My Experience on a Horse Riding Safari in South Africa

Horseback Safari Ant's Hill & Nest in South Africa

I love horse riding. I first sat on a horse when I was barely more than toddler, grinning away on the top of a bay pony (let’s not mention the fact that I burst into tears when it started trotting!). Since that moment I had been sure to maintain this passion, taking part in lessons whenever I can and going on horse riding treks when on holiday.

I’d been introduced to the concept of horseback safaris whilst I was volunteering in Namibia. I found myself speaking to a woman who had just completed a trek through the southern African country and who was gushing about how incredible it had been. I made a mental note of the company who she had booked through, an organisation called ‘In The Saddle’.

A riding safari seemed like the perfect combination of two of my greatest loves: Africa and horses. Therefore as soon as I returned from my stint in Namibia I found myself researching a horse riding safari. Before I knew it, all was booked and I was on my way to South Africa.

Booking Your Horse Riding Safari

I booked my trip through In the Saddle, as per the recommendation from the woman who I met in Namibia. In the Saddle offer a range of horse riding holidays from riding on ranches in America to trekking on through Kyrgyzstan whilst staying in tented camps and family yurts. They also offer trips to Africa.

I only booked through In the Saddle based off one recommendation. The booking process was seamless and I have no complaints with the company. However, if I was to do this trip again, I would book directly through the safari lodge in South Africa. This saves middle-man fees and personally I just feel more comfortable booking with the place where I will actually be staying.

In the Saddle is a great place to find different horse riding holidays. But once you find them you can then choose to book the trip directly.

Horseback Safari Ant's Hill & Nest in South Africa

Our group riding through the reserve at golden hour

Where To Go on a Horse Riding Safari in South Africa

I booked to stay for a week at a reserve called The Ant Collection. The Ant Collection is a private reserve in South Africa, spanning 12,500 acres. The reserve is in an area called Waterberg (just north of Pretoria), close to the town of Vaalwater.

Within the reserve are two lodges: Ant’s Hill and Ant’s Nest. I was staying in Ant’s Hill which consists of thatched lodges which are built on the edge of a cliff. The other lodge, Ant’s Hill is situated on flat land, making it the better choice for families with young children.

I selected to stay with The Ant Collection as their riding safaris cater to riders of all types, from beginners to advanced. All riding is done within the reserve.

What To Expect on a Horse Riding Safari

I booked to stay for one week at The Ant Collection. Before my stay I filled out a form which detailed my riding experience and what I felt comfortable with. The lodge then matched me up with an appropriate horse and group to fit my skills. In fact, for my first ride they gave me a horse which was slightly easier to handle than my skills. This makes sense as some people may write that they are advanced when they are not.

Although the lodge tailors for riders of all experiences, they do split you into different groups for your treks. When I visited this was 2 groups: one for beginners and one for more experienced riders. Each group consists of 2 guides and up to 6 guests.

The guides took note of my riding ability on my first ride and actually upgraded me to a more advanced horse. It was reassuring to see that they didn’t give out fiery horses to riders who they had never seen ride before.

Once you have been matched to a horse you then have the same horse for the duration of your trip.

Horseback Safari Ant's Hill & Nest in South Africa

Me on my horse, about to take part in a trek

At the lodge you could choose exactly which horse riding excursions you took part in. Typically one excursion took place in the morning (it lasted for 3 or 4 hours) and another took place in the afternoon (lasting between 2 and 3 hours). You could join both if you wanted to, just one or none at all. Simply let the lodge know the day before what rides you wish to take part in and they will organise your horse for you.

The rides all start at the main lodge. One guide will lead the group into the bush whilst another takes up the rear. The trek will follow well-worn trails at times and at others you will be brushing through long grass.

The beauty of horse riding safaris is you can get extremely close to nature without startling it. The horses also roam freely throughout the reserve when they are not being ridden which meant that the wildlife was well acquainted with the horses.

On my week-long stay at The Ant Collection I saw sable antelope, warthogs, zebras, impalas, wildebeest, buffalo and giraffes (to name a few). I even saw a rare aardvark!

Wildebeest on Safari Ant's Hill & Nest in South Africa

Wildebeest I saw on a game drive in the reserve

Are Horse Riding Safaris Safe?

Horse riding is classed as a risky activity. Therefore you can never be 100% sure that you will not have a fall and suffer an injury. However, as horse riding locations go, the riding safaris at The Ant Collection felt safe.

They recommend you bring your own riding equipment if you are an experienced rider but do provide helmets otherwise.

All rides are accompanied by at least two qualified guides and the lodge very carefully matches you up to a horse to fit your ability.

In terms of safety from animals, the reserve is free of major predators. It is a fenced reserve so the lodge has a good idea of what animals live inside it. The most dangerous animal you can encounter is buffalo. I did encounter a herd of buffalo on one of my safaris and so the guides calmly steered us away from them. The guides are experienced and know which animals to avoid.

Do you have to be an Experienced Rider to Visit The Ant Collection?

The Ant Collection tailors to riders of all abilities, including complete beginners. The reserve also accepts non-riders, although does encourage them to learn to ride. They offer riding lessons.

If you really don’t want to ride then the lodge offers game drives, walking safaris, mountain biking and other activities.

How Are the Horses Treated?

Animal welfare is a big thing for me. I would never support an organisation that mistreated their animals.

From my stay at The Ant Collection it was very clear the lodge was passionate about their horses. I was impressed that the horses lived a completely free-range lifestyle, roaming the reserve as they pleased before being tacked up for rides. At the end of each ride, we would untack the horse and allow it to do its thing, roam wherever it liked.

The horses all seemed healthy and happy. I saw no signs of mistreatment. In fact, the guides were all amazing with their horses.

Warthogs on Horseback Safari Ant's Hill & Nest in South Africa

I saw a family of warthogs on my first horse riding safari

Is The Ant Collection Reserve Ethical?

I care a lot about animal welfare and supporting organisations that are doing their part in terms of conservation and sustainability.

I must be honest, the idea of private reserves in South Africa does make me feel uneasy. There are so many private reserves in the country and not all have the best reputation. Some reserves allow big game hunting, others breed animals for unethical activities such as cub petting before selling their animals to hunters (thankfully, South Africa is starting to crack down on this but it could still happen under the radar.

So is The Ant Collection a reserve with ethical intentions?

Rhino Protection

The reserve is home to a number of white rhinos which it is passionate about protecting from poachers. I was fortunate enough to view some of these magnificent animals within the reserve. The rhinos are at such a high risk of being poached that the animals within the reserve have full-time protection from several armed guards.

Rhinos on Safari Ant's Hill & Nest in South Africa

The white rhinos at the reserve have 24 hour armed protection by guards

Natural Pest Control

The reserve steers clear of using chemicals for pest control, instead using eco-friendly methods of controlling rodent and insect populations. The reserve has installed ‘owl boxes’ to encourage Barn Owls into the reserve as these feed on rodents, thus managing their population.

Sable Antelope Breeding

A century ago, the sable antelope was hunted to near extinction in the region. However, in 2001 The Ant Collection introduced some sable antelope to their reserve and over the years have watched their numbers rebound. The reserve now has a successful breeding programme.

The reserve claims to have sold some of their sable antelope to other reserves to help increase their population in those reserves too. In theory this is good news for the species. There is just no way for me to validate whether they were sold to reserves which focuses on wildlife conservation or reserves which allow big game hunting.

Sable Antelope on Safari Ant's Hill & Nest in South Africa

A sable antelope I saw on a game drive through the reserve

What is the Accommodation Like?

The accommodation at Ant’s Hill is lovely. The lodge is made up of 4 private cottages and across the cottages can cater for 16 guests. Each lodge comes with its own private pool. The cottages have thatched roofs and inside they are decorated with exotic furniture and brightly coloured African fabrics. The rooms are open-plan with an adjoining bathroom containing a sunken bathtub and waterfall shower. The cottages even have an outdoor shower!

One of my favourite aspects of the accommodation was the view. Being on a cliff the cottages have gorgeous panoramic views of the bush. I saw countless animals from the cottage including zebras and giraffes.

The cottages are only a short walk away from the main lodge and are surrounded by trees, making them feel private.

The main lodge overlooks a waterhole, allowing wonderful wildlife viewing opportunities. At the main lodge is a living room, dining room and veranda where you can have breakfast.

Ant's Nest Safari Lodge in South Africa

My lodge at Ant's Hill which had a fantastic view

Ant's Nest Safari Lodge in South Africa

The sunken bathtub in my lodge

Giraffes at Ant's Nest Safari Lodge in South Africa

A fantastic view of some giraffes from our lodge

What is the Food Like?

Food is included with your stay at The Ant Collection. You can either have breakfast at the communal lodge or arrange for it to be delivered to your cottage where you can enjoy a private breakfast.

The food was really nice! The lodge cooked traditional meals using local ingredients including game meats. House wines, beers and other drinks are also included with your stay.

What Else is Included in Your Stay?

As well as accommodation and drinks, your stay at The Ant Collection also includes horse riding safaris (you can take up to 2 a day), game drives through the reserve, walking safaris, mountain biking, rhino tracking and fishing. Airport transfers are also included.

How Much Does it Cost to Stay at The Ant Collection?

Prices start at £300 per adult per night (including all meals, activities and airport transfers). Prices for children aged and below start from £180 per child per night.

Zebras on Safari Ant's Hill & Nest in South Africa

Zebras on a game drive through the reserve

Horse Riding Safari Packing List

Below is a list of essential items for your African horse riding safari.

Day to Day Clothing

Days can be warm but the evenings can be cold. Therefore it’s good to bring a range of different layers.

  • T-shirts
  • Shorts
  • Long, light-weight trousers
  • Warm trousers (for evenings)
  • Warm jumpers (for evenings)
  • Socks and underwear
  • Walking shoes
  • Swimwear
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses

Clothing for Horse Riding

The Ant Collection does have riding hats for you to use. However, they do recommend you bring your own if you are an experienced rider. This is their list of recommendations:

  • Jodhpurs or chaps
  • Riding boots
  • Riding gloves
  • Riding hat
  • Body protector (if you have one)

Other Useful Items

  • Camera (with a long lens if you plan on taking part in game drives)
  • Binoculars
  • Water bottle
  • Sun cream
  • Insect repellent
  • Personal medications
Horseback Safari Ant's Hill & Nest in South Africa

Cantering through the reserve at golden hour

Would I Recommend The Ant Collection for Horse Riding Safaris?

The Ant Collection is a great place for those who want to dip their toes in the water in terms of riding safaris and who aren’t quite ready to go on great expeditions. The lodge combines nature with luxury, a great combination for many kinds of holidaymakers.

I enjoyed my time at The Ant Collection. I absolutely loved my horse and cantering through the bush was an experience I will never forget. Getting so close to wild animals was thrilling and I really appreciated the reserve’s efforts to protect rhinos from poachers.

I wouldn’t however recommend the lodge for non-riders who have no desire to learn to ride. Although there are other activities you can take part in, the lodge is very much geared up for riding treks.

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