The Riding Holiday Show on 12 December 2015 is all about “Meeting the Guides” – in fact that’s what we called the event when we first ran it in 2007. It’s a chance to learn all about wonderful riding holidays all over the world, directly from the people who will be guiding you day by day. As well as an opportunity to renew friendships and chat about past experiences.
We thought it would be interesting to run a series of profiles of some of the people who will be at the Riding Holiday Show and here is another of our guides – Duncan Over from Kujwana in Botswana.
1. How long have you been guiding at Kujwana?
I have been the camp manager at Kujwana for a year after volunteering here for a month previously.
2. Where did you guide before this?
This is my first job in Africa. Before coming here I was an officer in the British Army. Having spent time in Kenya training I had already caught the African bug. I came to Kujwana as a guest three years ago and fell in love with the camp, the horses and the delta. From then on I had only one job in mind and last year it became a reality.
3. How did you get into guiding? Was there someone who inspired you?
I was inspired by a very close friend of mine who worked out here for many years. Whilst I was in the Army he would send me constant insights into life in the Delta and I promised him I would at least visit to see it for myself. After finally finding the time to visit him and meeting Barney and PJ (the owners of Kujwana), as well as our lead guide Rodgers I was inspired by their knowledge of the area and the animals and wanted to learn more about it for myself. A year after visiting as a guest I returned as a volunteer and was further amazed by the intricacies of the area and the job. I wanted to learn more about the animals, the area and how to run a camp in the middle of the bush and luckily in PJ and Barney, I had two of the most experienced people in the business to teach me. From then on I was hooked and every day I continue to be amazed and further inspired by my surroundings.
4. If you hadn’t become a riding guide, what was your Plan B?
If I hadn’t moved out here I would still be in the Army. I was still enjoying my job at the time of leaving and only left due to an insatiable urge to get back to Africa. I was very fortunate that the timing was right and a space opened up for me in the company. I haven’t looked back since!
There are so many things I love about this job. I love the fact that I am out on horse back almost every day and in such an incredible setting. Every morning I get up and look forward to the day ahead, knowing that it will be different from the last. I’m not sure I will ever find riding at home in Scotland as exciting again without the constant presence of antelope, giraffe and elephants. Not to mention the burst of excitement when one spots a lion, leopard or honey badger!
I also thoroughly enjoy the interaction I have with the guests. I have learnt more about the world and its cultures from sitting around a camp fire with the huge variety of guests we are lucky enough to have then I ever did travelling with the Army.
I can honestly say that there are very few downsides to my job. I suppose the distance from home and limited communications with family and friends would be the biggest. I work incredibly hard and for very long hours, but after a career in the Army I considered this the norm so it really doesn’t bother me. I don’t think there are many jobs in the world that you can truly believe are perfectly suited for you. I am however fortunate enough to have found one of them.
6. What is the name of your favourite horse? And if they were a human, who would he/she be and why?
My favourite horse is called Black Mamba. A Kalahari farm horse, he arrived at Kujwana in 2011. One of six wild horses backed out of the Kalahari desert, he gained his name from the hissing noise he made at anyone who approached him when he first arrived. An amazingly brave and caring horse, Mamba and I have had some great adventures together.
Who do I think he would be if he was human? That’s a difficult question! His best friend in the yard is a horse called Scorpion – another of the Kalahari ponies – they make a great pair and they often remind me of Dennis the Menace and his pet dog Gnasher as they charge around the yard causing the chaos. They are both incredibly brave horses but are full of mischief and take every opportunity to remind you who is boss! Not quite a human but probably as close as I can get! Mamba is a fantastic horse with a strong character and he is always my first choice.
I want for very little out here and I am used to living without many of life’s little luxuries, such as tv! As I learn more about the Delta and its many inhabitants I think the most valuable thing (actually a person) to me is Rodgers our lead guide. Having worked here for 25 years his knowledge base is second to none. The most patient and laid back man I have ever met he has been, and still is, teaching me all there is to know about reading animal behaviour, tracking and surviving in the bush. An incredible individual whose passion for the Delta is second to none. I think my time out here to date would have been very different without his guidance and teaching.
8. What has been your most memorable ride?
There have been so many memorable rides for so many reasons. It’s always incredible to get your first sighting of a rhino, leopard, lion or wild dog. I often get more excited than the guests! For me though I think a ride that I will never forget was in July this year when we rode with a pack of wild dog as they prepared to hunt. My favourite animals in the Delta, it was incredible to see them prepare and then spread out in prefect formation to pursue a Tsessebe. We watched from a distance as they surrounded their prey and eventually made the kill. A very successful pack I have followed their progress closely over the past few months. They now have 5 new puppies and I take such pleasure in seeing them healthy and thriving.
9. How do you relax after a day in the saddle?
I have a beautiful veranda that looks onto the river running past the camp. After a long day’s ride I always take some time to myself to sit and watch the Pied Kingfishers diving and reflect on the day. This is normally aided by a cold beer of course!
10. What advice would you give a 21-year-old who wants to train for your job?
My advice would be to get out there and give it a go as a volunteer first. This gives you a great insight into the company, living in the environment and allows the outfitters to see you. After this you can build on the skills that you have seen are required and work towards applying for a permanent job. This type of work is not suited to everyone and it takes a lot of time and money to get permits to work abroad. Volunteering allows you to confirm that it is the job you imagined it to be, and trust me, you will know very quickly. Be prepared; you must have a skill set suited to the job and be willing to put in some seriously hard work.
11. Where do you go on holiday?
I have so much of Africa still to see that on my time off I normally stay within the continent and travel to new places. I do love to go home to Scotland however and enjoy trips in to the Scottish highlands.
Thank you Duncan for your wonderful images and a wonderful insight into your life in the Delta.
You can meet Duncan from Kujwana at the Riding Holiday Show in London on 12 December 2015. Space at the venue is limited so you must obtain a ticket in advance. The event takes place at the Royal Overseas League in SW1 just off Piccadilly from 10 am to 6 pm.
38 different riding destinations will be represented at the Riding Holiday Show. All part of the In The Saddle portfolio of worldwide riding holidays.