Finally, I turned into the Nature Reserve in Botswana after a 5½ hour drive from Johannesburg. I was nervous. Nervous about riding in the wild African bush. Nervous about riding new horses.
My soon to be trusted guide, Steven, with arm outstretched, shook my hand. His strength and confidence reassured me. Immediately I knew that this man could take care of me in any situation. I desperately needed this reassurance.
Steven manages the horse safaris with Unicorn Trails. He knows each horse well, perfectly matching horse and rider. Steven’s inexhaustible knowledge of the bush and its animals was amazing. His charismatic nature belied a mischievous streak, which we soon discovered. The many laughs and my unexpected dunk in the Limpopo River (after giving too much cheek) were, in itself, worth the visit.
Australia’s Banjo Patterson once wrote in his poem The Man from Snowy River – “The stock horse snuffs the battle with delight”. So too do these horses.
Willingly my horse offered me his all. Galloping along the dry bed of David Livingstone’s Limpopo River. Cantering along meandering trails passing Kudu, Impala, Bushbuck, Warthog and Baboons. Conquering steep sand banks. Negotiating rocky river crossings – sometimes under the watchful eyes of the crocodile. My riding abilities and fitness level being challenged at every turn.
The 12,000 hectares offered exhilarating rides through this tough, beautiful landscape covered in Mopane trees and giant Baobabs.
Each new day brought forth another exciting adventure. Different terrain, different encounters with game, particularly the ubiquitous Tuli elephant. Sundowners were enjoyed by a water hole where 40-50 elephants literally tiptoed through the bush to be within six meters of us.
My heart skipped a beat as I watched these magnificent animals. So close I thought…I could reach out and touch! “They are wild,” said Steven – as if reading my mind. Back to reality with a sudden jolt. This was not the movies, this was real life in wildest Africa.
With the setting of the sun, the river glistened in the glow of the full moon. Night closed in around us. Little could be heard except the chirping of a few birds and the occasional yawn of the hippo in the pools nearby.
Nestled under the shade of enormous Scotia and Leadwood trees on the banks of the Limpopo we settled down for the night. The smells and sounds of the bush surrounded us. The crackling of the camp fire and the constant excited chatter relating the stories of the day’s ride made us forget our tired limbs and hungry tummies. We soon savoured Joyce’s exquisite campfire meals. A little more chatter, a little more to drink and then, tucked in our sleeping bags beside the fire, we closed our eyes knowing we were the lucky ones.
Tears followed the curves of my face as I packed my gear and said goodbye. It was difficult, as I had formed a close bond with Steven, the other riders and my horse.