Saturday 28th of March 2020
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What to wear on horseback safari

Horseback safari. Two words guaranteed to send shivers of excitement, and visions of sundowners on the savannah wearing only flowing white garments through the minds of any rider who has so much as glanced at a copy of Out of Africa, writes Alex Calder.

And I’ve done considerably more than glance at Out of Africa. I’ve read it several times. And seen the film. I’ve read West with the Night, Beryl Markham’s book, I’ve read a biography of her – Straight on ‘til Morning, I’ve read Circling the Sun, a fictionalised account of the lives of Markham, Karen Blixen, and Denys Finch Hatton. It’s safe to say that I’ve fully bought into the romantic ideal of that fabled, if troubled time in the history of East Africa, sometime between the turn of the last century, and the start of the second war.

So when I went on an African Horse Safaris adventure to Zimbabwe at the end of the summer, I had to seriously consider how to merge what I thought I should wear, with what I should actually wear – for comfort, function, and of course a little bit of style. Finding very little guidance online beforehand, and armed with a comprehensive packing list from the lovely people at African Horse Safaris, I decided to do my own research, so here’s my guide to what to wear to tread that line between the functional and the chic while on safari.

1. The Everyday Safari

You will be living in your jods – out of the nine days we were there, we rode for six of them, so comfort in the saddle is paramount. We were in Zimbabwe in early September, which is the start of spring/summer in the southern hemisphere, and each day temperatures started off in the teens and rose quickly to the high twenties. I brought four pairs of breeches, only wore three, and pretty quickly made the AA Platinum Summer Silicone my go-to. They’re incredibly lightweight, with fabric that somehow seems to stay cool, and they come in tan, which I had decided – in homage to the Blixen/Markham heritage – was going to be my main colour.

Refusing to let go of my romantic ideals, I brought several flowing white shirts but again, found myself going back to the same lightweight, breathable, wicking ‘technical tops’ I’d wear riding at home on a hot summer day – like this AA Platinum Pula Short Sleeve.

Turns out, this is a sort of safari uniform, as Isabel from African Horse Safaris and I were regularly sporting almost matching outfits.

2. The Overnight Safari

In a trip filled with daily adventures, going on an overnight safari was one of the biggest adventures of them all. We rode out from our home base at Antelope Park in the early evening, to a camp beside a lake where we ate an incredible dinner and then camped out under the stars on beds of hay around a campfire, with the horses rustling in their nearby outdoor stalls. Because temperatures dropped dramatically at night, we slept in our clothes – fully wrapped up in coats and scarves and several layers of blankets. I had my Horseware Riding Tights with me and they were the perfect solution for this cycle of riding – sleeping – riding. I layered up for night-time with a vest, one of my trusty white shirts, a lightweight down-filled gilet, a lightweight scarf, windproof Horseware Ferdia jacket, and a COS cashmere hat.

Riding home the next day in the morning sun, I was able to pack up all the lightweight layers into a backpack and wear just the shirt.

3. The Polo Lesson

Horseware’s Polo collection breeches are my favourite type of the many breeches on the market, and finally I got the chance to wear them for doing what they were always intended: playing polo. Paired with a matching super-breathable top I was feeling pretty smug after being told by Sherri-Lyn Hensman, the resident pro at Bushman Rock Polo where were having a day-long polo lesson, that I was ‘hitting a good ball’ (sports involving small balls and implements with which to hit them never having been my strong point), and even managed to score two goals later in the day. I’m pretty sure the proper polo clothes had a positive effect!

4. The Bush Adventure

Although the main draw of a horseback safari is strolling in step with majestic giraffes and ambling alongside herds of zebra from the vantage point of your horse, we also found time to do some guided bush exploring on foot and to participate in Antelope Park’s incredible Lion Rehabilitation Programme.

The area of Zimbabwe we were in isn’t a high risk Malaria area, so we were able to wear shorts and short sleeves without fear of bites, although we did use a high strength insect repellent every day. When I wasn’t on horseback, I lived in a pair of white bermuda-esque shorts, like these from Gap, lightweight shirts like this Oxford from Polo Ralph Lauren, and because the thing to do on safari seems to be to get up before dawn in order to catch the spectacular sunrises from various perfect vantage points, a lightweight cashmere like this Pure Collection Gassato Sweater and a light, many-pocketed jacket such as the Orvis Heritage Safari Jacket come in very handy.

5. All the Gear and No Idea

My trust Charles Owen Air8 protected my head and didn’t allow me to overheat (there are some people don’t wear a helmet on safari, but seriously!) and temperatures were still reasonable enough that Ariat paddock boots and leather Tredstep half chaps were wearable. Deeper into the summer, a pair of mesh chaps like these from Dublin would probably be a better bet.

Something I didn’t have and wish I had brought was a trusty bum-bag (I kid you not). African Horse Safaris intern Charlotte had one and it was the perfect place to stash phone, sunglasses, lipbalm, and sunscreen, and not interfere with your riding. A Go-Pro with helmet mount is a great idea if you have one – allowing you to capture wilder moments where you might not be able to grab your phone to film. We also brought a mini first aid kit which came in handy when I sprained my hand playing polo, and also the morning after a few too many sundowners!

A cap or lightweight hat is a great idea for if you’re out walking in the bush, and for the very long journey there and back again I wore a lightweight jumpsuit and stashed a large lightweight scarf and down-filled jacket in my carry-on luggage for coziness while sleeping.

If you’re considering an adventure for next year, I can’t recommend a horseback safari more highly – it’s the best trip we’ve ever taken, seeing a whole new part of the world and the rare and beautiful animals of Africa in the best way: between the two ears of a horse. You’ll never want to spend two weeks just lazing by a pool again.

All images by Sam Doyle and Alex Calder. Alex and Sam travelled with African Horse Safaris on a tailor-made adventure to Antelope Park and Bushman Rock, Zimbabwe. See africanhorsesafaris.com for more.

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