Best Advice on Riding in South Africa
Unicorn Trails is in a unique position to advise you on horse riding holidays in South Africa. Our Managing Director, Wendy Hofstee, grew up in South Africa and throughout her 20 years of living in England, has continued to visit South Africa at least twice a year. She knows Southern Africa like the back of her hand and just about every riding opportunity south of the equator.
Huge amount of land is protected
With 21 National Parks and hundreds more private reserves, many with open borders to the National Parks, South Africa offers excellent game viewing in all seasons and areas. In South Africa, unlike Botswana, Kenya and Tanzania, game reserves are all fenced and the game is actually owned. There are no large migrations and you know what sort of game is in a reserve. As most reserves range in size from around 20,000 acres to the 4 million acres Kruger Park, these are no safari park rides!
Variety of Riding Experiences
Our South African riding tours are carefully selected, not only for the first time visitor to South Africa, who may wish to focus on the highlights of game viewing and a visit to Cape Town/beaches, but also the best off-the-beaten-track experiences to reflect South Africa's incredible natural landscapes, welcoming hospitality, customs, traditions, histories, and wildlife.
Nelson Mandela coined the phrase "rainbow nation" to describe this outstanding diversity and we are proud to reflect this in our selection of riding holidays and specialist advice. Come on some of the best value safaris in the world and then look further to some of our hidden gems. You’re sure to want to return to South Africa!
Safety when riding with game
Almost everyone asks “Isn’t this dangerous?” or “Won’t I be eaten by lion?”. In a nutshell, no, this is not dangerous and you won’t be eaten by a lion but make sure you are accompanied by an experienced guide.
Riding safaris and horse riding amongst game have some incredible advantages over vehicle based safaris: you are at one with nature and your environment, seated up high with a good view. Not only is your horse watching his feet, but he is aware of all the smells and sounds of the bush around him at all times. And the horse you ride, being local and experienced, will know how to process this information. Have a look at his ears – that bush he is staring at intently probably hides a well camouflaged antelope. If he drops his head to graze you can be pretty sure there is no danger in the area. If he becomes uneasy or refuses to advance, look again for any danger. Your horse is experienced at preserving his safety, all you have to do is stay with him.
Of course your guides know the areas and habits of the game like the back of their hands and will be looking at spoor (footprints), observing the behaviors of the wildlife and horses, so any warning signs of unease or aggression can be acted on.
There is always a lead guide (sometimes armed if there is dangerous game present) and a backup guide. In the event your guide thinks there may be an unsafe situation developing, you all turn round and follow the backup guide away. At all times there is a guide between you and any wildlife.
This safety relies on two things: the ability of your guide to keep you away from dangerous situations (almost foolproof on our rides) and your ability to stay on your horse. So although you may never have to gallop out of danger, if you do not have a secure seat we suggest you stick to riding with non-dangerous game (no lion, elephant or buffalo) where falling off does not matter.
Horseback Safaris for riders with less experience
We recommend riding with non-dangerous game and sticking to vehicles to see lion, elephant, buffalo, black rhino or leopard. For this sort of relaxed and safe introduction to game viewing consider:
Horizon Ranch – a wonderful all round destination where you can bring anyone from your event riding friend to your granny. The easy transfer from Johannesburg, relaxing welcome, a stable of horses for all riding abilities and plenty of easy to see plains game on the extensive ranch make for a great introduction to South African wildlife. This riding holiday is ideal for families in holiday time, single riders and a relaxed introduction to the South African way of life for anyone.
Ants Reserve – a more luxurious and game focused safari not far from Horizon Ranch and an easy transfer from Johannesburg. This horseback safari offers exceptionally good riding for all abilities amongst plains game with vehicle safaris to see the Big 5 in nearby reserves. A very personalized safari experience which is great for families in holiday time with very knowledgeable and entertaining guides.
Zululand Private Reserve – a 5 star safari in an extraordinarily beautiful setting. This horseback safari is small and exclusive with spacious and individual suites, private balconies, gourmet food and a stable of Arabian and Boerperd horses suitable for all riding abilities. Non dangerous game up to cheetah can be found on the reserve and vehicle safaris into the neighboring Big 5 Reserve can be booked. Astonishing value for money.
Safaris on horseback for more experienced riders
Big 5 Safari – a luxurious and personal safari by the "Wait A Little" team in the large Karongwe Reserve near the Kruger Park where the Big 5 are present. Fun and fast horse riding on beautifully schooled horses, exciting game viewing, huge luxury tented platforms, a true safari experience.
African Explorer– combining 4 days in South Africa with 3 days in Botswana allowing you to see the Big 5 and 2 very different areas of Africa. A really good confident intermediate riders onwards and the best value Big 5 viewing on a horseback safari.
Lastly on the game front, if you wish to combine fine dining with game viewing, the Ride and Dine Safari from Wiat A Little might offer the right combination of expereinces.
Riding in South Africa "Off the Beaten Track"
Should you wish to explore beyond the areas most first time visitors see wehave some great riding in some extraordinary but underappreciated regions.
Riding the Wild Coast of South Africa
Named for the numerous ship wrecks the wild seas drove ashore, this region was formerly known as the Transkei (across the Great Kei River) and is the home of Nelson Mandela and the Xhosa tribe. Famed for magnificent beaches, rich fishing and an area where Xhosa traditions are still widely honoured, it is well worth the short flight to East London and road transfer.
Ride the classical Wild Coast Beach Trail with endless beach gallops on fit endurance horses and experience all the region has to offer in terms of Xhosa culture, abandoned shipwrecks and magnificent scenery on a point to point trail for good riders.
Riding on the Sunshine Coast of South Africa
Offering almost non stop beaches, great surf spots and excellent water sports this is a posular holiday destination for South Africans but largely forgotten by international tourists. The marine life along this coast is sensational too with plenty of dolphins and whales that can be spotted trhoughout the year. A great place to ride outside of South African school holiday times.
Fly into Port Elizabeth (or PE as it is known in SA) and a short drive up the coast you will come to our Eastern Cape Beach and Game Trail. A perfect palce for a super friendly intorduction to the "good life" to be had in South Africa. Miles of beaches, beautiful overnight locations and a safe game experience and all round super relaxing experience. Either the full trail or a short break to add onto other rides or tours on request.
The Western Cape
Only 90 minutes’ drive north of Cape Town is a largely forgotten region, the West Coast. In August and September visitors descend to admire the endless vibrant orange fields of Namaqualand daisies, after which the region once again quiet. For those in the know the beautiful coastline is famous for fishing, seafood and quality restaurants and is fast becoming the place to have a second home if you live in South Africa.
Lastly as we are experts on South Africa, we offer many non riding extensions to round off your horse riding holiday - a relaxing trip to Sun City, swimming with penguins, a stay in the winelands are just a few suggestions. Why not spend some time in Cape Town visiting Robben Island, Table Mountain, local beaches and the Cape of Good Hope. Due to our intimate knowledge of all aspects of South Africa we can create a bespoke itinerary that is not only made up of standard components but reflects the hundreds of thousands of miles travelling we at Unicorn have collectively done in South Africa.
South Africa is truly a "world in one country" and we have horse riding holidays that reflect this. So for the best collection of horse riding holidays in South Africa, look no further!