YOUR HORSE – January 17 – February 13 2002
“THE RIDE OF MY LIFE”
Victoria Jackson has an adventure on horse back in Botswana’s Okavango Delta.
“Lion”, shouts Barney calmly, “everyone mount up!” At a speed worthy of a record breaking attempt we all scramble aboard before Barney even finishes the sentence. Thankfully the lioness is equally startled by the rude interruption to her morning nap and leaps into the bushes with a flick of her tail. This is riding in Africa.
I set out on my riding safari feeling excited, but more than a little nervous. Would the horses be well cared for? Would my riding be up to spending days in the saddle? Would we be safe? But I never could have imagined what my week in the Okavango Delta had in store.
I should have guessed that it was going to be something special when I shared my Air Botswana flight to Maun with Sir David Attenborough, before an exhilarating drive to base camp – a collection of luxurious tents nestled amongst trees. This is home to Okavango Horse Safaris and its 50 or so horses. It is run by Barney Bestelink and her husband PJ, and Barney was to be our guide. She greeted us with lunch, the table laden with the first of many delicious meals.
We were an international group of nine riders, with our long journey already forgotten, we were itching to meet the horses. Barney gave us our introduction to riding in Africa, including what to do in the event of a ‘situation’ with a lion. The first ride was perfect. I felt like a character from a children’s book, transported into a scene from Wildlife on One. My horse for the afternoon was Induna and, like many of Barney’s horses he was an ex-racehorse bought from Zimbabwe and a real gentleman.
We rode until sunset. I felt an incredible sense of freedom as we cantered along the winding sand tracks following the footsteps of elephants, giraffes, wildebeest and other wild animals that roam the Delta. Not a roar, a car, a house or any other people in sight.
MEET THE PEOPLE
We were on horseback again by dawn. Over breakfast in the dark we swapped tales of our sleepless night listening to the strange noises of the African bush. I was not the only one who had laid in bed clutching my duvet. My partner for today’s adventures was a pretty 16.1hh Thoroughbred. As we set off the sun cast a golden glow over his chestnut neck and the grassy plains that stretched out in front of us. We edged around lagoons watched by hippos, only their ears were visible above the water like the tips of living icebergs. In the distance we saw giraffes stalking sedately across the horizon.
We approached a group of zebra, red lechwe and wildebeest. They stood their ground until we were close, so close that we could have been riding through a field of sheep or cows. Young wildebeest bucked around acting the fool, and before we knew it we were cantering along with them. The zebras snorted tossing their striped mohican-crested necks cialis online no prescription. This was my idea of heaven
ON THE LION TRAIL
Our five hour ride was over before we knew it. We waded stifle-high through water, strewn with delicate water lilies, and stopped to let the hoses drink and nibble the reed-like grass. A hyena scowled at us and Barney pointed out the enormous paw prints left in the sand by a lion. As we walked in the sand she told us to keep a look out – it seemed the lions were never far away.
we rode on and had our mid morning chocolate break in the shade of a sausage tree. Its exotic strings of wine-coloured flowers dangled high above us, but this is not a good place to sit when the tree is bearing the marrow-like fruits that give it its name – falling sausage can be lethal!
A saddle-billed stork flew above us and the real world seemed very far away. Back at camp we untacked the horses and held them on long ropes while they enjoyed a well deserved roll. The look on their faces said it all. I needn’t have worried about their condition. They must be some of the most contented creatures I have ever met.
MASAI THE LION SPOTTER
We rode off at dawn and met the elephants who had paid us a visit in the night. Barney’s lead horse Masai was spooky -Barney suspected that he could smell lion. Trotting along a path, Masai turned and refused to go on. There was nothing to see but Barney gave him the benefit of the doubt. We skirted past the bushes. Around the corner in a flattened circle of grass was all that was left of a buffalo killed by lions. We must have ridden right past them. I felt lucky that we could rely on the horse’s sense of smell – a Land Rover can’t do that for you.
The next day we said goodbye to fly camp and rode off in a spectacular sunrise back to base. Today there were deep water crossings and we lifted the saddlebags onto our shoulders so the chocolate stayed dry. Riding through a forest the trees suddenly came alive with giraffes. The giant creatures were all around us but the horses didn’t seem to mind. They moved gracefully alongside, watching us with their gentle brown eyes. Sitting on horseback I didn’t feel like a tourist, it just felt like we were part of the scenery.
We watched the giraffes for a while before deciding to leave them in peace. We dismounted and led the horses to give them a break, but Masai suddenly stopped in his tracks; he was looking at something. Barney spotted a lion print in the dust and there, sitting in the golden grass, perfectly disguised, was a lioness. None of us had ever mounted up so quickly and we rode off in twos for safety. It seems Masai is the perfect lion lookout and Barney says he been right too many times not to listen to him.
THE BIG SWIM
Our ride back to camp took us across watery plains filled with lush reeds. We elected to take a route which crossed the river as it meant that we got the chance to swim with the horses. It was a rush to get back before sunset and as we cantered through shallow water, spray from the horse’s hooves splashed around us. The horses loved it and so did the riders. With no rocks to step on, the flooded desert makes perfect riding country. We arrived at our river crossing as the sun had already started to cast its molten reflection on the water. Barney ran through our instructions on e last time and we all dismounted, took off our saddles and tied knots in our reins.
One by one, with nervous excitement, we rode bareback into the deep water. As it rose up around our waists we leaned forward and let our weight float up and off the horse’s backs to make it easier for them to swim. Then all we had to do was hold on tightly to a piece of mane and let the horses pull us through. Soon we reached the other side- dripping wet and grinning from ear to ear.
ONE LAST RIDE
Our last dawn ride came far to soon. I was back with my old friend Samburu. We rode out along the now usual lion tracks as the sunrise cast its rosy glow over the water crossings. As we cantered along we turned a corner and a herd of giraffe were suddenly gliding effortlessly alongside us.
We waded back into camp for the last time, sad to be parting with our horses. For the past few days they had carried us through the perfect wilderness of the Okavango Delta, through danger and through breathtaking beauty.