Taking to the Saddle at Babanango Game Reserve in northern Zululand.

There’s a new way to experience the landscapes of Babanango Game Reserve, thanks to the introduction of horse trails at this 22,000ha reserve in the northern reaches of KwaZulu-Natal’s Zulu heartland.

Read my post on Babanango Game Reserve in KwaZulu Natal. 

Created by a unique partnership between conservationists, private investors and local communities, Babanango is all about pioneering with purpose, offering unique, immersive experiences that connect people to the African wilderness while at the same time directly benefitting local people living on its periphery.

This scenically spectacular reserve consists of mistveld grasslands, thornveld and riverine thicket and includes a 23km stretch of the White Umfolozi River. It’s beautiful rolling hills and plunging valleys are home to a variety of wildlife, from plains game such as wildebeest, zebra and kudu to buffalo, rhino and hippo. Leopard and hyena occur naturally on the reserve, which will be home to the rest of the Big Five thanks to the planned reintroduction of lion and elephant by 2022.

“It’s the perfect place to explore on horseback,” says Jeffrey van Staden, COO of African Habitat Conservancy, the organisation behind the creation of Babanango. “One of our objectives is to offer fully immersive experiences, so horse riding fits in perfectly with this ethos,” adds Van Staden.

Aimed to appeal to all riding enthusiasts, irrespective of their experience, the horse trails are currently offered for a maximum of eight guests accompanied by two qualified and experienced guides. “The focus is on the experience of riding through this beautiful reserve,” says Van Staden. “It’s not about racing across the countryside but about appreciating the incredible environment, absorbing the wilderness as you wind your way through it, learning about its fauna and flora as you go,” he adds.

By the time Babanango becomes a fully-fledged Big Five reserve its string of 10 Boerperd horses will have become acclimatised to the terrain and the animals that call it home. One-hour outrides are offered, as well as half-day and full-day trails. In time overnight trails will be offered with riders camping under the stars in dome tents.

“We are currently finalising a choice of different trail options which will include riding between our lodges, crossing the White Umfolozi and exploring the most interesting features on the reserve,” says Babanango Head Guide Justin Hall.

Finding the right horses was an important foundation for Babanango’s new horse trails offering and a task that fell to Van Staden, who searched South Africa for the best, most reputable breeders. He settled on renowned Boerperd breeder and international endurance rider Wiesman Nel who is based in the Free State. Nel has supplied the horses and is involved in their ongoing training.

“It’s a huge privilege to be working with Babanango and introducing horse trails on to reserve,” says Nel. “Our Boerperds are a perfect fit and are one of the most popular breeds for trails of this nature. It’s a South African breed, originally of Arab descent, and is renowned for being strong and hardy,” explains Nel.

“That’s the wonderful thing about horse riding on a game reserve,” says Head Guide Hall. “The animals don’t see you as a threat as they just see the horse and regard it as another, perhaps slightly odd-looking animal. This offers riders the chance to truly appreciate game viewing in a completely unobtrusive way,” he adds.

African Habitat Conservancy (AHC)

A conservation management company focusing on game reserve conservation as well as the rehabilitation of both fauna and flora endemic to the areas in which the company operates. AHC was founded by Hellmuth Weisser, a German investor with a great passion for African conservation, along with Jeffrey van Staden a South African owner of a German-based African tour operating company. African Habitat Conservancy was born of a vision to support the conservation of African wildlife by making a substantial investment in one of the most picturesque – but economically neglected – parts of KwaZulu-Natal.

The Essential Details

For more information on the horse trails, visit www.babanango.co.za or contact reservations@babanango.co.za. Naturally, all Covid-19 protocols are in place and Babanango Valley Lodge is 100% ready to host guests.

** Details supplied by Lesley Simpson Communication.

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