Hello, my name is Freda and I would like to tell you about my 2019 horseback riding trip in Namibia. However, I was not the guest but the tour guide - trial work for my upcoming emigration. A whole new experience that was huge fun.
The perfect adventure vacation on horseback in the wild and beautiful southwest of Africa!
Our guest arrived at the ranch on a cool Saturday evening in August. Hobby rider Sonja was in Namibia for the very first time and had fulfilled a long cherished dream. Ahead of her now lay 7 exciting riding days at the Ranch Koiimasis in the south of Namibia, in the middle of the beautiful Tiras Mountains and on the edge of the Namib Desert. The German-speaking Izko family has been breeding American Quarter and Paint Horses there for about 20 years and offers a unique Western riding adventure.
Day 1 - Getting to know the horses
On the first morning Sonja was supposed to get to know the horses and choose one for the tour. I showed her two absolutely reliable horses, a recommendation she was happy to follow: "Besides, I want to be able to look around a bit in between" - good attitude, I feel the same way on vacation! After two extensive test rides, she then decided on our Attila, a slender gray who already had a lot of tour experience to show.
Since our riding trips are always all inclusive, we had a cook on site who provided us with everything the cowgirl heart (or rather the cowgirl stomach) desires. After a delicious lunch, we headed back to the barn. Our exploratory ride took us towards the farmhouse and through the new Adventure Village. The so-called Adventure Village was completed in 2019 and Sonja was the first official riding guest who was allowed to inaugurate the rooms. After that we passed the small cottage where our volunteers stayed, through the campground and up to our lodge. The lodge "Fest Inn Fels" is run by a German expatriate and is a real eye-catcher. Built directly into the granite rock, you feel like a true leopard with a view into the valley.
Since the tour operator had said, "the lady wants to ride, not read a book!" I hung another round on it. For the entire distance we needed about 2.5 hours. A large herd of springbok crossed our path and we were able to see numerous wild ostriches and oryx antelopes. We galloped relaxed through the sand, without wild frenzies - for the beginning. While doing so, I kept turning around to check on my guest. Sonja was not used to such long canter passages at home. But her beaming smile confirmed that everything was fine.
In the evening, everyone came together for a joint braai (= BBQ). The farm couple Anke and Wulff Izko, volunteer Sara, our guest and I enjoyed the delicious meat that the friendly cook had prepared for us. We stood around the fire, warmed our tired bones and listened to the wild Africa stories of the farm boss.
Day 2 - In the footsteps of the ancestors
On the second day we rode towards the south-east of the almost 18,000 hectare farm. I showed Sonja our Leopard Valley and the place where the indigenous people (the so-called Bushmen) prepared their food hundreds of years ago, as well as the old well which still came from colonial times and much more.
In the afternoon another highlight was on the program. We rode up to our so-called bushman tent. I had let Sonja practice on a small steep slope the day before not without reason, so that she knew about the grip of the unshod horse hooves on the granite rocks. My horse climbed ahead and Sonja and her Attila followed. This climb was not for the faint of heart. At one point or another I noticed that Sonja felt a little queasy. Some of the rocks were very steep and the horses had to jump a bit to reach the next ledge. When Sonja almost wanted to descend, we reached the large plateau which made up for the strain. The view from there is simply always overwhelming.
The so-called bushman tent is a very special spot. A huge rock with a continuous cave, which looks like a stone tent. Here you can experience the history of the ancestors of this country very close. Ash remains and ancient tools, testify to a lively life under the stone.
The descent also cost once again nerves, but Sonja trusted my skills as a guide and my assurance that the horses run up here all by themselves to find nutritious grass. The plains were meanwhile already very eroded and the rain had failed again this year. For this reason, the horses look for their food in hard-to-reach places, high in the mountains of the ranch.
Day 3: Cattle driving for beginners... looks different
On the third day, cattle driving was on the agenda. It should be a relaxed little cattle drive - for practice! We were supposed to collect a few cattle and drive them to the next watering hole, nothing wild, this actually goes quite fast...
The night before a new volunteer had arrived. Normally I like to introduce my volunteers slowly and explain what to do, where and how to do it. This is important because the horses in Namibia are not comparable to our pious, fat, German cuddly ponies. The horses spend 90% of their lives in the wild. And when I talk about the wild, I mean it. Here they have to brave leopards, hyenas, snakes, cheetahs, the persistent drought and numerous other dangers. So they are always prepared to save their lives in case of emergency, regardless of (human) losses. You can't just dive under the rope or give the good horse a slap on the butt, because then you'll be alone in the desert very quickly.
But well, I didn't had the time, so Hanna got a crash course and had to, or was allowed to go directly on a cattle track. Two local young men, with whom I worked at the stable, were also there. We rode at a brisk canter, which put a big grin on Hanna's face, towards the grove about six kilometers away where we suspected the cattle. There were indeed a few cows loitering among the few small trees. However, the group was much larger than it appeared at first glance.
I briefly introduced the girls to the cattle drive: "We surround the cattle from behind, like a semicircle or a horseshoe behind the group. You have to be careful not to get in front of any of the cattle or they will turn around. Think of it like a double lunge. If you stand at the horse's butt it goes forward, if you stand at the shoulder you slow it down. If in doubt, a cow would immediately turn around, which then awakens the fleeing instinct of the other colleagues, and bang, the cattle are scattered in all directions."
Actually, we were supposed to drive the cattle directly to the right to the next corral. But the herd was so big that we couldn't manage to divert them all properly. So they went their way once across the whole valley (about 7 km). So after about 2.5 hours we had sent a group of almost 200 cattle to the wrong water. Half so badly, because the water places lie usually at a fence and thus we had to direct the cattle "only" the five kilometers, along the fence ahead. With over 200 animals, however, this is still hard work.
The two boys and I made a lot of noise, whistled and shouted to move the fat ruminants forward. Sonja and Hanna had a bit of a hard time.
"Now scream properly, they moo so loudly, they don't hear you at all," I shouted to the two. Except for a quiet: "Go, go!", but unfortunately nothing came. Well, I must admit, at my first cattle drive I also felt very stupid to yell at any cows. But you get used to it over time. Once you realize that the fluffy shaggy beasts actually move faster in response to a loud "HEY, HEY, HEY", it actually starts to be a lot of fun!
After two more hours, we finally had all the cattle corralled and rode back to the barn, drenched in sweat but happy. When the horses were fed and cared for and released back into the wild, cook "Muis" welcomed us at the Adventure Village: "You sure got burned! Didn't you use sunscreen?". Funny, I actually didn't feel that burned... After a nice shower I looked completely different again. My skin was simply covered with the red sand of the Namib Desert. Our cattle drive, through one huge valley, took us through four different vegetations. Once the savannah landscape, with the coarse granite sand and the remains of the once lush pasture, into the small camel thorn grove at the base of Lodge Mountain. Then we followed 200 cattle kicking up dust, through an area covered by fine red desert sand. Then, to the north, the ground became very rocky and bright marble stone slabs peeked out of the sand.
This cattle drive was definitely not for beginners. I was proud of Sonja and Hanna that they did so well. You don't experience something like this every day and I've never had so many cattle together at once - hats off girls!
Day 4: Off to Landsberg
The next day we had a long ride ahead of us. With packed lunches in our luggage, we headed toward the Quiver Tree Forest, in the northeast of the ranch. The quiver trees are impressive desert plants. They have very short roots and take all the moisture they need to live from the air. Bushmen hollowed out the trunks back in the day and used them as quivers for their arrows, hence the name.
Since I wanted to ride a different Horse each day, the good Blueprint was on my list that day. A big white one, with perky freckles on his face. A real mountain goat you could say, because no one is as fast in the mountains and between the rocks as Blueprint. However, he is the same on his other trails. The big guy was always miles ahead of the others and didn't see any point in waiting for the lame rearguard. We had a few little fights to fight out....
We rode past the quiver tree mountain on the right and then at a fast gallop diagonally towards the middle of the huge valley, towards the mountains of the neighboring farm Landsberg. After about 4 hours we reached the sand road and another hour later we ended up at the farm house. There it was directly a few degrees colder. Landsberg is located about 400 meters higher than Koiimasis, at about 1,600 meters, so it can get quite icy in winter - despite Africa!
Today's ride was not as communicative as usual, Sonja was still enthusiastic: "had almost something meditative, one hour more and I would have fallen asleep."
Blueprint is definitely not a good horse for a ride leader... unless you don't like your guests!
We spent the evening and night at Landsberg and were fed delicious food by the local farmers.
Day 5: Four cowgirls alone on a wide open field - Korais we come
The next day it was time to get up early! The horses were loaded onto the truck and we headed for Korais, the other farm of the family. Korais is located quite a bit further east and the landscape is very different from Koiimasis. Here there are almost only mountains, which are not as beautiful red and rocky as on Koiimasis but rather characterized by boulders and spiny bushes - still fascinating.
We unloaded the horses and headed towards the middle of the farm. The two guys quickly went up into the mountains to look for cows. We girls followed our way towards the main corral. After a while we tracked down a small group of cattle and led them through a sandy rivier (a dried up watercourse) towards the agreed destination.
Now it was time for lunch. Hungry we ate the carefully packed snacks. About three quarters of an hour later the guys arrived with 5 cattle... Ridiculous, we had gathered at least 30 - HAHA! Oh well, they had to climb deep into the mountains to look after them for that.
From the main corral, we headed back towards the truck, this time at a brisk pace. Personally, I always prefer to drive the cattle slowly and leisurely. If you keep enough distance, the chance that one breaks out is also much lower. In addition, this way is for all involved much more resource-conserving. So without cattle in front of the nose, we could finally step on the gas and the horses stretched in an extended gallop - wonderful!
Day 6: The Namib Desert, the oldest desert in the world and yet with so much life in it.
On the sixth day, the long awaited desert tour was on the agenda. We loaded the horses and headed west towards the Namib. The truck parked at the edge of the desert, on the grounds of the Gunsbewys farm where we unloaded our horses and got them ready.
We rode over the longest continuous dune in the Namib Desert. The dune sand was deep and red - very impressive. Still, grasses grew everywhere and we saw lots of silver and black, big fat desert beetles, oryx footprints and small nimble geckos. For the horses, the dune ride was of course very strenuous and also a great strain on the tendons. Therefore, we took it easy and after about 1.5 hours and countless photos, we dared to descend again. Nevertheless, the ride through the desert was a unique experience. Back to the truck we let the horses then once again really run and roared at a fast gallop, which took my breath away, to our destination - truly breathtaking!
Day 7 - The last day - now it's getting racy again!
On the last day, something very special was waiting for Sonja: a horse drive. It's a bit like driving cattle but much faster.
The girls and I rode off, heading west. The two guys would take the dangerous beginning part and we should join in the last third. After an extended, but well-mannered gallop, we arrived at our waiting point and played equestrian statue. Our four graces took advantage of the break and chilled quite comfortably with us on their backs.
At some point I saw the horses approaching from a distance and then everything happened very quickly. We raced together with the wild ponies over the endless expanse of Koiimasis. My little horse gave thereby properly gas and would have overtaken the riderless colleagues most gladly. Despite sunglasses, tears ran down my cheeks from the riding wind - an incredible experience. My fellow riders arrived shortly after me and were just as out of breath as I was.
Of course, the horses were not just being shooed for our personal amusement. Since the animals often enjoy their life in the wild for months on their own, we use such opportunities to give them a short checkup - Everything still attached? Great!
Later in the evening we had a last campfire with traditional braai and potje - lekker, as they say in Afrikaans. The mood was exuberant and even the weather played along. We had not had such a nice warm evening for a long time. In the African winter (June-September) it can get bitterly cold at night.
The conclusion - better than in the catalog!
After seven unforgettable days of riding, Sonja now had to go back. Fortunately, her vacation was not yet completely over, as she would continue to travel around the country with her family. I was very happy about her positive feedback and we stayed in contact later.
I was really impressed with Sonja again. She was great from front to back and was great with our horses. She helped out wherever she could - not a matter of course for a vacation guest!
I also had a lot of fun with the whole thing! Although I was well aware of the responsibility that lay on my shoulders. Three people and four horses, must first be brought under a (cowboy) hat. Especially when none of the riders has any experience with western equipment. Here it was every morning: "Freda, can you just take a quick look?" Of course, I was happy to do that anyway, because better safe than sorry!
A big thank you goes to my two hardworking volunteers who definitely enriched the tour, as well as to Sonja as a perfect guest. Kudos also to our cook, thank you for the delicious food and evening entertainment program. Of course, the ranch owners Anke and Wulff also contributed a great deal to making the tour a complete success - thank you for your support and trust!
Final conclusion: Trial work passed - nothing stands in the way of the emigration!