Words: Grant Hollins. Images: Julie-Anne Gower.
Wild Coast Horseback Adventures has been offering horse riding trails along the Eastern Cape’s spectacular eastern coast for more than a decade and is listed as one of the top beach riding destinations in the world. Grant Hollins went to Kei Mouth to meet with owner Julie-Anne Gower to find out more.
The Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast, which stretches some 280km from the Mtamvuna River in the north to the Great Kei River in the south, has a rich history of adventure and is renowned for its rugged beauty. It forms the coastal heartland of the Xhosa people whose cattle often roam unattended along vacant beaches or graze on grass covered hilltops with cliff faces that plummet directly into the ocean. Notorious in the seafaring community as one of the world’s most treacherous stretches of coastline, the region is home to numerous shipwrecks and with about half of the area comprised of indigenous forest, it supports a myriad of fauna and flora. This largely untouched coast is also interspersed with quaint hotels, which make it an ideal destination for nature-loving, adventure-minded travellers to visit.
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With extensive knowledge of this region and a strong background in long distance horse riding, Julie-Anne Gower established Wild Coast Horseback Adventures in 2002, which is considered by UK based agency In the Saddle as “providing access to the most spectacular beach riding in the world.” Catering primarily for intermediate and experienced riders, the organisation offers (among other packages) a week long horse trail deep into the spectacular Wild Coast region.
Horse riding and other activities
Trails are limited to about 8 clients per trail group, which are generally conducted during the third quarter of the year rather than during the December period in order to ensure the availability of accommodation at the popular hotels along the coast. “We allow plenty of time for our guests to enjoy the facilities of the hotels we stay at, including kayaking, fishing or just relaxing,” she says. “But ultimately it’s about the riding and we work hard to ensure everything is in place so they can focus on this aspect of their holiday.”
The guests’ luggage and extra equipment for the horses are transported via backup vehicle to the different overnight stops each day and guides are required to undergo a 6 to 12-month training and evaluation period before being permitted to lead a trail independently. This ensures that the guides are not only qualified to handle any equestrian related issues that may arise but are familiar with the routes and terrain and can impart some local knowledge to guests.
The horses used on the trails are Arab, Boerperd, Thoroughbred and Percheron crosses, and are kept in a herd free to roam large areas of ground when not on a trail. The horses have strong bonds with each other and traverse the 20km to 40km of rugged terrain each day with ease. Having become very familiar with the routes along the trail, they are now also able to navigate terrain, allowing trail riders to relax and experience the full magnitude of the Wild Coast’s beauty on horseback.
“The Wild Coast offers so much for a rider and the experience of our horses help unlock this potential,” says Julie-Anne. “From galloping across beautiful sandy beaches untouched by man to navigating your way around steep coastal cliffs and cantering across grass-covered hills, it’s just a spectacular experience.”
Working Holidays with Horses
Another facet of Wild Coast Horseback Adventures that has become very popular with international tourists – particularly with “gap year” students – is the working riding holiday package. Participants stay in a separate house in Kei Mouth and aside from doing lots of riding, they also learn various horse management tasks and handling techniques. The guests help with daily feeding and grooming and receive introduction training on among other tasks, barefoot trimming, endurance riding, training and horse management. Aside from assisting on various horse trails and swimming with horses, an added attraction is the opportunity to exercise the 12 horses Wild Coast Horseback Adventures keep at a nearby game reserve – Miarestate – where they will take regular rides amidst nondangerous game such as giraffe, zebra, Wildebeest and various species of antelope.
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