Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Dany Hancock, Rides on the Wild Side

Miss Dany Hancock has lived in Botswana and worked in the horse safari industry, one way or another, for 17 years.  She lives in Maun on a smallholding with her boyfriend Ernie, a pilot who also works with her on the technical and social media side of her company, with their dogs, horses and hens. 
Originally from the UK, though not from a horsey family background, her wanderlust and passion for horses led her to the Mecca of horseback safaris: the Okavango Delta.  Working with the horses and leading safaris on horseback progressed into sales and marketing, creating her own specialized and personalized horseback safari and adventure travel company: Rides On The Wild Side
In conjunction with the promotion and sales of professional and exciting horse holiday destinations, Dany is also involved in the popular safari industry at the very heart of southern Africa’s top safari destinations including: Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia – and is delighted to create special, personalized safari industries for those who prefer to be in a jeep rather than on a horse.  Her philosophy is to match the destination to the client from an independent and  unbiased standpoint, which she believes is as important as matching the rider to the correct horse on a ride. 
Dany often accompanies safaris and travels extensively worldwide to promote the rides and safaris.  She and Ernie will be at Equitana Melbourne, Australia 20th-23rd November, Stand Number: 525, so do feel free to drop by the stand. Contact Dany for more info!
Welcome Dany!

When was your first encounter with a horse?

I can’t remember my first encounter exactly, but I’ve  always been “horse mad” !  I started riding when I was 6.

Do you have a favorite horse breed?

This is a very tricky one but if I had to narrow it down to one breed it would have to be the Thoroughbred.  They are incredibly versatile and often underestimated, in my opinion.  They are bright, brave and when given the right kind of training and input, offer the most incredible ride in terms of character, comfort as well as a bit of pace.  My favorite story to tell is about 2 THB’s – in 2  different Okavango camps – at 2 different times....  (Please bear in mind the area of the Okavango Delta is the size of Switzerland or the US state of Massachusetts!).

Safari horses in the Delta are free to graze during “siesta” time – usually within the constraints of an electric fence.  Very occasionally the herd gets spooked –by passing animals such as zebra, giraffe and elephant – and in excitement and with the flight instinct kicking in, they break through the fence.  The challenge, of course, is to then get the horses back and after a few hours most are found or make their own way home.  However, if the excitement is great, then it can mean the horses go further and 2 THBs in separate incidents, found their way back 2 weeks and 4 weeks respectively!  Apart from being a bit lean they both were in good form and walked straight up to safari-workers (not even their grooms) and settled back into their work without any trouble.  Both of them were, however, well-handled and cared for from a very early age and just took the adventure in their stride as if it were an extraordinarily long safari! 

Since then, my motto is “Never underestimate a Thoroughbred” !

How many horses do you currently stable?

I personally own 3 horses in a small yard of 6 which I run.  The safari horse herds vary from 20-60+ depending on their location and the type of ride and experience they offer.

Describe the perfect horse...

Another difficult one to answer!  In truth there really isn’t such a thing as a perfect horse – much as there isn’t a perfect person or car!!!  However, a horse that appeals to me is one which has some character, is keen to learn and enjoys his/her work.  Conformation, looks, and breeding are quite low on the list for me!

Where is your favorite place on Earth to ride?
I honestly believe that there is nothing quite like riding in the Okavango Delta and for me, personally, it will always be “number one” for the variety of horses to ride, the incredible phenomenon of the Okavango, the excitement and anticipation of riding in the remote wilderness where all manner of exotic African animals habituate.  From splashing through flooded plains alongside a herd of red lechwe antelope or Jurassic-like giraffe, to quietly threading through palm islands silently tracking elephant and buffalo, the thrill is immense!
Have you ridden the Marwari horses in India?
Yes, I have!  I was struck by their majesty and great temperament and how surprisingly different they are from other breeds that inhabit desert and arid regions – such as the Arab.  They are stockier and whilst they do have a look at things and are alert, they are very sensible and there is no spookiness and, of course, their lyre-shaped ears are magic!  India is a special destination: as much about the culture of the people, their love of horses and how the balance of colonialism and traditionalism through both the British and Indians’ love of horses, makes certain regions of the country, such as Rajasthan, so very interesting and special.  I am riding to the Pushkar Fair in November 2015 with a group if you’re interested!!!
[Yes, I want to go… J].

How do you pick riding trails/destinations?

The most important factor is professionalism, I believe, and whilst there are many options available - fortunately, most of them very good, there are, unfortunately, some that really should not be in operation.  Priority is that the horses are well cared for and are well mannered and that clients are looked after.  Matching the right rider to a ride is as important as matching a rider to a horse and impartiality is important when recommending a ride to a client.  Every ride will tell you that they are “the best” but that is subjective, of course!  The personalities that run, look after, and guide the rides will make or break a safari experience or riding adventure.  As such, I spend a lot of time visiting rides and getting testimonials from clients to ensure that they operate within reasonable constraints and to ensure that we exceed our clients’ expectations.

What should I pack when on horseback safari?

It depends a little on the time of year, but most important to remember are: khaki/neutral colors (you don’t want to “stand out” when you’re on safari), a little camera, binoculars, your favorite riding kit and a hat with shade.  If it’s a cooler time of year then thermals are a great way to keep warm as dressing in layers is recommended and if it’s during rainy season, a good light-weight waterproof!

Do you have a favorite riding anecdote to share?

There are many!  The safaris are always great fun as well as interesting, with the potential of an “up-close” encounter with wild game.  I was camp manager at the time we had a lovely wedding in camp and for the days before the ceremony (yes, the bride and groom got married on horseback!). We had been searching everywhere for the elusive pack of wild dogs that we knew were in the area.  We had tracked and tracked on horseback, then got in vehicles but had no luck and with the excitement of the wedding, the wild dog side of things became less of a priority.  But not to them, it seems, as when the ceremony had finished and I was bringing (more) champagne from the kitchen area to the party by the mess tent, I was almost knocked down by an impala being chased down by 3 wild dogs.  Needless to say, we all forgot about the champagne and in our fancy non-safari gear, jumped into the vehicle to follow them!  We found them and that sighting was the highlight of the safari!

Do you have advice for novice riders?

Yes, absolutely!  Being a novice rider is only a stage and we all start off as novices.  There are many riders who have taken training to specifically meet the standards required to ride on safari.  We are not looking for technical finesse but riders who are competent and confident enough to ride a well-mannered horse at all paces. By this we mean: balanced enough not to fall off easily and understanding enough of a sensible horse to allow him to do his job in partnership with you.  Recommended are lessons in an arena, combined with out-rides including canters, perhaps some jumping/games to really ensure that you are used to the feel of a horse moving beneath you and maintaining your own balance in harmony.  As much time in the saddle will only benefit. This also applies to competent or experienced riders – do take time to get riding fit before your adventure.  It will be so much more fun.

What does horsemanship mean to you?

Harmony with the horse: that is to say: Having the humility to know that as a rider or horse owner you don’t know it all, whilst working on broadening your equestrian knowledge from all available sources to increase your experience and maximize on the relationship you have with your horse or horse in the most positive and fun way possible.

Connect with Dany…

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