwide pandemic. We’ve been in touch with our friends in Africa and found out that unlike most of the world, life for them (and riding safari guides) is pretty much business as normal….aside from the obvious lack of guests. Most riding safari staff are still in employment, simply because the horses need to be looked after and kept fit. As little has changed for them, we believe that they’ll be one of the first to get back into full swing once we can all travel again. And what could be better than a riding safari – it’s socially distant for sure, plenty of fresh air and rarely another soul in sight. It’s certainly right at the top of our list.

African Horseback Safaris
If you can class wild dogs, leopards and lions as guests then life at Macatoo has hardly changed over the last few months, says Katie Hodges at African Horseback Safaris in the Okavango Delta.  “With 50 horses on site we have plenty of work to keep all of our staff busy, along with all those little jobs that there never seems to be quite time for. Some of the older horses are having a well earned rest – as we are usually open year round, we don’t often have the chance to give them an extended holiday.  Our new horses and those who need a bit of schooling, or are best not given too much of a break, are being kept in work.

We are riding out most mornings, and it has been so exciting to watch the Okavango Delta flood this year after having such a dry year last year. The new horses are all from Zimbabwe and have definitely never been expected to just walk into water and keep going until you’re swimming! Most of them have taken to it like ducks to water, but JC still has to have a little think before he gets his hooves damp. The wildlife is thoroughly enjoying the new waters; hippos calling all night and lechwe are back on the floodplain in front of camp. The wild dogs were in camp this morning. Just outside the kitchen they failed in their attempt to catch an impala for breakfast, but a few weeks ago they did manage a kudu in front of tent 4.

Our kitchen staff are having some fun trying out new recipes, once you’re all back in camp it’ll be great to share them with you. With the flood the fish have come back and we’ve been able to take the boat out and spend a few hours catching down by the bridge, Bernie and Mod were particularly successful, bringing home some catfish and I’ve been very brave trying it cooked traditionally for the first time – you just have to watch out for the bones. Can’t wait to have human guests back in camp soon, fabulous horses and magical Macatoo sunsets are ready and waiting for you.”

New recruit Seabiscuit meeting wild dog for the first time

Namibia Horse Safari Company
Andrew Gillies, co-owner and head guide of Namibia Horse Safaris, is in the midst of organising a ‘local is lekker’ safari through Damaraland. This will be a great opportunity for local Namibians to join Andrew and his fantastic crew, keeping the horses fit and accustomed to being out on safari. Andrew and the NHSC team have also been moving their string of 90 odd horses from their huge paddock back to the farm. This had to be done using a helicopter as the paddock is so big, and was rather waterlogged, that the team needed aerial help to find them. In addition to this ‘mass migration’, they’ve been bringing on youngsters to get them safari ready, which is no mean feat.

Crossing Namibia’s wide open wilderness with Namibia Horse Safaris

Sosian Ranch
Charlotte Outram of Sosian Ranch in Kenya writes, “despite no guests, we have been keeping busy with the horses. There is always plenty of schooling on the flat and over jumps, but mainly we have been able to concentrate on our youngsters, who are now backed and ready to learn more about riding with wildlife in the bush. Introducing them to giraffe, elephant and buffalo are the main challenges but the key is to have a well behaved and experienced older horse with you. The young horses learn how to react from the older ones and are reassured by the calmness of the more experienced horses. With our two young boys at home we’re also doing lots with the children’s ponies to make them as ‘bombproof’ as possible so they will take all adventures in their stride.”

Children’s ponies at Sosian Ranch

Kaskazi Horse Safaris
Jo Westermark of Kaskazi Horse Safaris in Tanzania says, “life goes on here at Kaskazi’s family; the horses are enjoying their well-deserved rest after a successful season in the Serengeti. They worked incredibly hard and now have plenty of time to gather strength and enthusiasm for whenever our next season will start. We are working with our youngsters and have two exciting colts for the future. The horse crew are working hard and, in return getting extra time off, are still in employment and able to look after their families. It’s also been an opportunity to go through all the containers, stable yard and tack room to make sure everything is neat and tidy, polished and ready for the next adventure.”

Elephant and riding safari guide Joanna Westermark Kaskazi Horse Safaris Tanzania

Elephant and riding safari guide, Joanna Westermark, Kaskazi Horse Safaris

Safaris Unlimited
Gordie Church of Safaris Unlimited in Kenya says, “it’s important to mention that we are all keeping ranger boots on the ground to prevent a spike in poaching, and that we are continuing our support of the local Masai communities who own and live in the magical conservancies we use. We are also preparing for a lightweight expedition to explore new country with sleeping under the stars gear. We’ve had a big clear out, built some new jumps (to teach the children, Tyga and Thego) and have spent evenings playing football in the bush with the grooms and camp crew.”

Crossing the Masai Mara with Uncharted Safaris

Okavango Horse Safaris
Barney Bestelink from Okavango Horse Safaris says, “although we’ve no guests, we have 60 horses to look after plus 40 staff so this, and the maintenance of the camps, keeps us busy enough.

The floods arrived early and came in very fast, transforming the Delta to its watery splendour.  Boats are back in the water and access to the camp becomes more of a challenge. Our barge ‘Noah’ is ferrying vehicles onto the camp island and mokoros (traditional dug out canoes) are herding the horses.

We are exercising the safari horses daily and training our young horses who are coming of age.  Hodor, Wildling and Oathkeeper are all inexperienced and this is a great time to bring them on.

Camp is never dull.  A pack of wild dog has denned 3 km away and are regularly seen, often storming camp after impala or lechwe. Side striped jackal have taken up residence close to the staff football field and we see them almost every morning – last count six popped out of the grass all in the same place. We have a lovely group of giraffe who drift around close to camp, sadly their very young baby was taken by lion last night. Lions did very well last year in the drought and we have several prides all in the same area who are jockeying for position – so much roaring and  patrolling as a number of big males try to move in.

We have enjoyed watching the flood waters move into new areas and everything transforms. For the first time we have a giant kingfisher fisher in camp and we’ve also seen malachite kingfishers, painted snipe, pygmy geese, yellow bill duck and large flocks of spurring geese.”

Riding with giraffe at Okavango Horseback Safaris

Horizon Horseback
Laura Dowinton runs Horizon Horseback which has operations in both South Africa and Botswana.  Horizon Horseback South Africa, she says, “is carrying on as normal as we still have two guests in camp.  They have become film stars as we are using the time to get new shots and footage and as our only guests they are in every shot!

In Botswana (Horizon Horseback Mashatu) we bought six new horses just before lock down so a couple of them are being schooled and getting fit ready for safaris.  The back-up guides are having jumping lessons the cycling guides are getting horse riding lessons.  The rest of the horses are on a proper holiday on a farm about 450kms away.  They have three staff checking them daily but other than that are having a full mental and physical holiday which will do them so much good.”

Riding amid the wildlife with Horizon Horseback Safaris

Wait A Little Horse Safaris
The team at Wait A Little Horse Safaris have been busy keeping the farm running; they’re making sure the horses stay fit, trained and fed so they’re ready for hard work when the time comes. Two of their volunteers are still in camp, working hard on an Instagram blog and some virtual riding safaris which can be viewed on the link below. Do take a few minutes to have a look, they give a wonderful illustration of what it’s like to join one of these great adventures.

Ant’s Nest and Ant’s Hill
At Ant’s Reserve in South Africa, where one of the most exciting activities is encountering white rhino on horseback, the team quickly realised that the lockdown would make them a particularly soft target for poachers. In just 48 hours, reports emerged of seven rhinos being poached in two different South African reserves, so lodge owner Ant Baber and his staff are on high alert. Many of the rangers that form part of the 24 hour guard on the Ant’s Reserve chose to spend lockdown at Ant’s, and the team is doubling up on the security by using the horses to make anti-poaching patrols, keeping them fit and healthy at the same time. They are even, when moonlight allows, heading out on night patrols on horseback.

Ant's Nest riding safari

Incredible wildlife viewing at Ant’s Nest

Offbeat Riding Safaris
“April and May is a quiet time for our riding safaris in the Mara,” says Cindy Voorspuy, “but this year is eerily quieter than usual.  We would normally be getting the safari horses fit and ready to begin what was promising to be a busy season.  Instead, most of our string is enjoying a rather unexpected extended holiday and the lush green grass that the rain has brought.

Megan has started gently breaking in seven of our three year olds and Tweedy, Pegasus, Dillan, Gilly, Malachite, Gandalf and Taita have all been backed and successfully  ridden away thanks to her patient handling and expertise.  They did about three weeks of work with hardly a buck or bronco before going back out to the holiday paddock to finish growing.

Our polo ponies are now exercising every day, to get rid of their grass bellies and muscle up so that they are fighting fit and ready for when the polo season begins.

It is also our breeding season and we had a lovely strong chestnut filly a few days ago.  We’re expecting another five mares to foal down in the next few months.

We have brought a few of the eventing/safari horses back into work.  All the recent rain has made schooling and exercising quite challenging, but they are coming along beautifully with lots of fun pole work exercises and some dressage schooling.  We are upgrading the cross country course so we can have some fun jumping again when the fields dry out.

Over the next few weeks we will bring in some of the younger safari horses.  Some will have done just one safari or started carrying guests for the first time last season.  They’ve had a good holiday and will be ready for some schooling and fine tuning.  They are a very promising bunch and hopefully with a few weeks they will be little dreams to ride again. We can’t wait to get them and everyone back out on safari.

In the meantime it is business as usual at Deloraine and the staff are all keeping busy, fit and healthy.  We are all upbeat but counting the days until we can get Offbeat back on track and planning for our safaris to take off into the bush again as soon as we can!”

horseback safaris riding with elephants with Offbeat Safaris, Kenya

Riding across the Masai Mara with Offbeat Riding Safaris

Borana Lodge Riding Safaris
Nicky Dyer at Borana says, “April and May should have been busy months – the wildlife was abundant, the grass green and the horses fit and well. It turned out to be both very quiet and incredibly wet so we made the decision to give our horses a holiday. We took off their shoes and let them frolic in the long green grass around the headquarters where they rolled in the mud and generally had fun.

We have kept eight horses in work, to be used by the conservancy for finding the odd rhino that had not been spotted for a few days, after all life on the conservancy carries on as usual.

Next week, feeling optimistic, we are going to shoe them all once more and start on a gentle fitness regime in preparation for future bookings.”

Fabulous scenery in the Borana Conservancy

What next?

If this has inspired you to dream about future safaris, please do get in touch – we would be delighted to chat, no matter how early in the decision making process you might be. Email is probably the best way to contact us right now and we’ll respond as quickly as we can – usually on the same day.  We very much look forward to talking to you.

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