Written by: Charlotte Outram
Horses have faithfully served man for millennia. Great empires have been built on horseback, and horses have helped to win wars and were the forerunners of modern mechanised agriculture. Humans owe early-day travel and communication to horses, and it is fair to suggest that they have helped to shape who modern man is today.
For this reason Offbeat Safaris feels that it is only right to celebrate the Day of the Horse this Sunday, 13th December, as we operate mobile horseback safaris in Kenya, so owe our business to the horse in Africa.
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. Here is a list of a horse of a different colour in Africa – the zebras.
– Equus burchellii is 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 is the Grevy’s zebra or imperial zebra. It lives in Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya.
– Equus zebra is the mountain zebra. It resides in southern Angola, Namibia, and South Africa.
– 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 1600BC 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.
By the 1960s tourism in Kenya had surged and wildlife viewing on safari was a fashionable and popular holiday. 10 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 40 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.
For more on Horses in Africa, read: 10 of the Best Horseback Safaris in Africa