I honestly never knew horse-riding was so much work. In fact, the phrase ‘so and so has the thighs of a horse-rider’ never aroused any ‘huhs?!’ in me, but now I get it.
It was 7am, and after putting on my helmet, the guide helped me mount this massive 15 year old horse, whose name I kept forgetting. Let me just say in my defence that I only had enough mind to stay on the horse, seeing as I was so far off the ground.
After waiting for clearance into the Mount Kenya National Park, we set out for the 1 hour ride. I was kind of apprehensive that my horse would bolt the moment it spotted an elephant or a buffalo, but alas that was exactly the kind of adventure I was seeking, not so?
The path into the park immediately began winding right from the gate. The thick trees could not mask the sound of rushing water and the trail moved into a narrow strip of fresh chilly river – shin high for the horses that navigated through carefully but easily.
I tried to steady myself to take a picture, but quickly stopped. The path was winding up a semi-steep hill, and to steady themselves the horses had to trot rather than walk up, their shoes clanging on a narrow line of cement.
Lesson #1 – use your thigh muscles to haul yourself off the horse’s saddle and then back down so that you don’t hurt yourself when the horse is running/trotting. That will keep you on the horse when it goes up narrow lines of cement and ignores your tugging to get them to stop.
After that intense balancing act we got to a more linear plain, and there my guide asked me to kick the horse with my shoe heel to goad it on so that he could teach me how to ‘chukua control’.
The trick, if I can call it that, is to anticipate when the horse’s movements might throw you up from the saddle, pre-empt it by hauling yourself up (using your thigh muscles) and going back down ‘with’ the horse. Got it? Keep reading.
After a little practice, the trotting became easier and less bumpy and I asked if we could stop with the ‘speed’ so I could just take in the scenery. The bushy trail had opened up to a lush green haven; fresh dew glistened in the morning sun as Mount Kenya herself looked down on us and silently beckoned us closer.
We passed an old airstrip that belonged to the Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club, disused due to the commercialisation of the main strip in Nanyuki, roughly 300kms from Nairobi, and 10kms from the Club. The grass plains had that natural manicured look and the atmosphere was peaceful and raw.
The 1-hour trail is the shorter one but it takes in the different shrubbery offered by the Mountain and her park. I was on high alert for any wild animals and so I began to notice that the horse behind me was sweating. Being a former polo horse, it was used to outrunning those around it. But the guide had to calm it down and steer it in line with the rest of the pack. Here, at the very sophisticated Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club, horses don’t like being overtaken.
And young horses like the sweaty one just have to stay in line.
Apart from ‘Master Sweat’, the other horses were gentle and keen on taking the best routes for the rider’s comfort. Each horse is designated to fit the rider’s ability, experience and weight. My 15-year-old, I was told was for the more hefty Ugali-eaters, but she could also easily handle someone whose diet only consisted of bowls of KFC with chips and the occasional salad.
My gentle horse started using her hind legs to kick at Master Sweat, to make sure he towed the line. I almost started sweating too at that point until I noticed that I would not really feel the kicks if I wasn’t paying attention.
Some animals that did stare at my kicking horse were a family of albino zebras. They stared at us as we watched them, as if they (and not us) had stumbled into the set of the Hollywood blockbuster ‘Avatar’. As I balanced myself to take a few snapshots, the albino zebra were gracious enough to let me get a good close up before bending down to eat some more fresh grass.
When our Sh2,500 was spent, we retraced our steps, easily spotting buffalo dung and some exotic looking birds. We could even trot back up from the park gate to the Club grounds. Because I do not have a rider’s thighs yet, I limped away from the horse and into the very massive dining area where breakfast was waiting for me.
I ate slowly, and purposefully – with fruits, yoghurt, omelette, waffles, coffee, and croissants coaxing my thighs back to life.
The resident peacocks danced as if welcoming us home. This is exactly how the Kings of old lived…