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My first horseback safari in Africa was ten years ago and I was immediately hooked—and I’ve been back six times.
While riding in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, there was the possibility that a lion or elephant could come charging at any moment. Tanzania was all about the Big Five and the great migration. In Kenya, old-world elegance permeated the colonial-style camps we used as pit stops during rides on the edge of the Masai Mara. But my most recent experience, in Namibia, was raw, wild Africa. The safari was not measured by the quality of the lodge or game but by gallops in the blistering heat of a spectacular open desert, where daytime temperatures can exceed 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
Riding safaris are not for everyone: You must be able to gallop quickly out of trouble if charged by a beast and feel comfortable taking on long days in the saddle. But for anyone who loves the outdoors on horseback, there is nothing like it. Here, our pick of five experts who know the best riding regions of Africa like the back of their hand.
Sarah Jane Gullick
With her technical expertise and old-fashioned adventurer’s spirit, Gullick, founder of the Namibia Horse Safari Company, is undoubtedly the best woman in the game. “In Namibia it’s possible to do long, epic rides with an exploratory edge,” she says. “You get back to basics—sleeping under the stars in an ancient land that will bare its soul as you stand in awe of your surroundings.” The rides on her trips can be long, with about six hours in the saddle and sometimes covering 35 miles a day. Gullick uses skirted endurance saddles (similar in style to those adopted by the U.S. War Department in 1859, which has remained standard issue, in various models, for the remaining history of the horse cavalry) and Boerperd horses (which excel at long stretches of endurance riding). Two nights are spent in elegant Wolwedans lodges within the 440,000-acre NamibRand Nature Reserve. The third night is at Kumbis, an unpretentious private farm located in view of the Tiras mountain range. $ Safaris start at $350 a person per night; 264-81/470-3384; namibiahorsesafari.com.
Nowhere is the rush of galloping across open plains more intense than on the Serengeti—especially at the 350,000-acre Singita Grumeti. Owner Paul Tudor-Jones’s wife, Sonia, is a committed equestrian, and it shows in the reserve’s stables (as good as a Kentucky stud farm), equipment (excellent tack, including American saddles) and, not least, riding guide. (There’s even a horse physiotherapist, Ali Mundy, who runs the stables.) UK-born Dodwell leads day rides as well as night safaris using the Singita Explore tented camps. With great wines at night and a good breakfast each morning, the experience is cultivated comfort. $ Safari prices upon request; lodging rates start at $925 a person per night; 255-28/262-2074; singita.com.
The Okavango Delta makes for unbeatable wildlife. Riding here is exciting, but the long grass, especially in March and April, hides big game that can spook a horse, so one needs to be able to stay firmly in the saddle. That said, there’s no greater feeling than splashing through floodplains with zebra (the floodwaters are at their peak from June to August). Sobey, managing director of Macatoo Camp, provides English- or Western-style saddles on the four- to six-hour rides guided by Bongwe Makate, with no more than eight riders per excursion. The camp revamped its eight tents earlier this year; a new Honeymoon Tent has an additional deck for private dining as well as an elevated bathtub for two with a view of the floodplain. $ Safaris start at $650 a person per night; 26-7/686-1523.
Offbeat Safaris’ Voorspuy, 58, has near-mythic status in African safari circles—some call him fearless, others terrifying. For nearly 30 years, the South African-born Brit has led safaris along the Masai Mara National Reserve (riding within its boundaries is forbidden), with gallops on short grass plains in areas where big game is abundant. Tented camps are broken every few days. Set-departure safaris are available for up to 12 guests, but a custom trip is recommended. The horses are Thoroughbred and Thoroughbred cross, and the saddles are English-style, though Australian stock and French cavalry saddles are on hand. Voorspuy and his team also guide in Laikipia and Amboseli, utilizing different camps and stables. April, May and November are too rainy for riding in Kenya. $ Safaris start at $6,000 a person for seven nights; 254-704/909-355; offbeatsafaris.com.
Gerti and Philip Kusseler
Just 62 miles from the border of Kruger National Park, the Kusselers’ camp, Wait a Little, is one of the few places riders can see the Big Five. With the backdrop of the Drakensberg Mountains, safaris cover more than 86,486 acres of prime African veld. The camp, which is limited to only eight guests at a time, isn’t as elegant as, say, Singita, or as movable as some operations in Kenya, but the homemade “trekking saddles”(similar to English versions), reliable access to game and excellent local cuisine make up for it. Gerti, an enthusiastic dressage rider, is often at base; Philip, an experienced naturalist, does most of the guiding. Safaris start at $2,850 a person for five nights; 27-83/273-9788; waitalittle.co.za.
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