Horseback driving by way of Namibia’s badlands


Out within the desert expanse you’ll discover a entire lot of nothing, and an entire lot of all the pieces. Photographer Teagan Cunniffe joins a stalwart group of horse riders as they head in direction of the horizon

There’s just one rule for driving out within the lawless wastelands of the Skeleton Coast: keep in your horse. And it was being examined as 15 riders and two free horses galloped in a ragged bunch, dust powering from hooves and tears of exhilaration streaming from riders’ eyes and wild whooping filling the air.

Our horses felt the power within the wacky race, had sensed it from the second Andrew’s hand waved that sluggish, lazy circle and dropped, like a flag on a race observe, after which it was each rider for themselves within the quest to see who was the quickest. Pounding hooves and outstretched necks yielded to a better lope as one after the other the horses steadily pulled away, slowing down, and a winner was revealed: younger Jac on his home-bred Arabian, a dainty gray mare with arched neck and mushy eyes. Jac beamed.

At 14 years previous he’s a talented equestrian, with quite a few aggressive endurance driving kilometres beneath his belt. This win, sans trophy held aloft and spectators as witnesses, meant no much less to him.

For as with all taxing, long-distance journey, you encounter bodily and psychological hurdles alongside the best way. Some anticipated; extra so, sudden. Overcoming these challenges turns into your private endeavor. This was Jac’s first multi-day horse path with out his dad and mom, on his personal horse. As for myself, I used to be gathering the braveness to deal with driving bitless for the primary time. I’d seen it executed on earlier trails, watching enviously as friends and crew alike had foregone utilizing a bridle and bit. They’d effortlessly guided their horses with mild rope pressures and physique weight; the embodiment of freedom. There’s a catch although, for to shed the ‘important’ bridle, you first have to shed the concern of shedding management.

‘Properly, the place can Habanero go, if he does run off?’ Andrew stated sagely. He gestured to the monochromatic gravel panorama surrounding us, increasing soundlessly in a gray uniformity, a smattering of white quartz outcrops, and the horizontal slash of a fog-filled sky so typical of the desolate Skeleton Coast. Habanero, my darkish bay horse, was a relative teenager at six years previous however regular of nature. ‘Why don’t you give it a attempt.’

Andrew Gillies, lead information, knowledgeable horseman and co-owner of the inimitable Namibia Horse Safari Firm, gave a nonplussed shrug; he didn’t thoughts both method. Nonetheless, I did, and my timidity rankled. The one one holding me again was myself. 

Our five-day route, curated and bought by adventurous horse safari company Ride the Wild, had began off within the Skeleton Coast Nationwide Park the place the rib cages of shipwrecks lay picked clear by time and black-backed jackals scavenged for scraps off seal carcasses. We’d left behind the ramshackle ‘civilisation’ of our first campsite, St Nowhere, and rode inland over lichen plains that rose to fulfill plunging canyons.

We labored our method deeper into the Dorob Nationwide Park, protecting between 20km and 40km in 4 to seven hours of driving every day with a 200km route that hooked again in direction of the coast, ending at Hentiesbaai. Lengthy days within the saddle had been countered by sizzling bucket showers and fire-cooked meals by the unflappably gifted chef Rayne Brehm. Mugs of whisky across the hearth pale into heat bedrolls beneath star-filled skies, then merged with soft-hued dawns accompanied by freshly brewed espresso, pot-baked bread and the snort of horses alongside the picket line as they greedily tucked into nostril baggage.

Namibia Horseback riding

Day three

the wind stilled. Temperatures elevated, pooling the warmth into moist mirages till it felt like we had been sloshing ahead by way of air made heavier by our personal sweat. Tracks of a lone black rhino appeared to our proper, crossing our path in a meandering wander.

With zero water or indicators of flora, we may solely hypothesise the way it may survive. Match horses carried us in relentless, ground-eating strides as we surrendered to their management and sat, wilted, on their backs for time interminable. We rounded a nook, and as is frequent in Namibia, the panorama merely modified.

Crunching calcrete rock turned wonderful gravel scattered with orange citrine crystals. Our horses’ ears pricked ahead. Forward, the shimmering air resolved into an oasis of a unique type: the safari’s 18-wheeler truck, the place lunch and relaxation awaited. Gin and tonics had been handed round and just like the rains of the desert, these withered souls started to indicate indicators of life.

Namibia Horseback riding

Day 4

we scaled the very best outer rim of the Messum Crater, tacking our method up in single file because the wind tugged on the horses’ tails, stealing our hats from our heads and the phrases from our lips. Strewn earlier than us was a panorama straight from a movie set; nothingness stretching so far as the attention may see.

I keep there’s solely a lot magnificence one can bodily take earlier than being overcome by giddiness, and we had reached saturation level. Descending down the mountain to the sanded ground beneath, we picked up velocity to a buoyant canter and raced with abandon by way of the land earlier than us, our tracks crisscrossing these of oryx and zebra. With good horses beneath us, a provide crew earlier than us, why, we may journey on without end! But as pioneering as we felt, others had tread this floor lengthy earlier than. Right here had been different indicators of humanity for many who knew the place to look. 

‘These rock buildings had been used as hides by Khoisan hunter-gatherers. Should you can see the place the oryx tracks go… there?’ Andrew stated, pointing, ‘that’s the best route for the animals to cross between these sand dunes. The Khoisan knew that, and would construct hides inside arrow-reach.’

The juxtaposition between worlds impressed upon me as I hunkered down on a rock and imagined decided, sun-wizened hunters ready beneath the identical sky, sitting on the identical sharp rocks. The self-resilience required for anybody to outlive out right here, removed from any discernible water supply, was overwhelmingly courageous. 

Habanero dosed amiably, his head drooped down low and backside lip hanging slack in opposition to my leg. I scratched his ears quietly – after which slipped off his bridle.

Six to 10-day Namibian trails will be booked by way of Ride the Wild, which specialises in customized horse safari holidays for a spread of budgets.

This text initially appeared within the February 2022 print version of Getaway

Phrases and images by Teagan Cunniffe

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