Dressage in the Alentejo

In May In The Saddle guest Frances Meier travelled out to Portugal to stay at the beautiful Monte Velho. In this post, she tells us a little about her stay and explains why Monte Velho is the place to go to improve your dressage skills.

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João working Don Quixote in the outdoor arena

“At the beginning of my stay I was introduced to my first horse ‘Estello’, a beautiful grey stallion and Coralie, one of the instructors. I’d just got on and was walking around on a long rein when a tacked-up riderless 3 year old mare came galloping past the arena hotly pursued by her rider…’oh no’ I thought, a near death experience already? But no Estello only looked up and then carried on without batting an eyelid! These horses have the most fantastic temperaments and are incredibly well behaved.

I found it a little difficult to get the feel of both the horses I rode on the first day, keeping the shoulders upright, so had some steering issues and it was tricky getting into canter initially, also ‘blocking’ in the hand, but on Alfonso eventually I did a bit of passage into extended trot and a few changes, but have to admit that I found it rather hard work.

Both of the instructors, Coralie and João, were very clear when teaching us and quickly spotted my many faults and set about correcting them. It was interesting also watching the others ride when time allowed.

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João and the super-talented Ecuador

The next day I had ‘Triunfo’, a beautiful 16 year old stallion who has competed at Grand Prix and was a champion of Portugal a few years ago. I found him a little hard to ride to start with, not off my leg and very wriggly, but gradually Coralie helped me and got on Triunfo herself. This made a big difference and made me feel better as I had been struggling with him. A short break, before my next session on Alfonso again…only to be completely pathetic and getting off after 20 minutes….. It turned out I was very dehydrated. So off I went to bed with a large bottle of salt/sugar water solution.

Manager/Owner Diogo very kindly changed the schedule round the next day so that I had a private lesson on Thursday morning and a trail ride in the evening. I also booked myself in for a lunge lesson, something I would strongly recommend and should have done earlier!

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João and Triunfo in the indoor arena

Strength and positivity regained, I really enjoyed my lesson on Triunfo. Coralie had me sitting better and releasing my seat. We did lots of forward and back in trot and canter and ended up doing walk pirouettes into canter pirouettes and passage into piaffe into passage again, all by myself. Absolutely great!

In the evening the sun came out and I had the most glorious trail ride on ‘Altar’ with Diogo on Don Quixote (aka ‘Donkey Shot’). The best behaved trail horses ever. We rode out onto beautiful flower meadows and by lakes through the many scattered boulders and cork oaks that are everywhere. We did the slowest collected canter ever on my delightful horse, so quiet and peaceful. The only noise was the clonking of the bell on the dog who came with us – he was charming, making sure we came to no harm. It was so interesting learning about the breeding programme and the training plans for the future as well as the expansion of Monte Velho next winter from Diogo himself. He said it was the best part of his day, I was thrilled!

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Enjoying a trail ride through the pretty spring flowers

My last day and I had a lunge lesson on the gorgeous bay gelding ‘Bemposto’ in the indoor school. No reins or stirrups and João really worked on my seat and core strength, doing canter/trot/canter transitions on a circle just from my seat. It was a very useful 40 minutes.

My last lesson was on back on Triunfo. I felt really strong and was sitting well at long last. I was able to do straight lines, leg yield, half pass into canter with changes, followed by changes on the diagonal down to two-time changes….YEAH! Then into piaffe passage and trot passage, trying to stay in the same rhythm. Such a clever boy, the feeling was fantastic and I was thrilled to finish on a really good note.

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Frances and Triunfo being put through their paces by Coralie

Monte Vehlo is in the most beautiful location; very peaceful and comfortable. My room was spotlessly clean and luckily had a very efficient towel rail to dry my hat and clothes (after the rain showers). There is a homely bar and seating area for everyone to chat and catch up with the day’s activities and the dining room is opposite where we ate our meals with a verandah overlooks the main arena.

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João teaching, with the dining room in the background

The food is plentiful and delicious; Alices’ puddings were divine and we all exceeded our wine quota! Diogo and the staff were very helpful and friendly and the horses are amazing. I learnt such a lot in just 4 days and would love to go back one day.

It is a very good place to stay if you are travelling alone, we had some hilarious lunches and evenings. Bad luck though if you had a 2 pm lesson and couldn’t linger over lunch….!

Should you wish to go on a holiday to improve your dressage, Monte Velho is certainly the place to go. The teaching was excellent and the horses are amazing, so well behaved, fit and they all look so well.”

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Frances and Altar by the lake

A huge thank you to Frances for taking the time to tell us about her trip.

If you’d like to learn more about Monte Velho then please call us on +44 1299 272 997 or email abigail@inthesaddle.com

 

 

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Uganda – it’s wet in a rainforest

Here, near Jinja, we are slightly north of the equator (at Bwindi we will be south of the Equator) and so the sun rises and sets about the same time each day. At six it is quite dark but by 7 the sun is up (or what we can see of it through the forest). 


 We are away nice and early at 8. Soon we have to cross a major road to get to the riding area. At this small village there are many stalls preparing food for the minibuses and trucks passing by. Our horses are quite bomb proof. 

This is the rainforest and it rains all year round. The rains last night have made everything vibrantly green. There isn’t much wildlife, but we do catch a glimpse of a couple of tiny monkeys high up in the trees.


One of the hazards we have to negotiate on this trip are the cows which are tethered by the side of the tracks. Although the cows have probably never seen a horse before, these ones are quiet. 

On our very first morning a bull had become a little agitated and broken his tether. We “galloped out of danger” being pursued by a very fast running bull (fortunately with no horns). When we reckoned we had tired him out we stopped and turned to see him off and he meekly ran past and back to his owner ( we hope). 

We continue to see many happy friendly people. There are no working horses or donkeys in Uganda, most likely because of the risks associated with Tsetse fly. Natalie takes her horses’ temperatures every morning and at the slightest increase will treat the horses for suspected Tsetse fly sickness or tick bite fever. Fortunately the treatment has good success if caught early.

Who can resist a photograph of another excited bunch of school children.

When the sun comes out you can almost feel the grass and crops growing. This open area in the forest is along a clearing for the hydro power lines.

But we also walk through the dense forest. The huge trees grow straight up towards the light and underneath is a thick vegetation. It is muddy underfoot.

Barbara is smiling here but not long after at our coffee stop, she accidentally stands on some fire ants. These little things quickly run onto your boots and trousers and bite like fire. But they don’t do any lasting damage – the attack is just surprisingly quick. With plenty of hands to help, we quickly got all the ants off her. 

Later back at River Lodge I tried to take a photo of some crossing a track, but even though I was about 2 feet away, some quickly changed direction and headed for my feet. But the rule of walking in the forest is to always check where you are walking and have a torch at night.

Although Uganda has two main rainy seasons in April/May and again in November, actually it can rain at any time and it does.

We get a couple of minutes notice to get our ponchos out of our saddle bags and they keep us (but more importantly our saddles) mostly dry through an incredibly heavy tropical thunderstorm (the heaviest I’ve ever ridden in). The horses aren’t phased at all and so obviously such heavy rain is nothing new to them as we trot and canter back to the lodge.


I think reception at River Lodge were incredibly accommodating to allow us to bring the horses underneath the porch so that we could get the saddles off in the dry. 

Tomorrow we head out of the forest and back to the Nile.

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Uganda – schools, sugar and tea

Having all suffered a bit from the heat yesterday, we planned for an early start and so had breakfast as it got light at 6.45 and were on our horses by 7.30. As it turned out we woke to a grey sky and so it was very pleasant riding temperature of c. 18C – 20C (although still very high humidity). Although the main rainy season is April / May and November in fact it can rain all year round in Uganda. Everything stays green and with an all year round growing season the farmers can get four crops of maise.


We set off meandering along close to the banks of the Nile. About six years ago the Nile here had many rapids and the fishermen would often drown. Then a dam was built downstream for hydro electricity, the river rose about 6m and the water became flat and safe.


Education is supposedly free throughout Uganda but unfortunately the buildings aren’t always maintained nor the teachers paid and so they end up charging school fees which of course not everyone can pay. TJ and Natalie of Nile Horseback Safaris, along with others, set up a fund to build a school in their local village 5 years ago. It now has 400 pupils between the ages of 3 and 13. A local charity called Soft Power supports this and a number of other schools in the area. A number of us had used up our airline luggage allowance and brought children’s books etc and we’ve given them to the Soft Power charity to distribute where they think they are most needed.

It’s a humbling experience for us to visit the school. The teachers have a blackboard but not much else and the children are crammed in four to a bench seat in classes of up to 60 children. 

But they are overwhelming pleasant and polite. We sneak a look at their exercise books and their work is very neat. One class is studying history of Uganda and copying from the blackboard in beautiful handwriting. Another class is working on fractions. “If a farmer plants 3/8ths of his field in maize, how much of his field is left?”

One room which looks like it might have been a shack turns out to be the nursery with a range of children from 3 years to 10 years who hadn’t been to school before and they were singing and reciting songs.

Riding on, we leave the small subsidence farms and enter a huge sugar plantation. The cane grows tall but there are great tracks for some long trots and canters. The clay is a little slippy this morning because of the rain last night and so we don’t go quite as fast as might be possible at other times. 

Cutting cane here is a hard manual job. We pass some of the workers’ accommodation and the people here are poorer than we’ve seen before.

Next to the huge sugar plantation we ride past tea gardens.

Very unusually, the picking was being done by men with machines which were cutting the leaves and vacuuming them into a huge sack. I always thought tea picking had to be done manually so that the tips could be ‘plucked’ by hand but perhaps this was going to a lower grade tea and it didn’t matter so much?

We have a delightful stop for coffee and croissant (yes, we are being that spoiled on this trip!) at a lovely lookout.

Some kids have come to watch what is going on. 


And of course delight in seeing themselves on camera.

One little chap is brave enough to ride – on my gentle giant of a horse – Jack Daniels. 

Seeing people along the way is a big highlight of this trip. And one never feels so bad taking a photo when even the teacher takes out his phone and takes photos of us.

More great riding through this open countryside.


Our destination tonight is Rainforest Lodge set in the Mabira Forest.


There are 12 chalets set throughout the rainforest and connected by rather treacherous paths. It gets dark about 7 and the deafening frog chorus begins. 

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Uganda – Riding by the Nile and Lake Victoria

It is the end of day 2 of our ride and already it feels like we have been in Africa for a long time. Although only 100 Kms from Entebbe to Jinja the journey takes almost four hours although we do stop for a coffee and a quick supermarket shop for forgotten things.

At last we bounce up a track and arrive at the stables and alongside them a lovely lodge where we stay for two nights.

Here is the view over the Nile from our porch.

After a beautiful lunch, our guide Natalie allocates us to our horses. We are each to have two horses to ride over the week and she lovingly explains their characteristics and foibles.

Natalie breeds most of the horses – the stallion, a striking coloured chap of about 16.2, rides out with the group. They are Irish sport horses crossed with thoroughbred, many of them competing in eventing in Kenya (a two day drive away) as well as being trail horses. They are fit and strong. Here are a couple of the young horses curious to see what was going on as we mount up.

This is me on the right on Jack Daniels, a much bigger horse than I’m used to and a wonderful ride.


The little nets over their noses are to stop them snatching at the crops as we ride past. Many of the crops are only inches from their noses and would be temptation to any horse. For the rural community through which we are riding each plant represents their livelihood


We walk where the track is narrow or there are a lot of people around but also have lots of long trots and canters some of them quite fast. The terrain is perfect for riding and we don’t have a single gate to do. We are just riding through the countryside along the tracks used by the locals. Some are very narrow but passable, some are being used by people and motorbikes and some are wide and we see the odd car. 


We ride through lots and lots of villages. There are people living everywhere and they are overwhelmingly friendly and welcoming. The children run out screaming, their mothers and fathers wave. There are also many young men without any visible signs of work and we wonder how the country can cope with such a huge population and not enough work. Although there is clearly enough food to go around the young people with their smart phones and Internet access are going to want more.


As we approach this school during their break time there is a huge scream and much excitement. With an impressive respect for their teachers they were quickly brought into line.


This is Lake Victoria in the distance. 


I’m particularly proud of this photo of a kingfisher taken with a point and shoot camera!


At the end of a spectacular day, we go on a boat cruise on the Nile. 

Tomorrow we move onto the rainforest.

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Uganda – Entebbe (Olwen reports after day 1)

If you are of a certain age then flying to Entebbe and Uganda brings memories of the 70’s.  In 1976 the ‘Raid on Entebbe’ was a dramatic rescue by the Israelis of a hijacked plane at Entebbe. And before that in 1972 there was the expulsion by Idi Amin of 80,000 Ugandan Asians.  I was at secondary school in Northern Ireland at the time and was involved in a school/church project in Birmingham to help the Ugandan Asians settle into life in the UK. 

Our first ride to Uganda filled up in a weekend, more quickly than any other ride we’ve ever promoted. For some it is the appeal of riding along the Nile, for others it is seeing Lake Victoria, for others it is to visit Uganda, the Pearl of Africa and of course the chance to see the mountain Gorillas is a huge attraction. 

We’ve mostly arrived on Emirates from various points in the UK converging at Dubai for the flight to Entebbe and the Americans in the group have flown with KLM via Amsterdam. The pilot warns us of rain at Entebbe and so we arrive to a heavy grey sky. Yellow Fever vaccinations are checked as we arrive at immigration although I don’t know what happens to those in the growing queue at the medical centre, presumably without the all important vaccination. Are they vaccinated on the spot? – I’m just relieved that we are all safely through. 


It’s a short drive to the lovely Boma Guesthouse which is set in the midst of lush green gardens (presumably benefiting from all that rain). 

I feel that this African trip is going to offer the chance to experience a little of real Africa and it is perfectly safe for us to walk out of the guesthouse and explore a little. We change some money getting a huge wad of notes (c. 5000 Shillings to the pound). 


These mannequins don’t follow the western world’s size zero standard! 


I don’t recognise half of these vegetables but they look great.

Dinner at the Boma Guesthouse is superb, and not just because we’ve all had some 20 hours of airline food, with delicious  vegetable, fish and meat curry and home made ice cream to follow. 


This little fellow reminds me of my puppy at home. I also hear an Irish accent and discover that the Boma is owned by a couple from Galway! So, all in all, a great start to the trip, 

Tomorrow we journey by road from Entebbe to Jinja and meet our horses. 

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In The Saddle Sponsors

Here at In The Saddle we’re super excited to introduce to you our new sponsored rider, Rosie Warner. Rosie is a local young event rider with big ambitions & we’re really looking forward to supporting her. In this post, Rosie tells us a little about herself, her ambitions and of course her horses.

Rosie says, “I am a 23 year old event rider, with an Equine Business Diploma from Hartpury College and an Equine Work-based Diploma through Warwickshire college.

I am extremely dedicated, hard working and committed to becoming a successful event rider. I would love to reach the top level of eventing with my string of home-bred horses. I do compete British Showjumping and British Dressage throughout the year, but eventing is my ultimate passion.

My top horse is Cult Legend, a 16.1hh bay gelding by Cult Hero. He’s currently competing at intermediate/2* and together we will be aiming for Advanced towards the end of the season. Cult legend, stable name ‘Aemon’, is a very experienced genuine horse and we have built a great partnership over the last 5 years. He is a very gentle, laid-back character who is super easy to have around.

Cult Legend, known as Aemon at home

Cult Legend, known as Aemon at home.

I also have a 5 year old Irish Sports Horse purchased from Gorsebridge sales last Autumn. He’s a very exciting prospect and I’m really looking forward to producing him through the levels. Ars Big Time, stable name ‘Milo’ is a gorgeous bay gelding by Ars Vivendi. Milo is extremely bold and has a fabulous scopey jump. He was just backed when I purchased him so I am producing him slowly and carefully as I believe he is a potential top class event horse.

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The handsome Ars Big Time, aka Milo

The final member of my competitive string of horses this season is Romeo, or ‘Finest Star’, a 4 year-old chestnut gelding by Wish Upon a Star out of Much of a Muddle, our elite graded broodmare (also the dam of Louise Harwood’s 4* eventer Mr Potts). Romeo was backed last autumn and will start lightly competing this summer. Romeo has got to be one of the most promising horses I have ever sat on; the fact that he’s home-bred makes it even more exciting! Romeo has excellent conformation, elastic natural paces and a serious jump…he is also a bit of a charmer!

The 4 year-old Romeo

The 4 year-old charmer Romeo

I have four more home-breds ranging from yearlings to 3 year-olds that all look to be very promising so far. One of my 2 year-olds is by the well known stallion Chilli Morning.

The next generation

The next generation.

I am so delighted to have the opportunity of becoming an ‘In The Saddle‘ sponsored rider. The support means a huge amount to me and I am extremely grateful for this opportunity”.

Thank you Rosie. It is great to hear all about your lovely horses and we wish you the best for the remainder of the season.

We shall look forward to hearing about Rosie’s progress and we will keep you updated with how she gets on in the coming months.

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Blogging from Big Sky Country

Becky from In The Saddle is currently on an exciting adventure in Montana. In this blog we hear about her first few days, spent at Rocking Z.

Becky says, “After the long flights out to Montana the last thing I felt like doing was driving anywhere. However as soon as we drove outside of the Helena city limits it was totally worth it; it was just like stepping into another time. The beautiful countryside seemed to roll on forever with dramatic mountains creating the backdrop to our journey.

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Rocking Z – a perfect choice for aspiring and experienced Western riders alike

My first full day at Rocking Z was brilliant. Since I had never ridden in a Western saddle before I was nervous that I wouldn’t take to it or that I would just be terrible! However, I found the saddles really comfortable and the horses were just so responsive. We trailered up to a neighbour’s ranch and rode up into the mountains for a full day ride.

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Making dreams come true – moving cattle in Montana

I didn’t think the riding could get much better after the first day but then it was announced that we had to move cattle from pasture to pasture. Now this is genuinely my biggest dream come true, ever since I was little and used to round up my Grandad’s sheep!

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It may have been a long day in the saddle, but what an experience!

The riding was a little slower as we were crossing such varied terrain, but it was an experience that I will never forget. Even though I ride 5 times a week at home, I must admit that my legs were starting to feel the saddle a bit by the end of the day!

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How could you ever get tired of this incredible view?

When people said that Montana was ‘big sky’ country, I understood that they meant it was really open and beautiful, but I never truly understood it until I arrived. Once you ride up into the mountains you can look for miles in any direction and all you see is rolling green and sky. It is absolutely breath-taking”.

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A very happy Becky!

 

Thanks Becky – we’re looking forward to hearing more about your adventures over the next few days.

If you’ve been inspired by Becky’s blog and are looking for a last-minute getaway, then there is still some space at Rocking Z in late June. You can contact us on 01299 272 997 to book your place.

 

Categories: Equestrian Travel, horse riding, Horses & riding, in the saddle, Riding Holidays, Riding in Montana | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Catching up on Kenya

We had a lovely visit yesterday from Gordie and Felicia Church. It was great to catch up on news from Kenya and plans for the safaris ahead.

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Gordie & Felicia visiting In The Saddle, Shropshire

Felicia told us all about their much-loved safari horses. As she talks about them her eyes sparkle; they are very much part of the family.

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The horses are fit and raring to go, ready for upcoming safaris.

The horses are turned out at night in 4000ha, which means they are completely unfazed by the wildlife such as buffalo, who share their grazing.

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Fearless in front of all kinds of game.

Their safari tents were already top of the range but Gordie told us they have been completely replaced for 2016 so any of you going on safari are in for a real treat.

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A riding safari with Gordie & Felicia is synonymous with a good dose of luxury!

We also learnt about the success of the Mara private conservancies which offer superb game sightings without the crowds associated with the Maasai Mara Reserve.

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Great game sighting, without the crowds sometimes associated with the Mara.

Gordie reminded us that every day, wherever you ride, you are riding amongst wildlife – whether or not you travel during the wildebeest migration.

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Fabulous game sightings each and every day.

Non-riders or those just wishing to take a break from riding have their own fully fitted safari vehicle with a professional guide and so have amazing opportunities for wildlife viewing and photography.

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See the wildlife from a different perspective.

There is still space on the 8 night safaris starting 11 July, 21 July and 18 September. Don’t forget that the Kenya safari price is all inclusive of internal flights, road transfers and all concession fees.

This truly is a wonderful place to ride. Looking forward to a great few safaris ahead!

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If you’d like to know more, please don’t hesitate to contact the office on 01299 272 997 or via email rides@inthesaddle.com

Categories: Equestrian Travel, Horseback safari in Kenya, in the saddle, riding holidays africa, Riding safaris | Leave a comment

Meerkats to Moonlight, in the Kalahari

The Kalahari makes you feel very small in the grand scheme of things as everything around you is larger than life and endless. The Makgadikadi Pans stretch out in front of you into infinity, and you would think you were on the surface of the moon except for the scorching desert heat – this magical space holds no sounds at all, no noise whatsoever – just the sound of the blood running through your own ears.

Yet despite being in such a magical and desolate space it is teeming with wildlife; here you see the zebra racing their own shadows during the golden African sunsets; here you meet the Meerkat families; here you learn desert survival skills from the indigenous Bushmen and follow in the same footsteps of missionaries such as Livingstone. Here you get to canter by moonlight on the white salt crusted plains underneath the black-velvet African sky studded stars;  here you enter the Africa of storybooks.

The great zebra migration

The great zebra migration

I have been in the Kalahari for just two hours and now I am sat in the saddle, just as the vast round orange sun is setting on the horizon watching a dazzle of zebra set off at a gallop, stirring up the dust as they go. But this is a really unusual sight, like an illusion. The sunlight mixed in with the airborne dust particles, meant that I was looking at zebra racing their own upright shadows. The dust had turned their shadows the correct way up, so it appeared as if the shadows were also zebra and running alongside them, overtaking them as they ran past us. I have never seen shadows do this before and it was a ‘goose bump’ moment, and probably never to be repeated, as it would be hard to replicate the light. Simply stunning! This perfect evening was rounded off by discovering a set of chairs and a drinks box. Toasting the zebra shadows with a sundowner overlooking the pans as the last of the light faded. What a perfect first impression to the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans in the Kalahari.

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My goosebump moment!

You stay at the delightful Camp Kalahari, with lovely spacious tents, poster beds and a vast oak dining table. The food is so delicious and plentiful it is a challenge to finish it all, so you certainly will not go hungry.

During the day it seems hotter here when compared to other African destinations, not sure why, maybe the white salt pans reflect the heat and sun, plus there is very little breeze to cool us down. But luckily we ride in the early morning when it is cooler, and are in the shade of the mid-day sun enjoying lunch by the time it gets really hot. The horses are a lovely bunch of well behaved and kind, generous souls. I was lucky enough to ride four of them during my stay and each horse was forward going and willing in his work. They were all incredibly sure footed over all terrain and I think that they enjoyed their gallops as much as we did.

Camp Kalahari

Camp Kalahari

Halfway through my stay we set off to Xau Xai fly camp. On the way we pass through quite different terrain to the Pans themselves, riding past woodlands and parkland with long open plains where we could gallop and push on a bit.

En route we stopped for a break at Chapmans Baobab, this is acknowledged to be one of the largest trees in Africa and could easily be seen from a great distance on the horizon.

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This is me riding proving I rode on the same path as some of histories great missionaries

Settling into the foundations of this famous tree, David Foot your guide for the week makes the tree come to life by retelling the tales of missionaries such as Livingstone and Chapman who had visited this tree, and their journeys through these parts. He conjures up images of the past by elaborating upon and retelling stories and experiences that their wives and children had to undergo during these arduous journeys by Ox cart across the Kalahari. He describes the hardships that they encountered over the years, all of which have been documented within their diaries at the time. He ends the tale with descriptions of their deaths during the journey, and the accuracy of his descriptions of how it must have been for them during these times brings a real sense of history to the ground you are riding upon.

Spot the human hiding...

Spot the human hiding…

At fly camp you get the chance to meet the Kalahari meerkats, and so with an early start you set off to find them. The ‘sleepy dust’ from your eyes is soon blown away as on the way we enjoy some great canters on the plains.

The meerkats are not quite awake yet, and we occasionally see one pop his head up above ground, look around, decide it is too cold and retreat back underground again. We only had to wait about 15 minutes and then the whole troop decides to emerge… they have babies too! A family of 9 in total, 4 babies and 5 adults.

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Imagine that the first thing you see in the morning is me! At least he didn’t run away…

We watch them stand upright to warm themselves, all facing the sun warming their bellies (like soldiers on parade) and then off they go never stopping, foraging for food along the way, each adult feeding the babies in turn. Such teamwork, the adults would dig up grubs and bugs etc. and then eat one themselves and the next was always without fail diligently passed to the babies. Each adult had a ‘kid’ to look after and their charge would follow them the whole way waiting for their treat.  We walk with them, watching them dig for food and feed. They cover a good distance and are habituated well so that they do not fear our human presence. You can get really close, and if you sit still long enough they will often climb up you and use your head as a lookout tower.

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Having spent the morning with the meerkats we decide to head onward with our horses to the Pans themselves. The surface at the edge of the Pans is perfect for a good blast and WE ARE OFF. Everyone fires off, and we are all flat out. My horse for the day is an older experienced gentleman, who is usually a quiet back up horse, and after about 20 metres he decided that a gallop is far too much effort and slows himself to a steady loping canter (I had been warned he would do this, so I didn’t expect him to win the race or keep up). Everyone disappears from view galloping into the distance, and I am left loping on my horse on my own in the middle of the pans. Utterly wonderful. In the middle of nowhere, empty as far as the eye can see, just emptiness and the sound of my hooves on the crusty salt in in a three beat stride. What a magical moment just loping quietly along,  never once worrying about where the others were or trying to speed up or slow down to trot, my boy just kept his steady pace and rhythm. When I caught up with the others still blowing from their gallop there were smiles all around, but I still believe I had the most secretive and enchanting moment out of us all.

Later after the heat of the day we set off for a quite ride with horses, onto the pans in the sunset. The silence of this area is so great that if you close your eyes you can hear only the sound of the blood in your ears and nothing else. There can not be many places left in the world without any ‘white noise’ at all. We wandered and stood, wandered a bit more, quietly meandering along into the pans salty surface.

It goes on and on and on, such a unique environment

It goes on and on and on, such a unique environment

By now the sun has set but we carry on into the dark, just looking at our very own moon shadows of our horses marching along. David points out various stars including Venus and Orions belt, which can all be seen so clearly. Towards the end of the ride we pick up a steady canter and in the moonlight we are just loping along quietly at the edge of the pans in the darkness of the night with the ground lit up by the moon, the cool air making a refreshing change to the heat of the day. It’s been a long but magical day, from Meerkats to moonlight.

David taking advantage of the African evening sunset, to get some piccies of my lovely ride for the week, General.

David taking advantage of the African evening sunset, to get some piccies of my lovely ride for the week, General.

On the last day I was lucky enough to meet the bushmen trackers of the Kalahari. This rural tribe took us for a bush walk and gave a very detailed insight into their survival techniques in this very harsh landscape and heat. They showed us how they hunt for scorpions, and clean the scorpions inside your own mouth to temporarily paralyse them. They talked us through the plants around us and how they use them for healing cuts, medicine, even which tubers to dig up for liquid quenching refreshment when no water can be found in the Kalahari. They show us how they set traps to catch birds for meat, and proudly talk about their lion encounters, showing us the scars on their bodies from arguing with a lion over who was to claim the carcass of a Kudu. The Bushmen won apparently.

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They also showed us their poisoned arrows from the guts of a worm larvae. This poison can only be collected in their spring, and can only be used once on an arrow, but is so strong it will kill anything.. Women and children are never allowed to touch the arrows, only the men, and I can understand why if they are that deadly.

I did ask how old the chief was and was told he was 98 years old. I don’t quite believe that, but then they probably don’t use a calenders and diaries or have birth certificates, so how would he know? Maybe that’s the answer to our age obsessed culture, not to count the years and to just live simply and happily gaining memories along the way. The Kalahari certainly gave me memories that will stay with me forever, a unique environment, that is surprisingly breathtaking!

Ostrich certainly can kick up the dust - they are seriously fast!

Ostrich certainly can kick up the dust – they are seriously fast!

If you want to find out more then call Sarah at In The Saddle on +44 (0) 1299 272 234 or email sarah@inthesaddle.com

 

Categories: Equestrian Travel, riding botswana, riding holidays africa, Riding safaris | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Which is the best riding safari in the Okavango Delta?

Every day at In The Saddle is different, but one question that regularly comes up is “Which is the best riding safari in the Okavango Delta?”

I’ll try to address this specific issue but even if you’ll never consider a horseback safari, the same process applies to all our holidays – whether you’re thinking of a ranch in Montana or a week’s riding in Europe, we can help you choose the ride that’s right for you. We’ll give you all the detail you need and nudge you in the right direction but we always respect the choice is yours and we won’t push you to make a decision.

I suppose the reason the Okavango Delta question comes up so much is there are three camps within a small area that, at first glance, appear to offer the same thing. If you look a bit deeper you can see they each provide unique experiences. The camps are Macatoo and Kujwana in the main Delta and Motswiri, just on the edge on the Selinda Spillway.

map

Map of the Okavango Delta

Firstly, let’s look at what these safaris have in common. They are all based at luxury tented camps. By luxury we mean spacious walk in permanent tents with made up beds, en-suite loos and showers.

macatoo tent

Twin tent at Macatoo Camp

The other features they all share are great horses and guiding. First time guests are often surprised at the quality of the horses and the attention paid to their welfare.

The Okavango Delta is famous for its variety of wildlife. Large herds of elephant are resident year round as well as buffalo, giraffe, zebra and a multitude of other less well known animals. There are also specialist swamp antelope like the lechwe and sitatunga which you are unlikely to see elsewhere. Lion are present throughout the Delta and while we don’t seek out lion on horseback (for obvious reasons) you may come across them and you will often hear the males roaring at night. At all three camps, because there are potentially dangerous animals around, you must be a confident experienced rider. Non-riders are welcome at any of the camps and riders can combine time on horseback with wildlife tracking on foot, jeep safaris and game viewing by mokoros (canoes).

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Exploring the Delta from a different perspective

So, if you can’t choose your safari on comfort, quality of guiding, horses or the wildlife, how can you decide? The differences between the camps are quite subtle and it’s worth taking a moment to look at what makes each one special.

Set up by PJ and Barney 30 years ago, Kujwana is the longest established horseback camp in the Delta. It’s also the smallest taking just six guests at a time. This gives the safari an intimate feel and means the guiding can be more personalised. Single travellers get their own tent without a supplement and you ride to a different camp every three or four days so you get the feeling of going on a journey.

Pj on Lamu

Elephant approaches PJ on Lamu

Macatoo is a larger camp, taking up to 16 guests, but rides are split so that only eight ride out together. Those who want fast splashy canters can get their adrenalin fix and others can enjoy a more sedate experience tracking game. Macatoo has just one single tent without supplement so you need to book early to reserve this, otherwise, if you are happy to share then there is no extra to pay. The larger group size at Macatoo means it’s very sociable in camp and this, combined with the flexibility of riding options, has made it our most popular safari for several years.

cantering on the floodplains at macatoo

Cantering across the flood plain at Macatoo

The most recent camp, Motswiri, opened in 2011. As it’s on the edge of the Delta visitors can experience riding through Mopane woodland as well as the typical delta scenery of islands and channels so there is a wider variety of terrain. While the other two camps may have one or two non-riders staying at a time, at Motswiri the split is more likely to be 50/50 so this is usually the best choice for mixed groups of riders and non-riders.

hippo motswiri

Hippo surfacing in front of water lilies at Motswiri

I hope this has given you a feel for what makes each of the riding safaris in the Okavango Delta different. If you’d like to talk further about the different riding in the Okavango Delta or if you have any questions please contact me or one of our specialists for a chat.

SD macatoo

Call us for a chat

Abbie tel: 01299 272 239 abigail@inthesaddle.com
Chris tel: 01299 272 237 chris@inthesaddle.com
Sarah tel: 01299 272 234 sarah@inthesaddle.com

We look forward to helping you choose your next riding adventure.

Categories: Equestrian Travel | Leave a comment

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