Most local South African travellers have safaris near the top of their bucket list, no matter how many times they’ve enjoyed the hospitality of the African bush. For international travellers these wild excursions are the first thing that springs to mind.
While we never tire of our usual outings into the wilderness, South Africa offers a wealth of less common ways to enjoy wildlife experiences. Not least of these is the opportunity to embark on a variety of horseback trails among the wild animals. If you have a good idea of what to do on the back of a horse (or you’d like to find out) equestrian safaris are the cherry on the top when it comes to intimate interactions with game species.
Wild animals are not threatened by horses since they are a prey species themselves, so they tend to ignore them. This allows you to approach much more closely than you would be able to in a noisy vehicle which reeks of diesel fumes.
Horses are the original 4×4 and can easily access areas that vehicles can’t go, allowing for a totally different view and more immersive experience than you’ll have from a safari vehicle.
You’ll find reputable horseback safari operators all over the country too.
Here’s a sample of the epic rides that await.
Go Wild in the Western Cape
While the Western Cape is rightly famous for many attractions and outings as well as
fabulous food and wine, it’s not known for big game experiences. However,
you’ll find a great diversity of private reserves and game parks within the
If you want to go riding among these wild landscapes, Botlierskop Private Nature Reserve should be your first port of call. Sandwiched between George and Mossel Bay, this premier private reserve has the big five in residence as well as lesser-known denizens and over 200 different birds.
Here, you can take your pick from 1,2 or 3-hour rides that traverse the fynbos, woodlands and coastal vegetation. You don’t need to be a Grand Prix or A Grade rider either, all levels of experience are catered for at Botlierskop. More experienced equestrians will enjoy the 3 hour fast-paced version which has the option to enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner as part of the deal.
Best of Both Worlds in St Lucia
If you’ve always wanted to meander along the edge of the ocean on horseback, you’ll get your chance in St Lucia. This World Heritage destination offers the chance to embark on bush or beach rides or a combination of both with Bhangazi Horse Safaris.
Two guides accompany each ride which means that the group can be split according to ability and preferences, with the stronger riders racing on ahead while more placid plodders take up the rear. Thanks to this courtesy, children as young as 6 years old can join in the fun.
The beach rides take around 2 hours and usually includes hippo sightings as well as the chance to see whales out at sea in the springtime. The bush rides take place in Iphiva Game Reserve, close to the centre of town and often yield sightings of plains game, warthog, duiker and bushbuck. With a little luck you could even see a rhino on one of these jaunts.
- The half-day combo ride includes both activities.
Meandering in the Magalieserg
You’ll find Magaliesberg Horse Trails about 45 minutes’ drive from the bustle of Johannesburg and 15km from Hartbeespoort. The outfit offers a wide variety of rides to suit all ages, abilities and interests. Small children will delight in pony rides, while the more adventurous usually choose one of the hour-long safaris instead.
This is a great introduction to horseback safaris since there are no predators present in this reserve. You will get to see blesbok, giraffe, wildebeest and zebra up close though.
An experienced and entertaining guide accompanies all the rides and the horses are all good-natured animals who know their job.
If dealing with wild animals and a strange horse at the same time is a little out of your comfort zone, there are plenty of other options to choose from all around the country. The Drakensberg, KZN Midlands and the Eastern Cape all have well-established equestrian trails to try out.
Once you’ve worked up the courage to try out a horseback safari, all you need to do is book your cheap domestic flights, saddle up and ride off into the wilderness.