Duration: 2.5 – 3 hours (novice riders), 4.5 hours (experienced riders) – including preparation
Ideal timing: (in our opinion) when you have a full day on your itinerary. If you’re a novice rider, you might want to treat yourself to a massage afterwards.
Weight restriction: 85 kg (strict for novice riders)
Note: we consider this one of the top Things to Do in Victoria Falls
General description: Equine enthusiasts can embark on an enjoyable horseback safari within a wildlife area near the majestic Victoria Falls. Tailored for both novice and experienced riders, the safaris are led by experienced guides and can be enjoyed in the early morning or late afternoon.
Spoiler Alert: this write up describes our experience of the horseback activity in detail, though every ride will have its own wildlife sightings and unique moments.
We recently spent a wonderful Saturday morning out on horseback in the bush with Zambezi Horse Trails.
On arrival at the stables, we were warmly welcomed by Alison (who runs the stables) and her team. We were offered tea, coffee and biscuits, which were gladly received, as it was still very early and I hadn’t managed to even think about breakfast – though our luxury safari lodge had packed a wonderful breakfast for Phil, the guest whom I was accompanying.
Alison started off by talking with us about our previous riding experience. My personal experience on horseback is very limited, I watched my mother ride when I was very young, and I had a plod around a farm about 10 years ago. Apparently, Phil’s father was jockey, though Phil hadn’t ridden since he was very young. So let’s just say we were starting from scratch. Novice Riders.
We were weighed in (to make sure we were within the weight limit), and found riding hats to fit (which are a requirement), and riding chaps too (which are highly recommended). Once we were suitably kitted out it was time to meet our guides and mount our horses, and be given the (intense) safety briefing.
Reason was our lead guide, and Senior our backup guide. The gentlemen and their horses looked like one being – rather than one seated on top of another. I on the other hand, did not feel quite “as one” with my horse to begin with. Blaze, seemed to doubt by riding capabilities (rightly so), fortunately I had no doubts in Blaze’s capabilities.
Before starting the actual briefing, Alison advised us to receive the safety briefing as if we were receiving one on an aeroplane (worst case scenario, unlikely to happen, but best to be prepared). Then she explained the absolute worst case scenarios out in the bush. In summary, the most important thing is to hold on to your horse, “as a baby baboon would to its mother” if necessary.
Having digested the safety briefing, off we went. With Reason in the lead, and Blaze and I following closely behind. Phil asked me how I was feeling, and I had to admit “A little nervous”.
However, not far from the stables, we saw a mother warthog with her piglets. They barely seems to notice us and were so at ease with the horses. This first sighting was wonderful. I began to feel very much connected with Blaze and with the wilderness around me, and from that moment I was at ease as well.
Both Reason and Senior were in tune with the surroundings, and Blaze needed no prompting to plod along in single file (as we were expected to on our novice ride). Alison had explained how to get Blaze to start walking and to turn left or right, and of course how to stop. Though he happily took his lead from Reason’s horse, which was very much appreciated by this novice rider.
Despite the fact that everyone encouraged me, and said I looked very comfortable on Blaze, and as much as I felt calm in the natural environment, everything about being on a horse was very foreign to me: sitting in the saddle, wearing the riding hat, even wearing riding chaps.
Though not long into our ride we understood the point of riding chaps, and were glad for them – many of the trails that we moved along were narrow, and many of the bushes on either side of the trail were thorny. The chaps saved our trousers from tears, and our legs from what might have been nasty scratches.
As we made our way through along the trails, we rode by herds of impala, who (as with the warthog) were not concerned about our presence, and we came within feet of a stunning male waterbuck.
As much as we connected with the natural environment around us, we also learned about it on this incredible horseback nature trail.
Reason realised that both Phil and I were interested in the different trees, and he pointed out the butterfly-like leaves of the Mopani trees (which were all around us), and another “magic” tree, twigs from which are used as toothbrushes in rural areas of Zimbabwe.
At some point, the Mopani woodland merges with riverine habitat and quite suddenly you find yourself on the banks of the Zambezi River, with Ilala Palms and African Sausage trees scattered along it.
Reason explained to us, that the horses are not permitted to drink at the river because of the crocodiles in the river. The horses, being very well trained, showed no interest in this immense water source, but they were quite keen on the fresh green grass growing on the banks of the river.
We followed the Zambezi downstream toward the spray of the Victoria Falls for some time. Enjoying the gorgeous scenery, the cool breeze off the river, and the shade from the riverine forest. Then we turned away from the Zambezi River and toward the Big Tree (a baobab tree, though to be over 1,000 years old). And the habitat quickly changed.
In thick vegetation, Reason spotted and pointed out something at a distance. I had been chatting away excitedly about birds and trees… At Reason’s signal, Blaze came to a sudden halt and so did my chattering.
Elephant! Let’s just say, I have a healthy respect for these incredible creatures, and I was personally relieved that they were a reasonable distance from us. Phil had been hoping to see elephant from horseback, and so this was a tick-the-box for him.
If the elephant did notice us ogling them, they didn’t let on, but rather kept their focus on the tree that was breakfast. After a while admiring the bright white tusks, we moved on.
A few minutes later, I saw a flash of blue in amongst the shrubs. Instincts kicked in, and I brought Blaze to a halt, which brought our line to a halt. And the birder in me became overly excited about the sighting of a Woodland Kingfisher!
We had seen and learned about the fascinating white-browed sparrow weavers in the Mopani woodland, and an open-billed stork on a sandbank in the Zambezi River, along with a multitude of other birdlife along the way, however I do have a soft-spot for kingfishers.
As birds tend to do, the kingfisher flew off and on we went.
Blaze’s pace quickened when we crossed the “Cape-to-Cairo railway” (it never made it to Cairo, but that’s a story for another day). It was clear that Blaze’s homing instinct had kicked in. She knew we were almost back at the stable.
As much as I was relieved to know that I would be stepping out of the saddle, I was sad to realise that our ride was almost over. Phil shared the same sentiments. The time had flown by as we had been so absorbed in the wilderness around us.
Before returning to the stable, having ridden up an elevation, we paused, and Reason pointed backwards. From there we could see the winding Zambezi River and the spray of the mighty Victoria Falls, Mosi-Oa-Tunya. A reminder of what an incredibly special part of the world we are in.
Back at the stables, we got our last pictures with our horses. Mine being to prove that I had (if not exactly “ridden”) at least managed to stay seated on Blaze for the duration of our Horseback safari. (Though, in my excitement, I forgot the cardinal rule, “Toes up, Heels down.”)
The Horseback safari is a wonderful nature trail, it’s both experiential and also educational, as you have an opportunity to learn about the wilderness as you move through it, with your experienced guides.
The trails take you through a number of different habitats, showcasing a variety of flora and fauna. You’ll have the opportunity to see big game from a distance, and to get up-close with plains game, such a giraffe, zebra, impala and waterbuck.
Thank you to Alison, Reason, Senior & the team from Zambezi Horse Trails for this incredible experience!