Few experiences can match horseback riding amongst a cantering herd of migrating wildebeest, matching the pace of a lolloping giraffe as it crosses a plain, or splashing through the shallows of an Okavango flood. Traveling on horseback opens up vast unfenced tracts of African wilderness, far from any road, and in Botswana, Kenya and Namibia you can ride for hundreds of miles without seeing any trace of humankind.
While African animals are nervous of human beings on foot, they are far more relaxed about riders on horseback. Your human form and scent is disguised by your mount and it is possible, on horseback, to mingle in with grazing herds. As a part of Africa's living environment, a horseback safari gets you closer to nature than any other means of travel. It also enables you to reach regions too remote for even the sturdiest four-wheel drive.
It's essential to realistically assess your horse-riding skills and choose an appropriate riding safari. You don't need to be a world-class rider, as there are several operators in South Africa and Kenya who cater for complete beginners. Longer safaris in more remote regions require a higher level of proficiency. If there is a lion in the long grass you need to be able to stay in the saddle as your horse will certainly react quickly.
Several lodges and camps have their own stables and can offer short half-day rides. Some African farms involve horses in every aspect of day-to-day life, and guests at selected farm-stay lodges can participate in cattle mustering or impromptu games of polo: a vivid experience of rural African life. Committed riders can choose from a range of horseback safaris that last for days or weeks, fly-camping in the bush, dining under the stars and tacking up at daybreak for full days in the saddle.
Africa's top countries for riding safaris include Malawi, South Africa, Kenya and Botswana.