18 February 2022 / FUNDRAISING /
Having endured 2 years of travel restrictions due to Covid, it was rollercoaster effort to get all the riders out to South Africa for January 2022. The 2021 Ride had taken the form of a virtual event, so it was with huge relief and great excitement we welcomed 11 riders to Ant’s Nest Safari Lodge for the start of this annual charity event.
The 7-day ride demands fitness and stamina to take part. The first couple of days are organised for the riders to meet and get to know their horse. The Waterberg this year had benefited from abundant rains so was looking especially green and gorgeousl. Baby animals were evident all over the reserve – buffalo, zebra, wildebeest, giraffe and impala. After a gentle afternoon ride, we met for sundowners in stunning evening light and toasted the day.
On Sunday morning, we were given the opportunity to help treat a buffalo with a nasty abscess. It was thrilling to see the herd so close. Our job was to effectively corral the buffalo and separate the injured one so she could be examined and tended to by the vet.
Our afternoon turned out to be equally exciting. As if by magic, the rhinos came to meet us and we were privileged to spend time with them on horseback as they quietly grazed. The day was rounded off in the evening in true African fashion by the fire listening to head guide, Sekhwiri talk about how he had left a job in the city for life in the bush. It was humbling and inspiring to hear of his dedication to the conservation of rhinos.
On our third day, we set off on a day ride to Ant’s Hill, the lodge situated on the other side of the reserve. We stopped for a swim in the dam with our horses, followed by a bush braai lunch. The day was hot, so all appreciated a good splash in the water. We returned late in the afternoon, ready to pack our bags for the next stage of our adventure.
Next morning, we were in the saddle early, the horses definitely picking up the pace as we left the reserve, heading eastwards. We enjoyed long canters on sandy tracks, the day becoming hot as we reached Boschdraai by lunchtime. After swimming in a dam, followed by a picnic, we all flopped in the long grass for a hour or so before tacking up for the next couple of hours riding on to Waterberg Cottages. We were hosted at this beautiful old homestead, enjoying stunning sundowners and a delicious dinner on the verandah.
Moving on the next day as the weather turned windy, we soon reached Horizon Horseback Safaris for mid-morning coffee. Riding at Horizon is always spectacular with plenty of plains game to view. Our morning ride was somewhat elongated when we discovered the dam crossing was impassable. Recent rains had washed away the concrete walkway so we needed to find another route in order to cross the river. This involved wading on foot up to our waists in water, while persuading our horses to follow. They were amazingly calm, taking the detour in their stride and we were soon back in the saddle and on route to our next watering hole, courtesy of local resident Richard Wadley, who had set up a bar outside his gate!
Suitably refueled, we cantered on up the dirt road to Lindani reserve for a picnic by Skebenga Dam. This picturesque spot is always a highlight on our journey. The horses were untacked and released for a bit of grazing while we tucked into lunch. All felt rather relaxed and replete for the final few kilometres to our destination that night ,which we reached as the sun was setting. We had ridden an impressive 40km overall that day so after a wonderful home-made chicken pie, all fell into bed for a good sleep.
The next day brought a long stretch of riding down the main tar road, winding our way through the tall grass on the verge, before stopping off for a breakfast of egg and bacon sandwiches. We then turned off through the main gates of Nyati Wilderness. This 25,000 hectare reserve has spectacular landscapes of steep red cliffs falling to rocky rivers. We rode on for a couple of hours, before reaching Riverdance Lodge, set just above a large dam inhabited by hippos. Horse and rider all appreciated an afternoon of relaxation, our steeds tucking into a much deserved feed of lucerne, while the riders swam in the pool, listening to the grunting of hippos while comparing aches and pains!
The riding next day was breathtaking as we climbed up a steep ridge before beginning the descent to the river setting that was to be our lunch spot. We swam from the rocks, before building camp for later that evening, then stretching out by the river for an afternoon chill. Back on our horses for more riding, we settled them safely in the boma for the night before returning to our camp. We were greeted by a magical scene of a table set for dinner right on the river, lit by lanterns under the starry African sky, fireflies dancing by the water’s edge. It was truly special. After such an amazing day we were all happy to find our bedrolls and lie out under the stars, the sound of the river lulling us to sleep.
We were awoken the next morning by gentle rain falling on the tarpulin. Fortified by porridge for breakfast, we were soon tacked up and ready for our last day of riding. The rain grew steadily stronger as we left Nyati passed large herds of buffalo and wildebeest. We were soon galloping up the dirt African roads, splattered by mud. By the time we had reached our lunch spot, all were absolutely soaked to the skin! Never has a hamburger been more readily devoured before setting off for the last stretch on our return to Ant’s Nest. We reached the gates, exhilarated and exhausted, before releasing our awesome horses who took off without a backward glance, glad to be back home.
Our last night was a chance to celebrate our endeavours over the week. We had enjoyed spectacular riding, accumulating 230km in total, led by the indomitable Ant Baber. Our horses had been awesome, never tiring, bravely carrying us to the end. We had seen the Waterberg at its best, from wide open rolling plains to rugged kloofs, lily-covered dams to sparkling rocky rivers. We had been privileged to r ide with rhino, gallop with giraffe, walk alongside zebra and view buffalo all from the back of a horse. We had made new friends, strengthened old friendships and shared some special memories that will last a lifetime.
All this is the name of rhinos. The Ride is our major annual fundraiser and is vitally important for securing the means to protect and conserve rhino in the Waterberg. Alongside is the message of awareness that rhino are key to the community in maintaining a successful tourist industry in South Africa.
As South Africa recovers from the economic fallout of Covid and the devastating loss of livelihoods, it is clear that rhino and the other iconic wildlife of this alluring country, are an essential component in improving the lives of all. Saving rhinos is all about saving people too.
With thanks to The Ant Collection, Ant Baber, Waterberg Cottages, Lindani Lodges, Nyati Wilderness, Horizon Horseback, Richard Wadley, Lekhalo Safaris, Urban Rhino Gin, Equilab and all who have sponsored the riders.
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