Sophie Baker enjoys the wonders of South Africa with some delightful horses...
I’m seated on an expansive riverside deck overlooking the South African bushveld.
My riding helmet, atop the table, rocks back and forth ever so slightly as a gentle breeze does its best to pierce through the midday heat. As I wash down a bite of homemade orange cake with a sip of coffee, Gerti Kusseler starts the safety briefing.
First up; a form stating that if I don’t follow instructions carefully, I “might get eaten.” Not by her husband, Phillip Kusseler, head guide and the other half of the dynamic German duo. But by the lions and elephants we're going in search of – on horseback.
I’m at Wait A Little, South Africa’s only horseback safari that offers guests the opportunity to see the Big Five from horseback: lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo, and leopard.
They say that Africa gets under your skin, and into your blood. You see, once you’ve set foot on her soil - like it or not - Africa is in your veins.
Yet only a few are fortunate enough to enjoy all that the African bushveld has to offer. Fewer still are privileged enough to see it from between the ears of a horse.
And somehow, despite having ridden for all of my adult life and ticked off safari-related experiences like they were going out of fashion, I’d never been on a proper horseback safari. Not even with Wait A Little practically on my doorstep.
Now, only a few short weeks later, I’m not sure if normal safaris will ever quite compare.
As a competitive rider myself, the very last thing that I want to do is spend my precious paid leave riding wild, uncontrollable horses. That’s no holiday, as far as I’m concerned.
If I wanted to do that, I could ask for a spin on any number of the half-feral Namibian Warmbloods in my immediate riding vicinity. And while I (mostly) don’t mind my horses spooking at completely inanimate and harmless objects, I’m not keen on re-enacting your average chestnut thoroughbred’s reaction to a plastic bag while surrounded by literal lions.
Luckily, the horses at Wait A Little couldn’t be faulted. From my Friesian cross Hardy (described by Phillip as “sweet but not a racehorse”) to my personal favourite, a 17hh Warmblood named Castello, each of my four horses was responsive, brave, and reliable. And the same could be said for every other guest.
That’s due in no small part to owner-operators Phillip and Gerti, who emigrated from Germany over 20 years ago to start Wait A Little. During their first few years on the farm, the horses are carefully produced both inside and outside the arena, learning from both their horse and human counterparts. The end result is a string of horses of varying sizes who are all an absolute pleasure for the guests.
Gerti competes at Grand Prix Dressage, and makes sure that the horses are beautifully schooled on the flat and able to pop over small jumps. So yes, that literally means that your horses are produced by a GP rider. Not a bad start, as far as horse safaris go!
Phillip, as a skilled horseman and one of the most qualified game rangers around, leads the rides with one of his four dedicated lead horses. In the event that a sighting does get a little bit too exciting, any of these rock-solid horses will happily stand their ground against the most intimidating of wild animals.
The Horseback Safari Experience…
Each day follows the same rough pattern; a quick early morning coffee and bite to eat, then a long ride before the heat of the day gets too intense.
A big lunch lulls you into a food coma, if you’re anything like me. Your free time is spent napping, reading, or lounging around by the pool or deck – preferably with a G&T in hand. Then before the temptation to sink deeper into the crisp white linen becomes too strong, you’re back on the horses for an afternoon safari ride.
After each of the rides, we’d come back flushed with excitement and full of wonder at the treasures that horseback safari has to offer.
From watching the fluttering of tens of individual lashes on a rhino’s eyes as he drifted off to sleep, to the soft meowing of a young lion calling to his pride, the gentle padding of their paws as they follow us into a clearing, and the folds of an elephant’s trunk as it winds through the lone bush separating them from my horse’s nose, each and every ride offered us the type of once-in-a-lifetime experiences I hadn’t ever realised were possible.
And despite incredible sightings of some of the Big Five (though I’m still planning to go back to find a leopard!), there’s plenty of magic to be found in the other wildlife too; the curious zebra foal whose glance flickered between us and his mother as if trying to understand where the stripes had gone, a family of hippo surfacing in the dam to blow water at us in their best whale impression, countless buck snorting and cantering alongside us, and giraffe thoughtfully examining us from the treetops as we towered under their shadows.
Time to Relax…
Every evening, there’s a fire and communal dining table set up on the deck under a canvas of stars, and after showering away all the dust you’ll while the night away with three-course meals, fireside drinks, and tales of life in the bush. Brunch and dinner are where bread is broken, stories are shared, and friendships cemented.
Whether we were clinking glasses around the firepit, tucking into homemade bread and local fruit over brunch, or tasting the cheese soup of Phillip’s youth, there was a feeling of warmth and familiarity which gently enveloped you like a cloak. As if you, for that week, were a part of the family.
The pace of life is different out here. Reflective, deliberate, and quieter - despite the 6-8 hours spent in the saddle daily. Somehow, there’s always time to pause to admire a brightly-coloured bird in flight, to hear the tale of Spikey the tame porcupine, or to take that midday snooze.
Therein lies the reason that Wait A Little is named as it is. From the offset, the Kusselers knew that their dream horseback safari would be called Wait A Little – because the bush should offer an escape from the manic pace of everyday life.
It’s serendipitous; when the property was purchased, it was found to be rife with Wag-a-Bietjie trees. Translated directly from Afrikaans, they’re called “Wait A Little” trees.
My week on horseback safari could have leapt straight out of the pages of a novel. Big Five sightings aside, etched into my brain are memories of long dusty canters under a blood orange South African sunset, outdoor showers, and climbing – exhausted but content – into my bed to drift off to the bush soundtrack of lions roaring and hyenas whooping will.
No matter how many times you’ve heard the sound, you’ll never tire of the lion’s call.
Back at home, as I swing into the saddle of my own horse, I’m hit by the irony that it took two Germans and a different pair of horse’s ears to show me my beloved South Africa through new eyes.
Will I be back? Undoubtedly. Much like Africa itself, the memories horseback safari experience have crept under my skin and are here to stay – forever. The Kusselers, for all their German roots, have truly mastered the art of African hospitality.
FEI website met reisverslag van Sophie Baker
Meer info of zelf meemaken? Big Five Horse Safari