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Blog: Exploring South Africa on horseback
One of our South Africa specialists, Jen, recently saddled up for an exciting riding safari taking part in game census week at Ant’s Hill in the malaria-free Waterberg region of South Africa. Read on for more about Jen’s experience and all you need to know about exploring South Africa on horseback…
A couple of months ago I was invited to join the game census week at Ant’s in northern South Africa. I really couldn’t pass up this week of horse riding in Africa and quickly grabbed my riding boots and booked my flight to Johannesburg. The last time I rode on safari was in Kenya’s Laikipia region, so I couldn’t wait to experience what South Africa had to offer first hand!
The Ant Collection comprises two luxury bush homes on a reserve in the Waterberg, an easy three hour drive north of Johannesburg. The lodges are uniquely designed incorporating local materials (stone walls and wooden archways) and brightly furnished with African fabrics. Ant’s Hill, with its stunning views, is easily one of my favourite lodges, especially for families!
Activities on the reserve include open vehicle game drives, nature walks and mountain biking, all accompanied by extremely knowledgeable guides. Kudu, eland, sable, waterbuck, blesbok, giraffe, zebra, warthog, nyala, and impala are frequently spotted, and while enjoying sundowners at Ant and Tessa’s (the owners) home, we got within touching distance of the eight well-protected rhino. But in the absence of lion and elephant, and with almost 90 horses used to grazing with the antelope, it is the riding that makes Ant’s extra special.
Suitable for all levels, the horse rides provide the chance to get closer to the wildlife than is otherwise possible, and for the more experienced riders, there’s plenty of space for good, long canters. The horses are also the ideal resource for the annual game census at Ant’s. For the first two days, the reserve was divided into ‘blocks’ with guests and guides assigned to each. We spent the morning criss-crossing our allocated areas, counting and recording all the wildlife we saw. South Africa on HorsebackThe average of these two counts is then used as an indication of the numbers and types of wildlife on the reserve.
These were quieter days, and we were able to head back to the lodge for lunch, before spending the early afternoon relaxing. On the day of the full moon we took an afternoon ride up to the ‘shack’ for sundowners, before our moonlit ride back to the stables, and then dinner at the lodge. The next four days were what the staff, guests, and even the horses had been looking forward to – the game capture days.
This year the wildlife captured was all for relocation to other reserves: buffalo, giraffe, eland, and sable were all on the list! The general idea is that the riders are set at intervals along the roads and in the bush before the vet darts the unlucky animal (from a helicopter, on horseback, or from a vehicle); the message is passed along that the dart is in, there’s calm for a few minutes, and then when the animal starts running, the riders follow if it crosses their path. It’s important the animal doesn’t get lost in the bush, so things move quickly. Once down, everyone makes a mad dash to the site, the vet does the necessary checks, and as many people as possible help to get the blindfolded animal onto the tarpaulin and into the back of the truck.
The giraffe capture is a whole different story. Because a giraffe’s heart has to be powerful enough to pump blood to its brain, its head needs to be raised extra quickly to stop a sudden rush of blood to the brain. Then its ears are blocked with cotton wool, a blindfold is put over its eyes, ropes are passed around the legs, and the vet reverses the dart. Getting the giraffe onto the trailer is a dangerous few minutes of tug of war on the ropes, dodging thorn trees while braking and guiding the giraffe! After the early morning wake up calls and long hours in the saddle (even if I did sit on a sheepskin most of the week!), the lodges were the perfect place to head home to, and relaxing by the pool in the afternoons was bliss. My week at Ant’s left me hungry for more. I’ll have to take up riding in the UK as a feeble alternative until I can next head out to Africa…!
If you can’t wait to saddle up on a riding safari, here are our other top picks in South Africa:
Horizon Horseback – with over sixty free roaming horses, Horizon can cater to all abilities at affordable prices. Experiences vary from a few days of lodge-based horse riding, to combinations with big five game viewing in Botswana. Check out their video on our webpage.
Tswalu Kalahari Reserve – in the remote Kalahari region of South Africa, Tswalu offers an uber-luxury safari experience unlike any other, with the chance to explore the dunes of the Kalahari on horseback no matter what your riding ability is.
Talk to one of our riding safari specialists on 020 3141 2810, who can tailor-make an itinerary to suit your interests and ability.