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Wednesday 7 December 2016

Saddle up for a horsey holiday

Siobhán English

Published 13/01/2016 | 02:30

Tanzania is an increasingly popular venue for riding safaris
Tanzania is an increasingly popular venue for riding safaris
Tracking elephants in the foothills of Mount Kenya.

To whet your appetite for an adventurous 2016, our equestrian correspondent looks at some top riding holiday destinations around the world.

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KENYA

Kenya has been ranked by the UK travel publication, Rough Guides, as one of the top 10 places worth visiting this year and there is no better time to experience this stunning landscape on horseback.

Both Offbeat Safaris and Safaris Unlimited offer high-adrenaline riding holidays for experienced riders across the Masai Mara, but for my first visit to the country I went with GoWild Safaris who offer great holiday packages in the foothills of Mount Kenya.

Run by the husband and wife team of Clinton Lucy and Elizabeth Loker, their base of Olepangi Farm is a 4.5 hour drive from Nairobi and 35 minutes from Nanyuki, home to the main airbase of the Kenya Air Force.

Not surprisingly the farm is also hugely popular with many of the equestrian enthusiasts based locally with the British Army and I was delighted to meet up with some of them over lunch before we set off on our five-day adventure into the wilderness of Lolldaiga Ranch.

Often referred to as the most beautiful ranch in all of Kenya, it is set on 49,000 acres and offers riders the opportunity to not only experience excellent game viewing but also walking and driving safaris, and paragliding from some of the highest points on the working farm.

Elephant, giraffe, and zebra are all in abundance here, while lion, leopard and cheetah have often been spotted by the dozens of equestrian enthusiasts who travel to the area each year to camp out under the stars.

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See www.zarasplanet.com

USA

Montana, Colorado and Wyoming are well-known as the top spots for dude ranch holidays, but Moore Ranch in Kansas offers a more affordable option for those in search of something off the beaten track.

Situated near the small town of Bucklin, the working farm is run by Joe and Nancy Moore and their son Laramie, all of whom are exceptional hosts particularly for the solo traveller.

In the 1980s the family's prized Longhorn Cattle featured in worldwide advertising for Marlboro cigarettes and since then the Moores have enjoyed regular press coverage for their varied holiday options which include overnight cattle drives and rodeo visits.

From there you only need to travel 170 miles to Clements, Kansas to join up with Gwen and Josh Hoy at Flying W Ranch for an equally fun experience in the saddle.

They also offer a host of cattle drive trips throughout the year, but the Symphony in the Flint Hills Weekend in mid-June is undoubtedly the highlight of the calendar. The annual prairie concert attracts approximately 7,000 attendees from all over the world each year.

See www.moorelonghornranch.com www.flinthillsflyingw.com

TANZANIA

Kilimanjaro is without doubt the most famous landmark in Tanzania, but the country is now becoming popular for its riding safaris in the shadow of this great mountain.

Adventurers for both pursuits often meet on their descent into Arusha where the equestrian guests are welcomed by hosts Jo Westermark and Chris Rodgers of Kaskazi Horse Safaris.

The business is relatively new to the area but between them the couple have a wealth of experience in the safari industry and are experienced guides in their own right.

To fully experience a riding safari, fly camps are the only way to go and there is nothing more enjoyable than spending a fast-paced day in the saddle with your fellow guests only to arrive at a new location at sunset with your bags already tucked away in your tent courtesy of the highly-organised back-up team.

In addition to the great game viewing, nowhere else will you get the opportunity to experience the culture, traditions, and lifestyle of the Maasai tribe as you pass through their villages on horseback.

See www.kaskazihorsesafaris.com

ITALY

Undoubtedly one of my favourite locations in Europe over the years, Castellare di Tonda is complete luxury, and the best of Italian food combined with great riding in the heart of Tuscany.

The resort itself boasts a full spa and offers a wide range of accommodation options for guests. We went with one of the farmhouses which have been converted into self-catering apartments and afford privacy and independence.

Over the years the 800-acre working wine estate has built up a lovely herd of quarterhorses and they make exceptional mounts for the varied terrain you will meet on the seven-night Medieval Trail Ride.

The Heart of Tuscany ride is more suited to individuals, families and groups of mixed ability.

Sightseeing in the locality is a must, with Pisa and Florence not to be missed.

See www.castellareditonda.com

BOTSWANA

One of the only countries where you will have an opportunity to see the 'Big Five' - elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard, and rhino - on horseback, the 450,000 acre Okavango Delta in Botswana is simply the ultimate in riding holiday destinations.

African Horseback Safaris is run by Cornwall native John Sobey who prides himself in operating the most popular of all the riding outfits in the country.

Set deep within the world's largest delta and only accessible to guests by plane, the remote camp at Macatoo is five-star on so many levels, from the accommodation, horses and food to the evening entertainment.

See www.zarasplanet.com

SPAIN

The Spanish native Andalusian horse is said to have laid the foundation for many of today's other popular breeds including the Cleveland Bay, the Hackney, the Connemara and possibly the Welsh Cob.

The Lippizaners of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna are also direct descendants, but the Andalusian itself is still alive and well across Spain and make wonderful riding horses for many of the riding holiday companies throughout the country.

For those not particularly interested in dressage training packages, there are many other options and one destination which is popular throughout the year is the Gredos Mountains Trail Ride.

Based only a three hours' drive west of Madrid, host Emilio Rodriguez gives guests an opportunity to ride these wonderful Andalusian horses across some of the country's most breathtaking landscape.

See www.zarasplanet.com

SOUTH AFRICA

Over the years the Ant Collection has proven to be one of the most popular resorts in South Africa not only for its great riding, but its unforgettable hospitality. Winners of the 2011 award for Best Riding Safari in Africa, hosts Ant and Tessa Baber have built up a hugely successful business on their privately-owned game reserve which covers some 12,500 acres.

The lower-lying Ant's Nest with its spacious lodges is often ideal for families, while Ant's Hill at the far end of the reserve is a haven for honeymooners with its secluded cottages overlooking the Waterberg plateau.

The reserve does not boast large game such as elephant or lion, making it suitable for novice riders, but those who are comfortable in the saddle can canter alongside many of the other resident wildlife including giraffe, zebra and a host of antelope.

Each June the team at Ant's gather for the annual game census and guests are often invited to get involved in this important week by assisting the counting of all the game on horseback.

See www.zarasplanet.com

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