Thursday, 11 August 2011

Limpopo Valley Horse Safaris May 2011

After a long flight from England I was pleased to find my Johannesburg hotel was very comfortable and provided a very hearty breakfast in the morning.
In the morning our transfer vehicle arrived and I met up with my fellow guests, Bonnie (MD) from Washington and Florian our mystery German in the back. Florian is no ordinary guest – he is a professional photographer doing an article on Limpopo Valley Horse Safaris (to be known as LVHS from now) and we spent the five hour journey to the border in fascinating conversation. We reached the border around 1pm where we had to have our passports checked. We were met by Cor Carelsen who with his wife Louise are the managing directors and owners, and his Swiss Shepherd dog Suco. The transfer to Botswana is so unique and not for those with fear of heights. It consists of a cage on wires over the river Limpopo.

On arrive we were met by Louise and had drinks and got changed for the two hour ride to the Two Mashatus Camp which was to be our home for the week. I was given Rhodes – a bay gelding c 15hh who was a mixture of breeds. He was lovely. I could tell from the website that the horses are cared for very well and I was proved correct. Everybody has to mount from a block – so much better for sacroiliacs – both horse and rider – none of this talk of “cheating”!! We had to do a canter test to see that we were matched with our horses. One rider changed horses after this – not always a good idea!!! Florian got his favourite, Rascal who he claims is the best horse he has ever ridden. We had a great ride, getting to know the terrain and our horses. Back at camp Cor got out his bullwhip to let them know we were on our way back but it was just too tempting for Florian to photograph us cantering into the sunset – quite a few times!! On arrival the horses were taken from us and we were shown to our tents. The workings of the shower were explained – everything has to be done in a specific order and someone has to sit nearby to switch off the heater – a cowbell is provided to let them know when! I found this all a little awkward – but who needs a shower every day!!! As there is no electricity this was where the head torches came in useful. Also a lantern is provided and they are also placed on the tracks but you do not go to your tent in the dark without an escort – beware wild beasts!! We had our first meal, cooked over an open fire and sat round the fire talking about all sort of interesting subjects. It was a very cold night and, as to be expected, the animals were quite noisy so I didn’t sleep too well. I’m usually too excited on the first night anyway and I was glad to be woken up at 5.30 with hot tea by Cor. Breakfast was fruit, cereal, yoghurt and toast. We rode out at around 7am and soon saw lots of elephants, birds, eland and impala. We had to learn the techniques of being in the right place at the right time – between the two guides, in case a quick get away was required and on the left side of Cor in case he needed to use his bullwhip. Although we walked most of the time to view the game we had several good controlled canters. We stopped for a sandwich and apples under a tree about mid-day. Each day we got back to camp around 1ish and had a delicious lunch. On this day we met a couple from Johannesburg who were to ride with us for the next few days. After lunch a herd of elephants were all around our tents so we had to be very cautious. – I quietly snuck to my tent and took some photos from the porch. (below)

We then had a break to relax, read, or sleep and then drove to base for our afternoon ride. When we ride a second time different horse are assigned so we have to go back to base. I rode Albany a 16hh Boerped who was really nice. We got back to our camp in the dark. After our meal we sat round the fire again. I was glad I had brought my hot water bottle although they were provided for those who hadn’t brought one. It was another very noisy night.


We had delicious muffins for breakfast and were out riding out by 7.10. Saw lots elephants and zebra quite close, Black backed jackal, Eland, Kudu, African wild cat. Then we espied three lions just long enough for quick photos then we removed ourselves from the lunch menu. Soon we were enjoying long canters. After lunch I read till the sundowner bush drive. Kathy McKinnon and her partner, Richard, arrived from Sydney.

We saw elephants on the way out and a tree full of baboons with young ones. We drove to watch the sunset. We had a South African delicacy: oxtail – our American lady had never heard of oxtail and thought we were teasing her. I managed to sleep well till 4am – more monkeys using my tent top as a toilet but the rest of the noises not too bad. So I got up early and sat on porch till tea time.


7.10 left. Had a lovely long early canter. Florian went in the vehicle to take photos and was waiting for us to do a spectacular canter. As Rhodes got a bit excited I lost my stirrup but was told not to hold onto the saddle and spoil the photo. I decided discretion was the better part of valour and held on anyway! We stopped under a shady Mashatu tree. We had good long canters today. Saw zebra and wildebeest. Normally the riders do not attempt to chase, herd or harass the game but in this case we were allowed some leeway for the photography and we used our horses to manoeuvre a group of zebra and eland for the camera. At the third attempt they were too wise and it didn’t work. At lunch we talked about marriage. I read my book till 4pm. When we had the privilege of a bush drive with André the lion and cheetah specialist and Edward our driver. Saw lots of elephants, lions and several cubs quite close. As André has collared one of the male lions we were able to track him down on the dried up river bank but had to be quiet and respectful as he is quite grumpy. We also saw an elephant with a very young calf behind. We also tried to find the collared cheetah but with no luck. Instead went to see an impala which the leopard had stashed up a tree. André’s plan was to get the carcase down and put it in a humane trap and then collar the leopard, which he later did. Then we returned to the lions that came alarmingly close. On the return drive we saw civet, porcupine, elephant very close, genet and jackals. Just near home using the headlight we spotted a hyena threatening a very small elephant calf and saw the mother chasing it away, trunk raised in anger. Back for a great dinner of beef. Sat by fire and talked till 10.15.


The photographic challenge for today was to try to get Saskia near zebra for photos. Florian also lay on the grass and we cantered past him several times! We had snacks under a tree. On our evening drive we saw 2 jackals and looked for cheetah but no luck. Had great dinner of goat - Richard talked about bizarre meals he had eaten.


Got up 5am as something small had been scraping/gnawing under tent nearly all night and the monkey toilet kept me awake too!
We rode out to the river and had lovely long canter along the Limpopo. We were very lucky to see a hippo and crocodile together. Also we had a great long canter before lunch. We saw plenty of baboons but not much game. We had a good long canter towards home and I helped wash down the horses on our return.
We were lucky enough to have an afternoon ride. I rode Strider a 20 year old cob type who was great. We waked to the border post and along the river on the Botswana side and Florian took photos as we walked up and down river, in the river and over as it was safe and cantered toward camera in teams. (Photo courtesy of Kathy McKinnon)

We spotted Waterbuck. As I was following Cor quite closely I just HAD to jump a log! – Conversation round the fire this evening was Crime and Punishment!


Saw elephants today and then we had to retreat as they were getting anxious. Hardly saw any game and so walked quietly and had a nice relaxed ride.

Time for jumping -yee haaa!–we followed David . We did several then I got left behind and missed jumping a bigger one (honestly I didn’t chicken out – I couldn’t see the leader any more!!) In the afternoon was a game drive with André – we were after the collared leopard but had to give up. We saw giraffe and had a great spot for sundowners.
Had a great curry for dinner and we all retired quite early.


Got up 5.30. Rode along ridge (dam) and I took photos of shadows.

Kathy and Richard decided not to ride so David had to lead Cimarron back to base. It was hilarious to watch especially when cantering. David had to keep avoiding acacia bushes and sometimes Cimarron went the same side and sometimes he didn’t! What a great display of horsemanship!! Then David and I did jumps – just logs but it felt like a great cross country course. 1½ hour ride to stables. Horses whisked away – no time to say goodbye and get sad.

We then had brunch of sausages, bacon and tortilla. Then we had to say our sad goodbyes to all the people who had looked after us so well. Cor drove us to the border with the dogs galloping alongside us. The cage swung us over the Limpopo and we went back to reality.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Bigland Hall Equestrian

As the Lake District is one of my favourite places in the UK, I was keen to try out Bigland Hall near Ulverston, which had previously been located nearer the coast. Although the countryside is not as spectacular as the northerly part of the Lake District it does have the advantage of fewer tourists and quieter roads. I only had time for a two hour ride so inevitably there was some road work to get to local bridleways.

After an assessment in the indoor school (always as nerve wracking experience!) Steven and I went out. I rode Indie - who was very willing. We had lovely views of the hills and had a few short canters in the fields. The time passed very quickly as Steven is very entertaining. I would love to try the 2-5 day trail rides next and go father afield in this lovely area.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Lost Valley Ranch 11-17th March 2011

Lost Valley ranch opened to 'ordinary guests' on the 11th so I had to be there. The weather was unseasonably warm with little precipitation, which is badly needed. We had one day of snow, about 2 inches which went quickly but very bad winds, some roaring through the valley at night like an express train. The weekends were busy with up to 60 guests with anything with 4 legs being called upon to take out rides. Even 3 year old Rosey had to take out a ride and with Chelsea on board had a fun time as I know Chelsea looks after her. Rosey and Scout (both 3 years old) are being worked with by Chelsea and Kellie. Scout is very reactive and nervous, but over the two weeks showed a great improvement. Rosey gets frustrated waiting for things to happen but has a lovely nature. One event that rather turned into a spectator event was the castration of the three colts. This took place on the lawn for hygiene and space reasons and the varying expressions on people’s faces were amusing. All went well although they were understandably a bit groggy when finally safely back in their pen. One day we saw a herd of about 30 elk on the west side of Helen's rock and then a group of 5 were seen at Snyder's Pass later. Also a bald eagle was spotted at the jail but otherwise just a few mule deer and rabbits were about. The birds are on their way back from over wintering and eventually Iron Man came back too and I rode him for 2 days without shoes. You would think he had not been away. I also rode Cisco for two days and nearly came to grief leading a lope on Salt Lick 7 as I forgot that when in the lead, giving unequivocal directions is essential!! She is a good horse but Charm does not like her and kept trying to double-barrel her if we looked as if we were about to pass. As for evening entertainment, they have started a games night on Wednesdays and a bonfire with singing and Smores (on the same scale as grits for me!) on Friday nights. The first week we played Pictionary and had great fun and the second only two guests joined in and we played Catch Phrase which, as usual produced laughter at my English phraseology and then we played Apples for Apples which was fun too. The first bonfire was on Friday down by the pond and it was very windy - sparks flew! By the second Friday there was a fire ban over Colorado so we sat around the fireplace near the pool. One day the ranch got a call about some donkeys (burros) which turned out to belong to another ranch. However a group of wranglers were sent out to catch them and by all accounts were led a merry dance. In the morning they caused great consternation to the other horses but not as much as I thought they would. They were so shaggy they looked a bit like llamas. Smokey slipped her halter twice but her aim was to visit with Nova!! The third time she ended up leaving completely with her saddle on so I had to fetch her back. We actually managed to get in rides to areas which I had not been to. One to Sheep's Saddle (I'd been before but not so high) and one to a rock between Sheep’s and the ranch where, we found a TV antenna which, I found out later, had belonged to Bob Senior until it caused problems in electrical storms. We also got up to Camera Rock – I haven’t been there for about 8 years. As always staff and guests made this trip a pleasure and I have lots more “ranch friends” than ever!! Photos can be seen at:

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

2010 Retrospective

In the spring while in the States I travelled to visit friends in Ohio and had the pleasure of riding a Tennessee walking horse – it was quite an experience as I was in the lead in a strange environment and he was full of energy so I didn’t dare try the lope! The special gait was very comfortable.

This year was a great one for riding but also for wildlife. In Romania we saw bee-eaters and honey buzzards but the highlight was seeing a bear at Lost Valley ranch in October. We were just coming down from the morning ride and a few hundred yards up from the arena was a brown shape, which at first I thought was a dog but as the remainder of its body came into view it turned out to be a young bear scavenging from a dead mule deer. It climbed up a tree but as it did not seem dangerous we all stood underneath and watched. More people came up from the arena to see what we were looking at. It was still there overnight and stayed in the vicinity until the carcase was only bones. In the afternoon it hissed at us, protecting its feast but the horses did not seem unduly scared except when its claws made a noise climbing up the pine trees. Also we saw a great horned owl which sat and looked at us. (photo below)

In July I tried my first two-day trail ride from Boltby Trekking Centre (North Yorkshire) with a friend who had never been on a riding holiday before. We had a splendid ride and the accommodation at Easterside Farm, Hawnby on the North Yorks Moors was fantastic. Good company and good weather made this a great break and it’s very near to home for me

In June I spend a week in Devon with Devon Riding Holidays, which used to be the Yorkshire Dales Trekking Centre in North Yorkshire. In spite of many people being sad about this move it has to be said that the location of the stables and riding is spectacular. If you want peace and quiet this is the place to go. The accommodation is lovely and homely and with permission to go over some private land the riding is good too. The beach and Exmoor, with its famous riding country are only a box ride away although I have not experienced that yet. It is possible for a small fee to use the gallops next door so if you want a racing experience – here’s the place to go.

All the details can be found at the website, so do go for a unique fun and friendly experience.

In September I returned to Karecole (Save petrol by taking train to Edinburgh) for a 2 day riding break. This was not a trail ride but the accommodation at Ingraston Farm ( superb groups of riders on both days and a and we had a great lunch at the Old Bakery in West Linton

This year two trips to the ranch are planned plus a Lodge Safari to Botswana.