August Rush - Offbeat Riding in the Masai Mara

With the month of August being at the pinnacle of the safari season; horses, vehicles and guests were flicking in and out of the Mara like bees on honey. I assisted in 2/4 back to back safaris. The first group arrived on the 11th of August comprising of a mixed bunch, predominantly Americans. The first game drive from the airstrip to the camp is always very enlightening as more than often the fresh arrivals are witnessing African wildlife for the first time. The genuine look of pure excitement on their faces as they see their very first elephant really makes you appreciate the amount of satisfaction a place like the Mara has and what it can do for people. 

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Other game drive sightings around the Mara North Conservancy included an impressive cheetah-hyena confrontation with a brief scuffle as the hyena pestered the two hunting cheetah awaiting the opportunity to steal their kill.

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This conservancy was also packed with an uncountable seething mass of zebra spread out across the plains, painting a 360 degree picture of black and white between the ground and sky. Greater herds of elephant had also ventured up north. Many had very tiny calves that inevitably encouraged a lot of ‘aww’ and ‘ahh’ sound effects from the guests. Another fortunate sighting was a lioness hunt on a Thompson’s gazelle which she took back to share with the prides cubs. Once she was full, the rest of the carcass was fought over in a brilliant 9-way tug of war among the feisty youngsters.

After 2 charming nights spent at the river camp, we set off on our first moving day towards our next campsite on the Soit Ololol escarpment. This particular ride entailed one incident that really got everybody’s blood flowing. Riding through the long grass we noticed a few lion relaxing under the Acacias. However, much to our surprise a very inconspicuous lioness had managed to sneak its way rather close to the trailing horse. Luckily, the fantastic sense of smell the horses have over our human sense meant we were made quickly aware of her presence and the lioness was warned off with haste. One of the dominant loose horses of the herd also made sure the lion kept its distance by angrily facing up to it; an inspiring form of bravery shown by this mare looking out for her herd and of course the riders. On the next day’s ride on the way to Olare Orok we came across the same pride. However, this time they were less keen to cause any trouble, clearly learning from the day before not to mess with our 4-legged soldiers.

Olare Orok was flourishing, rich with all sorts of varied herbivores and carnivores of the Mara. A particular group favourite was multiple sightings of a large male leopard relaxing in the river undergrowth as he finished off a topi kill from a few days earlier. Another remarkable moment was an early morning ride where a very laid back lioness of the Offbeat pride casually strolling along unfazed about 5 meters from the front line of ponies. 

This safari concluded in the beautiful Olare Lamun campsite filled with many joyous moments cantering alongside large herds of the Masai giraffe, wildebeest and impala. 

The next safari started right away with a British family of 7. With plenty of good morals and outrageously witty jokes, it made for a highly entertaining safari.  Their first taste to the Mara included a look at a beautiful female cheetah with her young silver-furred cubs.

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The horses certainly did their riders justice as there was not a single complaint or horse switch throughout the entire trip. The safari was stupendous in terms of the amount of game we came across. An unbelievable herd of 40 elephant together was seen just below the Ololo escarpment. This was on a morning ride along with a large herd of inquisitive buffalo just behind them who we also managed to get in close quarters with. 

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One of the night game drives involved a worrying moment where it appeared that a male lion was killing two cubs. It was later established much to everyone's relief that he was just being a typical male and stealing a fresh wildebeest kill. 

The rest of the safari entailed many enjoyable long canters across the yellow table cloth looking savanna with this solid group of riders.  Our last moving day bush lunch was a BBQ under the picturesque Elaeodendron Trees whilst being aware of a pride of lion relaxing in the sun 100 odd meters away. It was unfortunate to have the last afternoons ride rained off. However this did not “dampen” spirits as a couple of keen guests decided to give hand-line fishing a go off the Mara river banks. The rain proved perfect conditions as the fish were certainly on the bite allowing for a few successful catches. This spectacular safari was topped off with an unbeatable scene of a lion killing a topi. This full live documentary took place right in front of us from the swift pounce, slow asphyxiation to careful ripping the animal apart and eating it before the lurking hyena showed for their share. 

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All in all both safaris were fantastic. A measure of the capability of this safari was really proved by two particular guests. One girl completed the entire safari with a recently broken arm in a cast. The other was an 8-year old boy who completed one of the long moving days with such enthusiasm even though he witnessed a close and unexpected old bull buffalo. The difference in the game seen in a back to back safari makes you realize the level of uniqueness each safari has making you constantly excited for the unexpected with each waking day.