We keep telling you that horse riding in Africa is addictive but don’t take our word for it. Rianne recently got back from an incredible solo equestrian adventure in the Tuli; here is what she had to say about her experience.
Was riding on the Tuli trail everything you imagined it would be?
I absolutely loved my time in Mashatu, Botswana, with the best people, horses and food. I felt so sad when I had to leave. It was everything (and even more) than I ever imagined. I can barely express it in words because it’s an experience you need to have for yourself. I saw more animals than I hoped for, met some lovely people from all over the world to stay in touch with, had the best and knowledgeable guides ever, the food was so good that you might gain weight if you stay there for too long, the camps are unique and not to forget the horses: so brave, kind, well trained, looked after incredibly well and so fun to ride! I tried to come to Africa with a very open mind and with very few expectations. I think that’s the best way because then everything is even more amazing once you get there. You also feel so grateful for everything you get to experience along the way. Read Part 2 here – Top 7 moments from horseback.
How did you feel about travelling with Corona still being prevalent?
Travelling with Corona still being around requires a bit of extra work and a touch of bravery (or madness). But it never made me think twice about travelling. Going to Africa has been my dream, and it was a huge bummer that I couldn’t go last year due to Corona. The fact that I was able to go this year made it even more special. I couldn’t wait to go and was so excited! Doing multiple PCR tests and all the extra paperwork is definitely worth it. Even if it required even more paperwork or more tests, I’d still do it! I almost got declined by the airline due to some confusion, but it was soon solved with help from Margot & Isabel (Thanks guys!)
I felt so welcome in Africa, and everyone may have treated me a little extra special because they are so thankful that tourists are making all the extra effort to get there. It’s just amazing! The experience I had almost can’t be put into words because it was so unique. The people, the places, the horses, the other guests, the animals we saw, the things we did – you have to experience it yourself. But trust me when I say it’s absolutely worth everything. Even if I had to do 10 PCR tests (and we all know those are not fun!) From me to you: don’t hesitate to go, just do it! You’ll have an outstanding experience and the people there appreciate it so much. So, what are you waiting for?
What did your friends/family say about you heading off to unknown Africa solo?
Before Corona, my family was very excited for me and perhaps a little nervous. They knew that once I arrived in Africa, I would be safe and travelling with a group. Since Corona, my parents were a little more anxious about it because of all the unknowns. And with the riots that made it in the media, they needed to know that I would be safe. AHS was always there to assure us and gave my parents all the contact information to talk to the Horizon team themselves. That made them feel better, even if they still had doubts. They still respected my (adult) decision to go (even with Corona) and were excited that my dream would finally come true. They also knew that whatever they were going to say, it wouldn’t hold me back. My mom even helped me make sure I had everything, such as printouts of all the PCR tests and forms. We agreed that we would text as soon as I arrived safely in the hotel and the next day when I was on my way to Horizon. It was great that we could be in contact, and they knew I was safe. Once I got back, they were so jealous that I got to see all the animals and had such a blast!
How did you hear about African Horse Safaris?
In 2019 Matt & Jesse went on the Tuli ride with Isabel from AHS, and as a horse fan, I followed them on Instagram and YouTube. I saw their journey and decided to follow African Horse Safari’s on Instagram because it looked so incredible! I already made my mind up that this was what I want to when I go to Africa. I just fell in love with all their posts about seeing wildlife while on horseback. After that, African Horse Safaris had a competition, which, of course, I entered. I didn’t win but got a discount code just for entering. That’s when I decided it was time to book my adventure! I got in contact with Isabel to figure out what ride I wanted to do and when. After that, it was a done deal, and now I’m completely addicted to Africa, thanks to the AHS team.
How did you choose this specific ride?
After finding AHS, I got in contact with Isabel. I had already been on the website and had some ideas in mind. I mainly wanted to focus on wildlife, as this was my first safari. I already knew the Tuli ride thanks to Matt & Jesse, but I also saw some great rides in South Africa. I chatted with Isabel over the phone about my expectations, what I had seen on the website and of course my budget. With all that, we quite quickly concluded that the Tuli ride would tick all my boxes. Lots of wildlife, fantastic riding, beautiful camps, an authentic African experience and within my means.
And if it hadn’t been for Corona, I wouldn’t have experienced Horizon Lodge in Waterberg (South Africa)With Covid complications, the regular flight from Johannesburg to Botswana was not operating. Instead of flying, they used the car to cross the border. So they asked me to come a day early and leave a day later, staying at Horizon’s lodge in the Waterberg area. Of course, I said yes, because who wouldn’t? Not realizing that I would fall in love with the place and the horses. After coming back from Botswana, I even decided to stay a few days longer – something I highly recommend! I absolutely loved my time in Mashatu & at Horizon Lodge with the best people, horses and food. I just didn’t want to leave. Africa is forever in my heart, and it feels like it is my second home now.
Tell us more about how they paired you with Luna?
Before going on safari, you complete a form with all the basic details, what type of horse you would like to ride, and your riding experience. I filled out that I love a more fast-forward horse but also like to take pictures, so I wanted to know that my horse would relax when we stopped. You can be as specific as you like to make sure they match you with the right horse. Or not, if you are happy with any horse.
We chatted with Lindy, the stable manager, about the horses and their personalities on arriving in Botswana. With the information I already gave, they already had a horse in mind for me, but had a few extra horses on hand in case. I was paired with Luna; a beautiful grey gelding who loved to be in front. In the afternoon, we went out for an introductory ride to make sure we were comfortable and that we suited our horses. Lindy told me that Luna loves going fast, but listens well if you ensure a controlled canter. After the first ride, I immediately felt what she meant. Luna is really forward going, but with a great character and I soon fell in love with him. If you’re unsure of your horse on the test ride you can tell her, and try a few others. Lindy is great at matching the horses and riders, and everyone was happy with their new bestie.
The first ride on Luna felt great! We were up front, right behind the guide and enjoyed our relaxed walks and canters. During the week, we got along so well that we were walking or cantering beside (or a little up front) of the lead guide because we felt so confident. The horses are so responsive and just amazing. Also, while taking pictures, Luna would relax and eat grass or gaze off in the distance. He was the perfect horse for me, and it was so sad I couldn’t take him home.
Did you ride any other horses during your stay – who were your favs?
In Botswana, I just rode Luna, since I was so happy and comfortable with him. At Horizon Lodge in Waterberg, I rode different horses: Gallywag, India, Cavello, Zara, Magnum and Hawkeye. On very my first day, I rode Gallywag and that was a nice ride to start with, getting to know the area on a calmer horse. I loved Magnum, and we had a blast on the cross country jumps. I did polocrosse on Cavello, who is tiny but incredibly fast. I would have to say that Zara would come in as my second favourite horse after Luna, and I rode her three times while in South Africa. She is so sweet, can canter fast, always listens and is really pretty. All the horses are excellent and they all have quirky personalities which makes it so fun.
What did you think of the saddles compared to what you’re used to at home?
So back at home, I’m a dressage rider and ride with an English saddle. It took me a few minutes to get used to the saddles they use, but they are super comfortable for both riders and horses. Especially for long rides! And if anything feels uncomfortable, the guides are happy to help adjust it for you. The funny thing is that when I got back home, I really had to get used to my own saddle again, which I never thought would happen.
What did you think of the horses living out?
At Horizon Lodge we saw the horses at the dam, just wandering around, eating and playing in the water. It was amazing to see! From the lodge, you can watch the horses wandering around as the sun sets, which is truly special. In Botswana, the horses stayed in a huge paddock, and it’s great to see them rolling in the sand or playing together after a long day. They are so well looked after, with lots of food and attention!
What’s the next horse safaris on your bucket list?
I’ve already promised some people I would be back in South Africa next year and come back to Botswana someday. But following Isabel and Margot’s journey on Instagram made me think of putting Uganda on my bucket list as well! I’ve also heard amazing stories about the Okavango Delta in Botswana, but then again, all the safaris on the website are exciting! Maybe I just want to put most of them on my bucket list. I’ve also looked at volunteering with horses, perhaps in Zimbabwe. Wouldn’t that be cool? I just can’t wait for my next adventure, but first, I need to start saving again 😉
My final words – Don’t hesitate! Enjoy your adventure and make some unforgettable memories! Oh, and please fall in love with Africa; that’s the main goal 😉
Rianne De Bruin, Tuli Horse Safari (July 2021)
Rianne is a Dutch Journalist student living in Veenwouden, The Netherlands. In her free time, she enjoys doing dressage on her gorgeous mare Kiantie. She loves new adventures and spent almost a year in the US as an exchange student, followed by a whirlwind tour of the country. Her favourite holiday (before this one!) was a trip to Norway where she saw the Northern lights and got to feed reindeer. She’s completely hooked on riding in Africa now and looking forward to another equestrian adventure with like-minded travellers.