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.
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 Kruger Park which is 4 million acres, there are no safari park rides!
Our South Africa horse riding holiday products are carefully selected, not only for the first time visitor to South Africa, who may wish to focus on 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!
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.
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 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 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.
For more experienced riders looking for an adventure:
Big 5 Safari – a luxurious and personal safari in a large 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 4 days in Botswana allowing you to see the Big 5 and 2 very different areas of Africa. A really good experience for riders.
Lastly on the game front, if you wish to combine some tuition with game viewing, the Get Fit for Safari programme might offer the right combination, return with confidence and multiple skills after a week with a difference.
Off the Beaten Track Should you wish to explore beyond the areas most first time visitors see wehave some great rides in three extraordinary but underappreciated regions.
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. We offer 3 itineraries:
The classical Wild Coast Beach Trail where you experience all the region has to offer in terms of Xhosa culture, magnificent scenery, long beach gallops on a point to point trail for good riders.
Surf and Turf combines 3 days staying onsite at the luxury Endalweni Private Game Reserve followed by 4 days seeing the highlights of the Wild Coast.
For those who have never been to Africa and would like to spend a week in beautiful lodge with the sea a stone's throw away and the opportunity to ride out amongst giraffe, zebra and antelope then our based stay at Endalweni would suit perfectly.
For experienced riders only why not join the challenge of The Ride's Wild Coast Adventure? Incredible adventure not for the faint hearted!
The Drakensberg Escarpment
To the west of Johannesburg the highveld plateau ends with the Drakensberg Mountains which fall away in a spectacular 3,000 ft drop to the lowveld, a much warmer region. Historically the lowveld was not much good for cattle and farming due to pests and parasite although wildlife flourished. The region eventually became the home of many game reserves (including the first, the Kruger National Park), an area where toughened game rangers living in primitive conditions conserved an area the size of a country, and defended their lives against rogue lions by using penknives.
This is also the place of some of the country’s most romantic history. Adventurers, swindlers, dreamers and layabouts were lured by the discovery of gold; transport riders blazed their trails and men lived off the land by hunting from horseback. A tradition of campfire stories evolved and the life of the transport rider was immortalized by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick’s tale of Jock, the dog of the Bushveld.
The Drakensburg and Kruger Combo riding holiday we offer here encompasses all of the above: fantastic riding at any pace you like along the spectacular Escarpment with panoramic views in every direction as well as a 3 night stay in the Kruger National Park.
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.
The Cape Winelands Adventure is an full-on endurance ride for fit, experienced riders only and covers 235km of the Cape stopping and wineries along the way
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!
You've either never ridden or may have had a few lessons. You may be able to trot or ride out at a walk.
You've mastered the basic aids in walk, trot and canter. You're confident on a well-schooled horse in walk, rising trot (posting), and for short periods of canter in a school or outside.
You're a secure rider on a well-schooled horse at all paces including cantering in open country. You're happy to ride for several hours and may have some jumping experience.
You're an experienced rider, confident and relaxed on horseback. You ride regularly, have an independent seat and soft hands. You're capable of handling a spirited horse in open country and are happy to jump. You have experience of riding a variety of horses.
Does not wish to ride.
A little different from home, there may be language barriers or different ways of doing things, still quite comfortable, may be unpredictable parts or some rugged terrain.
Different accommodations, attitudes or methods of riding are used to normal riding at home, may have challenging terrain, long days or itinerary changes, may involve camping or not so comfortable accommodation. An appetite for exploration and new experiences required.
Situated in the rolling hills of KwaZuluNatal province this five star lodge offers beautiful Arab horses, magnificent accommodation and excellent food. Plentiful plains game on the reserve. Suitable for beginners.