Most of us rarely if ever spend time in proximity with wild animals, and the average African safari holiday preserves that distance. Get out of the vehicle and strike out on horseback in Kenya’s Maasai Mara, however, and you’ll become aware of every rustle in the savannah, You may feel “vulnerable”, or “high on adrenaline”, but you’ll definitely feel part of something larger than yourself. It’s a pursuit for “competent and confident” riders only – particularly during the wildebeest migration, when the game is so ubiquitous you need to be ready to “turn on a dime”. Of course it helps to have excellent guides – such as those with Offbeat Safaris.
Offbeat was founded in 1990 by ex-soldier Tristan Voorspuy and his wife Cindy, and is still going strong despite Tristan’s tragic death in 2017: he was shot by Pokot pastoralists during that year’s election-related violence in Kenya. The company leads small groups on week-long journeys through the conservancies that border the Maasai Mara National Reserve (in the reserve itself, riding is banned). You cover up to 50km per day – which is testing; but the experience is “softened” by having people to tend the horses and set up camp each night. Accommodation is simple but comfortable, with decent camp beds, long-drop loos, and oil lanterns for light.
Fires burn all night, to help keep predators away from the horses. You might spot the great tide of wildebeest arriving from the Serengeti as you climb the Oloololo Escarpment, or see a smaller migrating herd at the foot of the Loita Hills. But it scarcely matters if you miss them. In “the authentic pulse of the Mara ecosystem”, there are a hundred other thrills, from riding alongside a herd of giraffes (a curiously “mesmeric” experience) to sleeping in a forest “presided over” by lions – and, if necessary, galloping away from a charging elephant.