“Everyone spread out. There’s plenty of room! If you want to go fast, do it! If you don’t, hang back and canter. If you pass me, look back to check direction. Let’s go!” So said our guide, just before he turned, cantering, then galloping, hand holding hat, over the red hills of the Namibian Desert.
The first day we hesitated, looked around, sharing thought bubbles, “Did I hear him correctly? Can I really run as fast as I want?!? Far and wide? No wrestling with my horse’s reins? No struggling to stay in line?” Then we heard yelps of joy as Larissa, the Company manager, raced past us! Smiles all around, we leaned forward, let go and ran! Hoofs pounding, the horses never seemed to tire. After several momentary miles, we all pulled up, breathless and beaming, wide smiles, gasps of happiness and bursts of laughter.
Our group was experienced. Most of us have spent decades riding in a variety of disciplines – not just in arenas but through forests, over prairies and polo fields, for sport and for work. Collectively and individually, we have been on many riding trips over most continents, looking for fast and fierce riding, hoping not to be held back by fellow travelers who have overestimated their skill or stamina. And here we found it – on the isolated sands of Namibia.
In addition to gallops, there were plenty of luxurious leisurely canters, and, as even the strongest horses (and riders), cannot run all day, there were many hours relaxed riding: walking, admiring, contemplating, and reflecting. But this is not a trip for the novice or the nervous. It is for the advanced and the adventurous, for riders seeking the speed and beauty of eager equine athletes who can carry a rider for 300 kilometers across the desert and run every chance they get! There are no slow options. No abbreviated versions. The pace is fast. The distance is far. The herd rides together.
The human herd too: without cell phone reception or internet, asphalt or electricity, without any contact with the outside world, we turned to each other for entertainment and companionship. Friendships develop quickly far from the distractions of modern life. Every evening, desert dust washed away by hot showers, and beds set up under the open sky, we gathered around a fire for drinks and dinner. The meals conjured out of cast iron pots were varied and delicious and would have been appreciated in any setting. Conversation was lively and, as affection replaced pretense, jokes and hilarity took over. We laughed. And laughed. And laughed some more. Gradually we made our ways to our down-filled beds, luminous stars winking at us, “We are beautiful,” they seemed to say, “you forget to look, but we are here. We have always been, and always will be. Ignore the noise. The world is magnificent, and you are in it.”
On our last day we rode – and ran – across the sands of an endless Namibian beach. Some horses dipped their feet in the Atlantic. Others skipped over waves. Most kept their distance. We rode through town and released them into a corral, where they rolled and played, knowing that they would be trucked to their ranch for a well-earned six weeks of rest. We needed a rest too, and certainly some clean clothes. But not for long. Within a week, most of us had signed up for a return trip. Together. Because we are friends now. Because we have found a place of beauty and joy.
If you like speed, rugged beauty, an awe-inspiring landscape that reminds you of the greatness of time and space, you will find it here. If you have been looking for the freedom to ride as fast as you can on a spectacular horse, choosing your own path, this is for you. If you want to be out of reach of the dings, and beeps and chatter of modern life, you will be happy here.
And who knows? We may meet. Chances are good.
- By Narda Sherman, June 2023