Okavango horseback experience:
Several giraffes leant their long necks forward and poked their noses out from behind a clump of tall palm trees. They are inquisitive animals and they had heard the movement of our small group of riders as we went past. We were riding across the wet grassland plains of the Okavango, and winding between the small islands of trees and thick bush. When the waters of the delta rise these do quite literally become islands, but for now they were in a sea of lush green grass in various states of flooding.
The giraffes, like most of the other wildlife in the Okavango, don’t recognise riders as humans on horses. They simply see us as another small herd of plains animals. We weren’t a threat but we were useful to them. In a place like this all the wildlife is tuned into what is going on and looking for signs of danger from the behaviour of everything around them. We were part of that environment and with every passing day I was, myself, tuning in to this amazing experience of being part of the scene rather than an onlooker. So we were moving and the giraffes wanted to know why we weren’t just standing still and grazing. Their inquisitiveness drew them out from the islands to have a closer look.
All we had to do was break into a trot and it would spook them.
They started running.
Not away from us, but with us.
We were part of the herd. And boy can they run. Within seconds their graceful long-legged lope was out-pacing the horses.
We were getting faster too as we hit a deeper layer of water over the grassland. The water splashed and fountained up around the horses’ hooves as we cantered through this incredible wetland. It was exciting, exhilarating, thrilling.
A horseback safari is quite incredible. It goes beyond the viewing experience you get from a vehicle and even the immersion into the bush you get with a walking safari. It is the only safari I have ever done where I felt I was part of the landscape rather than just an excited visitor. Although, or course, I was that as well!
Okavango Delta, Botswana. (Note: horseback safaris are also available in other areas of the country. See below).
Riding is available all year around in the Okavango Delta, but the depth of water changes the experience and accessibility. High water concentrates the wildlife onto the islands of vegetation whilst at the driest times they congregate around waterholes.
Peak season is mid-July to the end of October; mid-season is April to mid-July and November; from December through March low season prices are available.
Who can do it:
You need to be an experienced rider. Non-riding partners or friends are welcome and there are game viewing activities provided for them.
Lodges or operators offering horse riding in Botswana:
In the Okavango Delta: Okavango Horse Safaris, African Horseback Safaris, Ride & Walk Safaris
In the Makgadikgadi Pans: Ride Botswana
Near Maun: Ride Botswana
In Tuli: Limpopo Horse Safaris (see article about riding in Tuli).