What Makes the Perfect Safari Horse

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Not to boast, but I’ve ridden a lot of safari horses in my Globetrotting career. Definition: safari horses are the horses that are ridden by guests on the horse riding holidays we offer. I’ve ridden a range of breeds including South African Boerpeds, warmbloods, polo ponies, Thoroughbreds, Mangalargas, Somalian bred and Mongol horses – the breed depends on the country I’m riding in. Thanks to Globetrotting I’m constantly riding new horses either on our guided rides or when road testing new rides. At home I’m always riding the same three horses – Harusi, Jinx and Tilly, my polo mares. It goes without saying that I’m familiar with their idiosyncrasies and nuances, their strengths and weaknesses.

It’s a huge undertaking to jump on a new horse and build a relationship in such a short amount of time – equine speed dating – so to speak. And that’s what I’m asking my clients to do when they sign up for one of globetrotting’s horse riding safaris or holidays. So, I can understand that one of the most common questions I get asked at trade shows is ‘can I bring my own horse?’ As everyone believes their horse is the ducks nuts as they know them inside out and can trust them. But even so: you wouldn’t want to take your eventer or Sunday-riding horse to Africa and show them a herd of giraffe for the first time. The safari horses found on our riding destinations are born and bred into the environment and therefore are familiar with the sights, sounds, smells and terrain.

It’s a common concern for globetrotters to be nervous about riding different horses but think of it this way: it’s a great chance to improve your riding skills by familiarising yourself with a different horse and its quirks. Have you heard the saying ‘your only as good a rider as the number of horses you’ve ridden?’

More often than not you’ll fall in love with your safari horse and want to take them home with you! Trust me, I’ve ridden some of the best horses of my lifetime on Globetrotting safaris.

For me an ideal safari horse has the following traits:

Respectful on the ground. Not pushy, ties up well, feet can be picked up easily. Not girth shy, leads well.

A fast paced walker. Some riding itineraries that we offer (think Namib Desert ride) there are oodles of hours in the saddle and the majority at a walk. There is nothing worse when you’re constantly reminding your mount to walk faster. It’s exhausting to say the least. A good safari horse has a lovely fast paced walk.

With horses and their herd mentality it’s a lot to ask a horse to walk away from their mates. But for me its paramount. I want to be able to stop, take a photo without the horse jig-jogging on the spot. If I drop something, I want to be able to stop pick it up (without alerting the entire group), and mount by myself without the horse spinning around in circles, eager to join the rest of the herd.

Some horses are natural leaders; I love a safari horse that is happy to walk out in front without spooking at suspicious looking rocks!

In saying that, you want your safari horse to be able to hang at the back of the riding group without prancing and dancing as if he’s going to be left behind.

A soft mouth. This is hard; you’ve got to take your hat off to the safari horse and their trainers. They have A LOT of new riders on their back throughout their safari season and can easily pick up bad habits. Ideally your safari horse is in a snaffle and can canter on a loose rein. Again, some of the rides require long hours in the saddle and a lot cantering. You don’t want to be fighting your horse to slow down at every canter.

Vain as it may sound, you want to feel good astride your horse. And that happens when your horse holds himself well, ears pricked, forward moving, alert but not skittish, confident.

I love a safari horse that can jump well. I LOVE to cross-country jump and on some of our rides (Masai Mara, Estancia Adelaida) you have plenty opportunities to leap over fallen logs – if you want! There is nothing better when your horse and you can share a love for jumping and your confident that your mount will not only jump but jump well.

This is a personal like; I love a pocket rocket safari horse. Nothing bigger than 15.2hh and has a bit of spark about it. Turns on a dime, cracking speed and well mannered.

These are the traits that I look for in the safari horses that are offered to my guests. When I road test a new ride I’ll ask to ride a range of horses earmarked for beginners to advanced riders to make sure they fit our bucket list.

And with all of the rides that we offer there is always an introductory ride, where you’ll be teamed with your mount according to your ability. The ride is generally a morning or afternoon ride and if you’re not happy with your horse, whether it’s too much for you or too dull, you have the option to change. Keep in mind, it’s hard to base your judgment on one ride, and depending if the ride is camp based, there are only a certain amount of horses available to change.

Here are some of the horses that have given me incredibly special memories and have kept me safe from start to finish:

samurai

Oh Samurai, how I loved you so! Samurai was the safari horse that took me across the Namib Desert: ten days of arduous, tobacco-hot endurance riding. He did it with grace and perfection. And when we arrived at our final destination, the Skeleton Coast, we won the bareback race on the beach!

vodka

Introducing Vodka, the epitome of a pocket-rocket horse and man could he jump! Vodka and I became acquaintances in the depths of Patagonia in Chile at Estancia Adelaida. Would love to have this gelding in my string of polo ponies back home.

missy

Missy, a unassuming bay mare who came to life when you got on her back. I later found out that she died of a snake bite in the paddock. She was the perfect ‘Man from Snowy River‘ horse that took me across some 60 river crossings with style and class.

peba

Peba was my beach mount when I was road testing the Bahia Beach ride in Brazil. A jet black gelding that had one of the most comfortable canters I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. A highlight was cantering at night through a windswept paddock surrounded by sparkling fire flies.

johnny-walker

Normally reserved as a guide’s horse, I had the fortunate experience of riding Johnny Walker on our last guided group ride in the Masai Mara, Kenya. A strapping, chestnut gelding who has notched up a number of safaris in his time, he was an absolute gentleman to ride. Walk – could he walk – and fast. Jump, how high? Need I say any more.

dubaLast but certainly not least, Duba. Unfortunately this photo doesn’t do him justice. First time I had ever ridden a warmblood and he certainly didn’t disappoint. We trotted and cantered through the water meadows of the Okavango Delta. We peered at herds of buffalo (as above), snuck up on elephants and watched out for lion. A generous, big-hearted safari horse. I was told that a regular guest to the Okavango Delta ride ended up buying Duba, because she loved him so much!

I’m curious to know, have you fallen in love with a safari horse? What traits do you look for in a holiday riding horse?

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