Riding in South Africa

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The terrain here at times feels far more familiar than we would have guessed. ?Here and there you can almost imagine that you are home in Northern California. ?The frequent river crossings strongly resemble those in the base of the canyons of the Sierra foothills.

riding through tall grass along the river

We are in a vast valley, ringed by distant mountains. ?The earth shows signs of a volcanic history. ?In places the dirt is nearly pure white, then suddenly it will change to a deep red. ?There is quite a bit of loose rock that requires us to watch where our horses are headed.

Large trees are not very common beyond the river, and many show signs of abuse by elephants. ?Most of the vegetation is made up of scraggly shrubbery, and a good number of these carry wicked thorns. ?We learned quickly that the worst-looking thorn bushes were actually relatively benign while the sweet and innocent looking ones, with almost fern-like leaves, hid thorns of wicked intent. ?As a group I think we are down about three pair of breeches and several shirts have been badly snagged – we’ll be abandoning a pile of thrashed riding clothes at some point.

The grass is deep and plentiful here at the start of their winter. ?And the insects have been negligible, we haven’t even seen a mosquito (we’re all on malaria meds anyway).

We ride each day predominantly at the walk, while our guide reads signs and tries to find animals for us to see. ?Sometimes we ride double file on dirt roads, sometimes we are snaking along single-file through the bush on faint animal tracks (that’s when our apparel takes a beating). ?Occasionally, where the terrain allows, we’ll take up a fast canter which is always a blast. ?We’ve ended up running with giraffe, zebra and nearly rhino (too dicey so we stopped) because they see us and decide we must be fleeing from something.

nyala (dubbed ‘toaster strudel’) in the bush

The trot is rarely seen. ?We asked about that because, as endurance riders, we are used to a lot of trotting. ?The explanation was that we are either tracking game, and therefore the trot would be to fast, or we are focused on covering ground, so the fast canter is most efficient.

The tack is comprised of predominantly dressage saddles which have proven to be more comfortable (even with their traditional metal stirrups) and secure-feeling than expected. ?The vast majority of the horses are in simple snaffle bits.

As Lila talked about in her post on the horses, riding here requires a mount used to the animals and terrain. ?Being calm and brave, willing to stand quietly in tight groups in the presence of wild and sometimes predatory animals is imperative.

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