I had arrived at Horizon Ranch in the evening when it was already dark, and although I was instantly charmed by the comfort and attention to detail (petals on the bed!) in my rondavel, I hadn’t had a chance to see much of where I was. So I woke up to the sounds of the birdlife outside at 6am the next morning like a little kid on Christmas morning, excited to begin experiencing my African adventure. The peek out my window didn’t disappoint, as I glimpsed the large dam that was home to the hippos I heard, and the lovely pool and lawn dotted with day beds. I sat on the porch of my cozy chalet and enjoyed a cup of tea until Sophie arrived with her wakeup call, which she would deliver every morning at 7am in preparation for breakfast at 7:30 before our first ride at 8am. This morning in my exuberance I dashed to the main lodge where breakfast is served on the porch, getting there far earlier than the other guests, but giving me time to enjoy watching the horses being served their own breakfast outside the stable next door.
The herd of about 80 horses lives free to wander the reserve but they’re each brought in twice a day for breakfast and dinner and for the opportunity to be checked over. The sizable herd with its wide variety allows each guest to ride several different horses and surely develop their own favorites. The safari saddles, styled like a McClellan, are comfortable to ride in, and we were each provided with our own water bottle on the rides. My first morning out was led by Shane, who, together with his wife Laura, has been running Horizon since 1993.
We joked that he must have emailed all the animals beforehand to schedule a viewing time, as we encountered them like clockwork: kudu, impala, hippo, zebra, giraffe, warthog, and eland. Although some of the animals, like the eland, were skittish, most allowed us to get very close to them, used to the horses from their shared grazing lands. The sandy ground of the reserve is what Laura called the world’s largest dressage arena, and is ideal for lovely long canters. I was thoroughly pleased with this introduction to riding in Africa!
Upon returning home at about 11am, each day we would have lunch under the tree on the lawn at noon, then retire to lounge with a book or swim in the pool until 4, at which point we were fed again at afternoon tea before riding out at 4:30pm. The riding schedule each day varied; there can be a rousing introduction to polocrosse, an afternoon ride for sundowners or to enjoy a performance by the local choir, western games, visiting the local village and school, swimming with horses, with nearly endless varieties. I loved our long morning ride through the village to a viewing platform, which gave us a lovely panorama of the African countryside below.
It felt like a whole new world riding through the cow pastures and past the homes and donkeys, and I loved cantering a line of small log jumps. Then upon returning home we changed clothes and mounted up bareback for a swim in the dam. My first swimming experience was under the good care of my horse, Spearchucker Jones, who was clearly an expert and lent some confidence to both me and other less practiced horses.
Surrounded by jacaranda trees on a morning rideThe guides and staff are all so wonderfully accommodating and knowledgeable and they all endeavor to make you feel welcome and comfortable during your stay. The atmosphere is relaxed and professional, with delicious and plentiful food and drink throughout and comfortable, cozy lodging. You can visit the beading shop on the farm, which offers many tempting beautifully made items such as brow bands, collars, belts, bracelets, sandals, and the ranch can arrange a trip to a nearby reserve to see the big African game by vehicle. Although I was muscle weary from the constant full days of riding, it was an incredibly relaxing experience and I left the ranch feeling as though I had made another home.
By Megan Barrett