Combining Comfort and Adventure
On the Wild Coast

Nicky Hoseck

Returning to the Wild Coast for their fourth adventure, Donna and Phil Darbyshire share their thoughts on South Africa as a destination and what essentials you need to enjoy your horse riding holidays. 

The Lure of South Africa and Its Breathtaking Beaches

Donna and Phil fell in love with South Africa over a decade ago and are so addicted to the destination that they return every year. 

With its English-speaking population, warm climate, and convenient time zone, it’s the perfect destination for escaping the British winters. 

The Wild Coast is just one of Donna and Phil’s favorite haunts, and one they return to every other year to enjoy the fast riding and deserted beaches that you simply can’t find anywhere else. 

Donna admits that they’ve “done a fair few Spanish holidays because they’re close to home,” but there, “you get up at 4 a.m., you tack your horse up in the dark, and then you ride down the beach in the morning before anyone else gets onto the beach. That just doesn’t compare to this.”

In terms of beach riding, Donna says nowhere else compares, although Phil believes some desert rides could give us a run for their money. He suggests that Turkey or Jordan might be able to compete in terms of pace but not necessarily when it comes to scenery. 

At the end of the day, even Phil has to admit,

“There’s not many parts of the world where you get beaches like this.”

Another thing they love about South Africa is that it’s easy to add a few extras to your holiday. 

As Donna explains, “We’ll do a ride, and then we’ll pick up riding elsewhere. Because the language is the same, you can just email, so we’ve had a couple of really good three-day, two-night excursions from a hotel.”

Combining Comfort and Adventure on the Wild Coast

As you can probably guess, Donna and Phil have embarked on horse-riding adventures all over the world, riding in far-flung places like Morocco, India, and Africa. Since Covid, however, they’ve become a little less intrepid. 

Donna and Phil were in Botswana when South African Airways suddenly stopped flying. “Because I knew where we were,” Donna says, “I just had the confidence to sort it out. I knew we could drive to another airport and pick up a local flight back to Johannesburg.”

Since that experience, Donna’s less willing to visit more exotic locations and feels more comfortable sticking with familiar destinations where she feels more at home.

Phil points out that it’s hardly logical for an Englishwoman to feel comfortable in Southern Africa, but that doesn’t really seem to matter. Home is where the heart is, after all, and Donna has clearly been bitten by the African bug! 

What You Need to Love the Wild Coast Ride 

 As far as the Wild Coast is concerned, Donna and Phil have recommended the ride to lots of people, but only if they have the ability and flexibility to deal with it. 

“They need to be confident riders that don’t mind spending time in the saddle,” Donna says. “They also need to be reasonably adaptable,” Phil adds, “because things can change.” 

Indeed, we can’t control the climate here, and with so many rivers to cross, a heavy downpour can play havoc with the original itinerary, so some adaptability is critical. 

“They have to be reasonable riders and be able to cope with sitting in a saddle for six to seven hours,” Phil reiterates, noting that “It’s remarkable how many people join these rides and then get a sore arse after three days!” 

For Donna and Phil, knowing your limitations is one of the most critical factors of any horse-riding holiday. After all, what could be worse than spending thousands of pounds on a holiday, only to spend it touring the countryside in a support vehicle?  

This is by no means an unusual occurrence, they say, although none of the riders on this trail are willing to swap their saddles for seatbelts! 

On a recent ride in Namibia, Donna and Phil met a couple who rode for just three days before spending the rest of the week just walking the dog around at lunchtime after sitting in the van all day.

It’s not all about knowing your limitations but also about being aware of how you’ll react in the face of adversity and if you’ve got the type of personality - like Donna and Phil clearly have - that enables you to push through when things get tough. 

The Perfect Combination of Change and Continuity

For Donna and Phil, the Wild Coast is the perfect combination of continuity and change. 

“Even though this is our fourth time, it’s always different,” Donna says, “The scenery looks different now even though it’s the same time of year. There’s more grass because it’s been wetter, but when we’ve come before it’s been dry.”

Although the scenery and conditions change, the guides offer a sense of continuity. 

“Here’s pretty constant in terms of guides, Donna explains. “In a lot of places, they change year on year. The route might be the same, but how the guide approaches it and how confident they are with people also influences how the ride goes.”

Phil agrees, saying, “There’s a continuity in the guides here that you don’t see elsewhere. Of course, they change from time to time, but they tend to stay the same for a few years.”

What Makes the Perfect Trail Horse?

Donna discovered the joys of riding holidays long before Phil, but it didn’t take him long to catch up. Learning to ride at 59 is no mean feat, but when you’ve got a horse-riding safari to prepare for, you’ve got little choice. 

Now heading towards his 72nd birthday, Phil’s something of an expert in the saddle - a fact that many guides seem to pick up, often allocating him the quirkier horses that need a little extra TLC.

“I often get the quirky ones because they think I’ve been riding forever,” Phil smiles, “The guides like to give me the horse that’s only just had shoes on or is doing his first ride.”

On this trail, Phil’s got something of an old hand in the form of Lizzie, but she’s got enough personality to keep him on his toes. Meanwhile, Donna’s been switched off her favorite pocket rocket, Thulani, due to injury but isn’t too fazed by the swap.

She admits that she loves Thulani for her quirky personality, saying, “She’s at the bottom of the pecking order and growls at everybody,” before adding, “I also like the fact that she’s fast and not very far off the ground!” 

Twaisan is gradually winning her over, however, despite being a little taller, and Donna’s looking forward to discovering his turn of speed when it comes to the infamous Wavecrest gallop.

This is one of the highlights for most guests, and Donna is no exception. When I ask her why, she laughs, “Cause you go fast!” 

While there are a couple of other places where you can expect a good gallop, this one’s just a little bit more special because, Donna says, “You get the chance to wind them up a little bit, and they all know what they’re going to do. That is unusual.”

Take the Challenge While You Can

With Phil’s 72nd birthday just around the corner, Donna and Phil are squeezing in as many rides as they can while they feel they’re still able. Last year, they did four and have three booked for 2024.

“Because age is starting to creep up on us,” Donna explains, “I’m sort of packing them in. We can do what we see as the more challenging rides while we still can, and then we’re just going to meander around in yards after that.” 

It’s hard to see anything slowing the Darbyshires down at this stage, and they clearly have many horseback adventures left in them. After leaving the Wild Coast, they head south towards Cape Town, where they’ll be riding, wining, and dining their way through the Winelands.

It’ll be a very different experience to the Wild Coast, but that’s part of the beauty of horse-riding holidays - each one is unique. 

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