Celebrating the Day of the Horse

Celebrating Horses in Kenya

The Day of the Horse -  Sunday 13th December 2015

Horses have faithfully served man for millennia.  Great empires have been built from horseback, they helped to win wars and were the forerunners of modern mechanized agriculture.  Travel and communication were initially mainly done from horseback or by horse drawn carriages.  It is fair to suggest that what modern man is today, he owes to horses.  For this reason Offbeat Safaris feel it is only right to celebrate the Day of the Horse this Sunday on 13th December!

Few animals have contributed more to humanity than the horse. It has fed and sheltered us, and provided us with clothing and transportation; it has been both worshipped as a god and slaughtered to appease the gods. No one could write the entire history of the horse, but Offbeat Safaris owe our business to the horse in Africa, operating mobile horseback safaris in Kenya.

Modern horses are part of the family Equidae. And the earliest known genus of the Equidae family lived 55 to 45 million years ago.   By about one million years ago, members of the one-toed genus Equus (Latin for “horse”) were found across Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas, in enormous migrating herds.

All surviving species of the family Equidae are members of this single genus, Equus. The species found in Africa are: 

  • Equus asinus, the North African wild ass, domestic ass, burro, or donkey. The species’ native range is in Ethiopia and Somalia, yet domesticated and feral populations now exist in many parts of the world. 

  • Equus burchellii, the plains zebra, common zebra, or Burchell's zebra. This species lives in east and southern Africa, from southern Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia, south to southeast Congo, southern Angola, northern Namibia and Botswana, and South Africa.

  • Equus grevyi, Grevy's zebra or Imperial zebra. It lives in Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya.

  • Equus zebra, the mountain zebra. It resides in southern Angola, Namibia, and South Africa.

  • Equus caballus, the common horse.  All horse breeds, from Shetland ponies to Shire horses, belong to this species.

One additional species, Equus quagga—the quagga—was formerly distributed in South Africa but is now extinct. The last individual died in captivity in 1883. 

The modern species of the common horse, Equus caballus, evolved on the North American continent and migrated across the Bering land bridge into what is now Siberia.  From there, horses spread across Asia into Europe and south to the Middle East and northern Africa.

The horse period in Africa is usually dated between 2000 and 1200 BC, which corresponds to archaeological research and rock art. There were two horses common to Africa.  A horse introduced to Africa around 1600 BC by the Hyksos, a nomadic Asian group, who invaded and consequently ruled Egypt, and a native small size horse, common to much of North and West Africa.  Archaeological evidence indicates that this native horse was known to the Nubians centuries before its introduction to Egypt through the Hyksos people.

In Kenya the ancestors of these native ponies are still prevalent today and many are still sourced from Ethiopia and Somalia for use in Kenya.

More than 3000 years on, in 1885 the Imperial British East Africa Co was established and British settlers began arriving in Kenya….and with them more horses from Europe.  As well as hardy work horses, thoroughbreds were also imported and horse racing began its long history in Kenya. The first race meet was apparently held in Machakos in 1898.  With such suitable, fast and athletic horses now in Kenya the game of polo quickly followed and the thoroughbred thrived.

By the 1960’s tourism in Kenya had surged and wildlife viewing on safari was a fashionable and popular holiday.  Ten years on, Tony Church, the eldest son of missionary parents, who had spend his youth exploring the bush on horseback, felt instinctively that safaris on horseback would work.  He was right, and became the pioneer of horseback safaris in Kenya, using mostly Anglo-Somali ponies.  Fast forward another forty years and mobile horseback safaris have become a well-established industry of its own and Tristan Voorspuy, one time apprentice to Tony Church, operates the highly successful Offbeat Safaris.  Using thoroughbreds crossed with Irish draft and still some native ponies, these quality horses tick every box for the modern day rider.     

Viewing wildlife from the back of a horse is an extraordinary experience, melting into the wilderness as if you were just another animal in the bush.  It is quiet, non-inhibiting to wildlife and a supremely natural way to experience the wonders of Kenya.  Long live the horse in Africa!