Saddle up!

If riding off into the African sunset is something you’ve always dreamed about, then the dramatic, semi-arid Samburuland in north-central Kenya is the perfect location to visit.

In order to truly understand the allure of a horseback safari in this rugged terrain, we caught up with the horse-crazy Chyulu Francombe. She is the daughter-in-law of Ol Malo safari lodge founders, Rocky and Colin Francombe, and is integrally involved with every aspect of the lodge’s horses – from building up a herd of tough, hardy steeds to planning truly unique horse safaris.

If ever there was an equestrian that you’d want with you on a horseback safari, it’s Chyulu. She has ridden horses from a young age, competing in horse shows since the age of eleven and on occasion representing Kenya. Most recently, however, she was one of three of the first Kenyans to complete the Mongol Derby – the longest and toughest horse race in the world.

What makes the Samburuland such a unique location for a horseback safari?

“It’s quite a dramatic and special area to explore,” Chyulu explains, “and because it’s not easily accessible by vehicle, you can really only reach some of the more exciting areas by horseback.”

“Kenya as a whole is an amazing country to visit because there’s so much diversity in the landscape, the people, and the wildlife. When it comes to riding, you have such different expanses of terrains to choose from, from the wild landscape that is Laikipia to the open expanses of the Maasai Mara National Reserve.”  

If travelers want a rugged adventure, what would a typical long-distance, mobile horseback safari look like?

Although Ol Malo does offer ad hoc morning and afternoon outrides for lodge guests, when Chyulu refers to a horseback safari she’s talking about the Ol Malo Nomad mobile camp which caters for niche, multi-day trips that are only offered to smaller groups a few times a year.

“On our mobile horseback safaris, you generally get an early start and ride in the bush until mid-morning, before stopping for a picnic breakfast. It could be 4 – 6 hours of riding in total before you arrive at camp in the late afternoon for a bit of relaxation time. Evening walks and camp side dinners complete the day, before it’s another early start for a day of riding in a different terrain.”

“Our horse safaris cater for private small groups, so every Nomad horseback adventure really is unique. We use a mobile, lightweight camp which can be packed up and taken to a new location by camels as and when required. Depending on the wildlife movements and sightings, the camp could move every day or every couple of days – so this will vary. Also all itineraries and routes will always be tailored to the riders’ abilities in the group.”

What is Ol Malo’s history with horses?

“There were always horses at Ol Malo,” Chyulu recalls. “I married Andrew, Rocky and Colin’s son, and he’d tell me stories about them always having horses when they were younger, and his sister, Julia, rescuing ponies from Ethiopia and breeding with them at Ol Malo.”

Keeping the horses healthy in such a dry, tough climate can be challenging, and the team deals with the common parasites and diseases that every other stable deals with as well, but Chyulu is proud of the herd they have at the lodge.

“We currently have kids’ ponies, horses for beginners and advanced riders, and horses that can carry some weight. Our best horses are rescues,” she says with a proud smile, “and we have a mix of Somali, thoroughbred, Arab, Ethiopian ponies, and Appaloosa.”

Is riding experience a prerequisite?

Ol Malo can accommodate any level of rider for the short morning/afternoon outrides that depart from the lodge. When it comes to the multi-day, longer safaris, however, travelers need to at least be intermediate riders and used to riding out in the open.

“You need to be able to get on and off a horse by yourself, and handle a horse by yourself,” Chyulu explains. “Also, our horses are English trained and we use English saddles, so if you’re a western rider, it would be good if you’ve had experience on an English saddle. But truly, if you’re a horse person, you can deal with anything. This experience is for people who want adventure.”


Combine the adventure of horse riding with the luxury of honeymoon-style accommodation

Our very own Nick and Ashley have planned some special honeymoon and anniversary trips to Kenya recently. An example of one such itinerary including a horse safari would be spending three nights at Ol Malo Nomad, camping in the wild, followed by two nights staying at the luxurious Ol Malo Lodge on the ranch. If you want to splurge on a helicopter trip, you couldn’t ask for a more perfect area to do it in. Then move to another horse riding favorite, Ol Donyo, for three nights before concluding your trip in the breathtaking Maasai Mara National Reserve to explore by 4×4 vehicle in search of predators and iconic African species. 

Whether you’re a honeymooner looking for the romance of a private mobile camp and exploring Kenya on horseback, or you’re a family that loves adventure, chat to us about helping you plan your very own horseback safari holiday that will cater to a diverse range of skills.


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