The thrill of galloping along the plains with a herd of shy zebra or giraffes, wind against your face and heart pumping faster, instead of photographing them from the comfort of a 4x4 car is the ultimate luxury travel.
To enjoy a horse riding safari, be a comfortable rider keen at going on long gallops in two point position across different terrains and able to control a spirited horse under conditions that might arise in the bush.
Most travellers shy away from booking horse riding holidays because they don’t know how to keep the horse going for long, but some lodges have designated grounds where you can test ride.
But if you weigh more than 100 kilogrammes, you may just be a spectator.
When choosing where to go, pick between a lodge and a luxury tented camp. Here are a few horseback riding destinations:
An excellent spot to consider is Kilima Camp which has athletic Somali-Arab crossbreds and thoroughbreds, with a one-hour ride going for about Sh4,000.
As with most excursions, when you show up from your tent in the morning, the horse selected for you will be tacked up and saddled. An attendant will then hold the saddle in place as you hop on before you set off after a guide who will be on a lead horse which sets the pace.
Do not be anxious about encountering wildlife while riding. Lions and other predators will generally move when they hear you approaching.
The biggest threat in the Mara is actually elephants, hippos and buffalos, but your horse should be able to outrun all three.
This is also why it helps to be able to handle a spirited horse, and you should be truthful with your tour planner as at the time of booking.
It is quite the exhilarating experience to cross the Mara River on horseback with hippos, elephants and baboons closely keeping guard or to chance upon a pride of lions who will let you take pictures as long as you don’t surprise them in the bush.
You will also avoid the sometimes-invasive tourist vans (although this shouldn’t really be an issue either way if you go to a private conservancy) making for quite the exclusive and memorable experience.
The most popular spot for riding is Ol Donyo Lodge which not only offers comfortable accommodation but also has a spa.
You will realise just how handy that is after spending several hours over a couple of days on a saddle!
For accommodation, it costs Sh80,000 per night, with gentle 90 minute rides available for beginners. It is an intimate spot that was initially built as a private house and later rebuilt to include villas with private plunge pools and platforms for star gazing.
The lodge is set on a private 275,000 acre stretch of land with Mt Kilimanjaro as a background, and is one of the best spots to start as a novice particularly since the terrain over the open acacia-studded plains is gentle.
Horses are generally thoroughbreds, South African boerperd, Somali ponies and their crosses, with English or South African saddles.
Guests get to spot a variety of wildlife along the traditional migration corridor between Tsavo National Park and Amboseli.
The beautiful vast landscape here makes for some of the most spectacular views that Kenya has to offer. This is also the ultimate lodge-riding destination, with several luxury lodges set on private ranches of up to 100,000 acres. Three spots to consider are Sosian, Ol Malo and Borana.
Borana Lodge, for instance, has three stables with patent safety horses that beginners can use to encounter wildlife, polo ponies for experienced riders to take across the beautiful farm and forest, and more.
All are well-schooled and ridden in snaffle bridles. Horses were the primary means of transport for the family when they first settled in the ranch, and guests can now go out to Lolldaiga hills and beyond after tucking into breakfast.
Sosian Lodge is accessible via a private airstrip, Nanyuki or Loisaba. They have a befitting seven-day horseback safari itinerary for about Sh770,000, including full board accommodation, internal flights and other luxuries.
Riders here should be experienced enough to canter, jump and gallop at all paces for two to three hours through rivers and open plains, in groups no bigger than eight.
Children and novice riders can also be catered for with lessons in a fenced area close to the lodge.