The African continent is known for its excellent game-viewing opportunities, and what better way to get up close and personal than on horseback? Horse-riding game safaris are becoming increasingly popular with locals and international visitors alike, which means there are more jobs available for horse lovers who want to show off our amazing country and the animals who live here.
HQPony spoke to Gerti Kusseler at Wait-A-Little African Big Five Horse Safaris about what it takes to become a horse safari guide.
What does a horse safari guide do?
A horse safari guide’s main job is to take guests on trail rides into the bush, to give guests new and exciting experiences and to pass on some of the knowledge and skills you have learned as a guide.
Then, of course, there is the daily care of the horses to ensure they stay happy and fit as well as any general maintenance and repairs that may be required to keep the lodge functioning smoothly.
What type of person is best suited to this career?
Someone with enthusiasm and passion for nature and the environment, who enjoys interacting with lots of different people and sharing knowledge. A willingness to learn and pick up new skills is also very important. It is hard work, but also a very rewarding career.
What subjects do I need at school?
Basic sciences and languages will be useful.
What do I need to study after school and where do I do this?
You will need to join F.G.A.S.A. (Field Guides Association of South Africa). You can then begin to study for your Level 1 exam which combines a theoretical exam, then a practical exam which consists of taking your assessor on a guided walk or drive to show him your knowledge. The best way to do this is to sign up for one of the many courses available, as this means you have instructors who are always there to help and advise you and it will give you a great basic grounding to start your career. Once you have completed level 1, you are able to begin guiding. Getting a work placement at this stage is ideal as you can continue learning while getting constant practical experience. There are 3 F.G.A.S.A. levels to complete, then the final top level of guiding which is called S.K.S. (Special Knowledge and Skills). You must also get your Advanced Rifle Handling Certificate in order to carry a firearm with you out on trail.
What are the pros and cons?
The pros are definitely to have the opportunity to ride horses daily in a stunning natural environment, where you feel part of the bush. There are constantly new things to learn. Every day is a new and exciting experience; no two days or rides are ever the same!
As I said before it is hard work, and sometimes you have to have a lot of patience with more challenging guests, but there is no doubt the benefits outweigh this!
What can I do to get a head start in the meantime?
If you can spend some time in the bush, preferably with someone experienced who can give you some basic knowledge that would be great. Of course, there are hundreds of superb textbooks out there to read all about the environment, but any practical, hands-on experience you can gain will be invaluable.
Are there governing bodies I need to register with in order to work?
Once you have completed Level 1 you will have to register with D.E.A.T. (the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism) before you can begin working as a guide.
Any other advice or comments?
It is a good idea to do your homework when choosing a field guide training course. Ideally, speak to people who have completed a course already and ask them about their experiences. Work hard, enjoy and appreciate every opportunity you get to experience. The African bush has so much to offer and it is a privilege to be a part of it.
Text: Brigitte Billings and Gerti Kusseler. Photographs: Courtesy of Wait-A-Little African Big Five Horse Safaris
This article first appeared in HQPony Magazine. For great subscription offers visit Coolmags.