Imagine cantering through large herds of game on the plains of the Masai Mara or hacking through the deep valleys and open plateaus of the Laikipia rangelands. Kenya has been the home of horse riding safaris for over 40 years, with equine expeditions to suit all levels of rider.
The choice of setting dictates the style of riding, so choosing where to go is important. The horses come from hardy stock and are usually a mix of African breeds (Boerped/Somali) crossed with Arab thoroughbreds with western-style tuition and tack (English/Australian).
Guiding is extremely flexible, patient and professional with everything from half day hacks from luxury lodges to multi-day mobile camping style expeditions on offer.
Here are three of our favourite places to ride:
A former stronghold of the country’s cattle and sheep farming communities, horse riding has been part of life for families (many of whom have British heritage) in Laikipia, for over a century. Today, their husbandry heritage is integrated with the region’s pioneering safari scene and families have joined forces to drop fences and regenerate ecosystems so that wildlife and livestock can co-exist.
There’s a frontier feel to riding in Laikipia. Stay at old family ranches, with the option to camp out for a night or two under the stars. As riding is conducted on private land, you are free to roam wherever the wind takes you; stop to swim in a river, or climb a boulder at sunset. The game viewing is some of the best in Kenya and the horses here are trained to allow you to get within metres of many of the herbivores. Black and white rhino, together with lion are abundant in this region.
The Masai Mara equals animals – lots of them. There’s no better way to get among the herds than on a horse. Saddling up in this region is best suited to confident intermediate to advanced riders who are looking for the thrill of multi-day, fast-paced, adventurous rides out on the open savannah.
Riding with game is best done from July to September, where mobile camps are placed deep into Masailand outside of the reserve. This is where large herds of wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, gazelle and elephant roam without restriction. There are nearly always Maasai as part of your crew and they can offer authentic cultural interactions in villages you pass, far removed from tourism.
Novice riders can also ride in the Masai Mara, and its best to base yourself in one of the private conservancies surrounding the main. Rides are shorter and less intense – 2-hour rides either in the morning or afternoon.
As though looking through a virtual reality headset, Chyulu’s landscapes seem somewhat unreal. A perfect variety of scenery, the blend of scale, colour, and wildlife are incomprehensible until visited. It is one of East Africa’s true hidden gems. Think sun-kissed views of Kilimanjaro, giant granite hills the size of skyscrapers, topped with cloud forest where giant forest hogs roam and exotic birds sing. Follow black lava flows through some of the world’s youngest volcanic cones and craters to woodland savannah, where black rhino munch and leopards sleep.
Riding in this neck of the woods is unsurprisingly a joy. Its best to be at an intermediate level with a fair degree of riding fitness as this is big game country. Encounters with elephant herds, buffalo, rhino and even the big cats, as well as all manner of antelope are commonplace.