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Have you ever wondered just how incredible it would be to volunteer at an African safari stable? Check out Marie’s recount as she walks us through what a typical week of a working holiday in South Africa was like.

Taking the decision to travel alone 5000km away from home for a month is never easy. Except in this case with the thought of an African Horse Safari. At first, I was concerned about how to organize such a big trip, but I felt supported throughout the whole process and everything from booking to packing went very smoothly. Karien was helpful and she assisted me in rescheduling my arrival date because of Covid restrictions. At last I was able to fly to South Africa, bursting with excitement. After the first flight to Johannesburg and a short one to Hoedspruit, I was welcomed at the airport by an awesome Dutch girl, Daphne. I was wondering for weeks what would be waiting for me in this small town in the middle of the South African bush, and the answer was way beyond my expectations! Our camp was in the middle of a private game reserve, surrounded by plenty of wild animals and home of the Big 5 (that we were able to spot multiple times during my stay). We were housed in small rondavels that could fit two people, and the camp itself was secure and truly beautiful with a nice swimming pool, enjoyable during hot days.

See more about this incredible equestrian volunteer programme in South Africa

A collage of images from a South African horse safari

Want to book your own volunteering experience in Africa? Get in touch with one of our team!

Most of my adventure took place in a wonderful stable with incredible horses, African Dream, run by three amazing people: Traci, Shannon and Ryan. Everything was tidy and clean and the horses were so well cared for –  it was obvious their well-being is at the centre of every decision. From the beginning, I immediately felt at home, and that’s when the African dream really started – Less than 2 hours after landing, I was on a horse, surrounded by giraffes and zebras!

Every day is different and so is every experience – it all depends on the group’s expectations, the horses, the wildlife, the weather and what exciting activities are available. So even if there is no typical week at ADHS, let me tell you what a week as a volunteer could look like:

Monday: Mondays were usually dedicated to flatwork with the horses. Even though the program is perfectly suitable for every riding level, as an experienced rider, I couldn’t tell how much fun I had with these horses. They all have their own temper, but they all are perfectly trained, safe to ride, and for sure you will end up having a crush on one of them. My crush in the arena was Valentine, a beautiful grey mare that doesn’t really enjoy other horses, but which has amazing jumping abilities and a big heart. We were offered the choice to ride between one and four horses before lunch. In the afternoon, we had the opportunity to go on a Game drive with Daphne, with the possibility to see a lot of animals, from impalas to hippos and of course the Big 5: lions, buffalos, elephants, rhinos and leopards.

Tuesday: Tuesdays were exciting as it was time for a good jumping lesson, which was always a real pleasure as Traci is the best teacher I have ever met in the 20 years I have been riding. She knows how to make you comfortable and encourage you. I was there with other amazing volunteers, some of them were good riders and some were beginners, and we all had a lot of fun. I jumped with Valentine and Carl, a huge grey gelding that gave me amazing jumping sensations. Tuesday afternoons were also time for stable work, like replacing the halters, cleaning the tack or changing the sawdust. Honestly, I was expecting way more hard work, but thanks to the amazing grooms working for ADHS, our work as volunteers was mostly about riding and grooming the horses from time to time. Occasionally they will need your help to unload and store the hay, but it was a nice team effort.

Wednesday: This day was usually not about riding, it was an excursion day! We were offered the choice between multiple amazing activities (at an extra cost), from the Blyde Canyon day trip (a must-see, wonderful scenery) and ziplining, to a guided tour in the world-famous Kruger Park. Every excursion was blowing my mind. The last one was particularly breath-taking: an elephant interaction. This interaction takes place at the Hoedspruit Elephant Rehabilitation and Development centre, with the Jabulani herd. This is a respectful way to interact with orphans and rescued elephants. We were able to give them food by hand and touch these wonderful animals. I could not describe how amazing this experience was, I felt truly blessed to have this opportunity.

A photo collage of a bucket list South African horse safari

Thursday: Thursdays were dedicated to the outreach project of Shannon, consisting of helping local communities with their animals, especially dogs. We got to help inform the people of small villages around Hoedspruit about animal care, diseases, and the importance of sterilizing their pets. We brought them food, bedding, and medications to improve the life of neglected dogs and puppies. Facing the reality of this other side of South Africa was important to me, and moreover being able to act through this charity and make a difference. I really loved Shannon’s motto, “Helping one dog will not change the world but it will change the world of that one dog”. To raise funds, we made cakes and organized a cake sale at a local supermarket to buy food, and medications and pay for the dog’s sterilizations. We faced difficult human and animal encounters, but I enjoyed seeing the results of what we had done from one week to another.

Friday: At ADHS, this day of the week is called Friday Fun Day! For example, Traci organized games where we rode bareback and made a few jumps. We also practised barrel racing, it was the first time for me, I really had a lot of fun. You could see that the horses were enjoying it as much as the riders. We were also able to go on outrides regularly in the Hoedspruit Wildlife Estate where the stable is, and ride alongside plains game like kudus, waterbucks, impalas, zebras and giraffes. My favourite outride horse was Brady, a lovely chestnut mare that is really confident and forward for trail rides. I was amazed at how close you can get to these wild animals while on a horse, neither the horses nor the wildlife seemed scared. We got some pretty good shots! On Fridays afternoons we would go on another game drive in the reserve and afterwards we would do a braai, a typical South African barbecue.

Saturday: Saturdays were usually busy with a ride and sometimes a half-day excursion. One Saturday,  we went to Mango Mania, a mango-themed event where we picked our own mangos. On another day we climbed to a beautiful waterfall near the Blyde Canyon, the Swadini Waterfall, which was a truly amazing spot. Sometimes we would pack lunch or dinner and eat at a viewpoint in the reserve, trying to spot an elephant from afar. My favourite was when we went for sundownera: the sun coming down behind the mountains in the savanna is an image that will stay in my brain forever, along with the memories of when we ended up stargazing on the deck at the camp with the girls.

Sunday: Time to relax and have some free time to catch up with friends and family, or simply enjoy the sun and the pool at the camp. Time goes really fast during the week so having a day to slow down is really appreciable, especially since the camp is really well furnished and is in the middle of the reserve, so you could spot some elephants close to the fence or some lions at the deck (surprises often come during the night).

Want to book your own volunteering experience in Africa? Get in touch with one of our team!

An unforgettable South African horse safari

In summary, I could not recommend this experience enough, so if you are looking for a volunteering program with horses, wildlife and adventure don’t hesitate: African Dream Horse Safari is the dream place!

Marie Tautou
Equestrian Volunteer in South Africa

Marie is a French Scientist living in Lille, France. She has been riding for 20 years now and loves show jumping. She enjoys going on new adventures abroad and has done multiple road trips around the world, the last one being in Australia. She has discovered riding holidays during a working holiday in Portugal, but her new favourite destination is definitely South Africa; until her next equestrian adventure!

A dream African horse safari  Photos from a month volunteering in South Africa