[this contribution submitted by my good friend and traveling companion Lila Abdul-Rahim]
We have all been so impressed with the horses at WAL.? Gertie and Phillip maintain a working herd of approximately 30 horses, which are ridden by guests like us most of the year.
Their sizes range from 14.2 to over 17 hands and include Warmbloods, Boerperd (a South African breed) and Arabian crosses. ?But the horses’ most important characteristics are their superb ground and riding manners,? responsiveness, and ability to face and stand still when wild game is encountered. Especially impressive is their behavior around big game (elephant, giraffe, rhino), and animals who are their natural predators (leopard and lion). ?We were told that it takes? approximately one year to train a horse to handle facing and standing during a game sighting.
The first time Philip took us out, we encountered a group of approximately five or six elephant who were standing just off the trail in the bushes. There was a huge bull (easily 20 feet at the shoulder), several females, and several juniors. Philip had instructed us to position the horses around him?”like a bunch of grapes” once he came to a stop in front of the animals. Make no mistake, each individual elephant was totally aware of our presence. Philip first stopped a ways away, and we all clustered around him. The elephants stood facing us, some flapping their huge ears forward and back. We were told this is not a sign of annoyance, but a means for elephants to cool themselves by exposing the large veins in their ears to the air. Due to their size, they made quite a bit of noise tearing down branches to eat and? just moving about. ?After they began to relax, Phillip moved even closer, within 15 meters. My instinct said too close!, but Philip was confident. We bunched up around him, the horses willing to stand very close to each other side by side and nose to trail, their ears pricked forward, but calm. This remarkable ability instilled confidence in us and allowed us to relax and enjoy watching these fascinating animals.
During the week we were there, we rode twice per day, early morning and afternoon. Gertie rotated the horses, so that each of us experienced two or three horses over the time. Eventually we were narrowed down to one horse: I had Tao; Jenni had Eric; Ute had Beamisch; Madeleine had Ice; and Jen had?Theakston. ?(The links are to their respective photos and bios on the Wait a Little website.)From our preparation prior to the trip and what we had learned about Wait A Little , we expected great riding horses; what we gained from the experience is an understanding of how important this specialized game-training can be for a fantastic horse- safari experience.