behind the scenes look at everything to do with horseback safaris + riding holidays

| desert horse safari |

disconnect to reconnect

APRIL 2021

written by Teagan Cunniffe

head out on a desert horse safari with writer Teagan as she explores the connections one makes on a horseback trek through Namibia.

The first Namibia Badlands route, an iconic desert horse safari and trail traversing Africa’s most inhospitable coastline, the Skeleton Coast, then crossing inland to explore the 130-million year old Messum Crater.

Realities change so quickly. You know when you travel, and look back and think ‘how was I possibly there just a few hours ago?’ We can assure you, you’ll feel this none more so than when leaving your home metropolis on a small plane, landing in the tiny town of Walvis Bay, and then driving three hours northwards to reach a blip on the map called ‘St Nowhere’.

Congratulations, you’ve reached campsite one of a five day desert journey through the Namibian badlands.

Here you meet the crew, the horses, and fellow riders for your desert horse safari. Everything seems oh-so-very strange, and you wonder just what the next few days have in store… Truth be told, we didn’t know either. Em and I had ridden sections of this new trail, but for the most part this was unfamiliar territory. Even for head guide Andrew Gillies of the Namibia Horse Safari Company, there were sections and start / end points he hadn’t yet precisely traversed, relying on his GPS watch that has seen him through thick and thin in many an exploratory desert horse safari. 

desert horse safari with ride the wild horseback safaris
Your bedroom for the next 5 nights.
desert horse safari with ride the wild horseback safaris
Your view for the next 5 days.

CONNECTION ONE – IS TO YOUR HORSE.

Andrew introduced us to our horses for the upcoming desert ride, leading each horse out and handing him or her, by name, to each of the riders. Pats and scratches were given and received with varying levels of enthusiasm depending on the horse’s nature. Some of the safari horse nickered, aware that this was the start of the trail and they would soon be setting off across the desert. 

It’s almost as if you don’t know your horse until that first canter. Will your horse be slow, bumpy, or break-neck fast? Will you lose control and be bucked off, or will you ‘click’ with your horse immediately? Anticipation builds.

(Side note:  we strongly advise wearing helmets on our rides, and even more so for the first few days). 

Andrew drew rein, gathering our group whilst holding up two fingers. We knew the sign: canter. We set off, nervous grins all around that dissolved into ones of open happiness as our group moved along at a (generally) sedate pace. All was well! We rejoiced inwardly. 

‘STOOOOOPPPP!!!’ Came the yell. Andrew slammed to a halt, looking back to see the cause of the delay. Behind us waited a chagrined rider; on the ground lay a fluffy white bumnah. Unbeknown to us at the time, it would be the first of many, many items to fall from riders belts and saddlebags over the next few days. 

Bumnah aside, our first canter across the desert on horseback was a success, and our confidence in our horses started to grow exponentially.

desert horse safari with ride the wild horseback safaris
Riders look after their own horse during the safari and this builds a stronger connection.
desert horse safari with ride the wild horseback safaris
By the time you reach the coast, you'll be sad to part with your trusted partner.

CONNECTION TWO – IS TO THE RIDERS ON TRAIL WITH YOU.

What doesn’t get discussed, after a few hours (nay, days) in the saddle? Strangers at the start of this desert trail, the seemingly-homogenous group fractures and clarifies into individual faces, individual stories.

You find yourself riding alongside people who you would never otherwise have met, from different walks and parts of life. Brought together by a love of horses, a desire for adventure, a gung-ho attitude and lust for life. A long day’s ride through incredible desert landscapes on this horseback safari, brings the weary, contented rider to the fireside for dinner to reminisce about moments on the trail and bond over laughter and conversation well into the night. 

desert horse safari with ride the wild horseback safaris
Creating incredible memories with those you know.
desert horse safari with ride the wild horseback safaris
And connecting with strangers who feel like old friends.

CONNECTION THREE – IS TO THE JOURNEY. . . AND TO YOURSELF.

It was day four and I was upset. My horse and I plodded along mournfully towards the inevitability of the setting sun, towards the second-to-last camping night and towards our 200km marker for the finish of this incredible desert horse safari. I didn’t want it to end. Pulling myself together, I reminded myself that it was not yet done. I was still here on the back of a horse I loved, riding in the afternoon’s glow.

There’s something about the simplicity of a riding safari, especially in Namibia, the easy flow of the day from dawn to dusk, that is enchantingly addictive.

Your mind is filled with simple matters – your horse beneath you, the landscape passing by in a shimmering heatwave. We passed areas of rocky ground that caused us to slow down as our horses picked their way carefully, we hugged the edge of a path with a swooping fall into a canyon on our right, and sweeping views.

We climbed up onto the rim of the Messum Crater and looked out onto an expanse of land  so empty and vast that it made emotion clutch our throats.

It’s always at this point that I understand why the Epic Namibia Horse Safari (three desert safaris back-to-back over a month, 1000km of riding) was created. After finishing one horseback desert trail. . .

The riders turn to each other and say ‘let’s do it all over again’.

A journey that started off so surreal and strange turns into one familiar and treasured, with palpable moments and memories deeply felt. And you don’t ever want it to end.