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Posted on December 12, 2018
Since starting at In The Saddle in 2014, I have always been drawn to our destinations where you ride on the beach. So, when Olwen asked if I would like to join our Wild Coast Adventure Trail in November 2018, I jumped at the chance! This is the ultimate beach trail, riding fit and forward going horses along the East Coast of South Africa, whilst staying at charming little sea front guesthouses and hotels. How could I refuse!
I boarded my overnight flight from Heathrow, connected in Johannesburg and with a short internal flight to East London, I had arrived. I was collected and transferred to the seaside town of Kei Mouth, where all of our Wild Coast itineraries start and where the horses are based.
By the end of lunch on my first day, Julie-Anne and her team had made me feel very much at home and I was already relaxing into ‘African Time’. In the afternoon, we drove the 10 minutes up to the stables where I met some of Julie-Anne’s 44 horses. Whilst wondering around the herd and trying to guess who I would be riding for the next week, a couple of guests returned from their last day of riding. With smiles all round and one guest asking if she could pack her horse into her luggage to take home, I was starting to get very excited!
The following day, along with the rest of my group for the next week, we were introduced to our horses. I would be riding the beautiful bay Arab mare called Taitum, who I would later find out is the biggest poser and fantastic for taking photos of!
From Kei Mouth, we boarded a ferry (including the horses!!) and crossed the Great Kei River. I couldn’t believe how relaxed all the horses were walking up the ramp and onto the little wooden pontoon, sharing the short journey with cars and other locals from the village.
On the other side, we remounted and headed straight to the waters edge for our first canter on the beach. Throughout the whole trail, I was stunned by how such beautiful beaches were completely deserted of people or tourists – which made for fantastic, fast and uninterrupted riding. Other than the odd fisherman or small herd of cattle, we had the beaches to ourselves.
Following our guide Mel, we cantered up the beaches, splashing through waves. At the end of some beaches, we would reach rocky passes which the horses scrambled over with ease. These horses are incredibly fit, sure-footed and a pleasure to ride. My mare Taitum was eager, but so responsive – I only had to touch the reins to steady her, or give a slight squeeze to speed her up. I couldn’t have asked for a better horse.
After about 3 hours of riding, we stopped for lunch and let the horses rest at a little waterfall hidden in a valley full of trees. Throughout the week, we either stopped for lunch out on the trail with saddlebag picnics or rode to a hotel for a hot meal. Dinner was always in the restaurant where stayed for the night – and always a social occasion with the whole group and guides joining us. We spent the evenings sharing photos and chatting excitably about what the next day’s riding would bring.
A highlight for me on the Wild Coast Adventure Trail was that we moved up along the coast staying at a number of hotels with amazing sea views. After a day’s riding, it was lovely to relax before dinner by taking a stroll along the waters edge, sunbathe by the pool or simply sit on the balcony, reading a book and listening to the waves.
As well as cantering on the beach, we also explored inland – riding over farmland, along clifftops and through local Xhosa villages. One of my favorite rides of the week was down into ‘The Gorge’. At the top, we had brilliant views, before making our way down the rocky track to the river bed. After a quick rest, we climbed back out – which again made me appreciate how fit the horses at the Wild Coast are. Julie-Anne and her team are rightly proud of their herd.
Each riding day brought something new and I made so many unforgettable memories! On the second day, we were walking along a rocky part of coastline and I was daydreaming looking out to sea – then all of a sudden, a fin… a dorsal fin! I called out to Mel and she confirmed that I wasn’t seeing things. There was a pod of around 20 dolphins and they were having a great time jumping the waves. The whole group and I were over the moon that we’d seen dolphins from horseback.
At the Kob Inn, the most Northerly hotel we stayed at, whilst drinking a cocktail at the bar before dinner, I spotted a big black tail coming out of the sea in the distance. Having seen dolphins, I couldn’t quite believe I was also seeing a whale and so I stayed quiet but kept watching… the tail appeared again, coming out and smacking the water causing a huge splash. The whole group were late for dinner that evening as we watched the whale slowly makes its way across the horizon.
I still haven’t mentioned my favorite memory – the Wavecrest Gallop! On the second to last day, having got to know our horses, Mel explained that the beach before reaching Wavercrest is 2.7 kms long and has perfect sand for some fast riding. Splitting into two groups, we waited with Shell (our backup guide throughout) for a few minutes to let the first group make their way up the beach. When it was our turn, we followed Shell in a steady canter, waiting for her signal to overtake, lean forward and let the horses go.
When Shell’s hand went up, I moved Taitum to the right and relaxed my reins. She started to pick up speed, but slowly as if she was just checking if I was ready. I lent forward and told her ‘go on girl’ with a massive smile on my face. With my permission Taitum stretched her neck and galloped along the beach at full speed. There aren’t many places in the world where you can truly let your horse fully gallop for such a distance and I’ll never forget it.
After the gallop, our horses had still hardly broken into a sweat and the whole group were beaming, high with adrenaline.
The Wild Coast Adventure Trail is wonderful fun – fantastic and enthusiastic guides who clearly love their horses and their jobs, unbelievably fit horses (who also love their jobs!), amazing scenery with the chance of spotting dolphins and whales, whilst staying at lovely little hotels right on the coast. I couldn’t have asked for more.