by Marita van Rooyen
“There is not a lot that compares to the utter feeling of peace and tranquillity you get from being out in a mini moon landscape with nothing more than the sound of your saddle clicking and the breathing of your horse. Which probably explains why I lost my heart somewhere in this desert landscape,” says Ulrike (Uli) Walther, right hand of Kathrin Schaefer-Stiege.
Okakambe Trails hosts a small riding school at the edge of the Namib, specialising in horseback trails into the vast, open desert plains. Kathrin Schaefer-Stiege—owner, manager, trainer and ‘horse-lady’ of Okakambe Trails—arrived in Namibia 19 years ago from Germany. Dreaming of having her own riding school in Africa, she started off with only two horses for giving lessons. Today, Okakambe, which means ‘horse’ in the native languages of Oshiwambo and Herero, has 34 horses ranging over the 6.5-hectare property, situated about 12 kilometres outside Swakopmund on the banks of the dry Swakop riverbed. In addition to the horses-, there are nine dogs, one pot-bellied pig, some geese, ducks, birds, guinea pigs and a large number of rabbits in the children’s petting zoo. “Okakambe is alive. There is always something happening in some corner of the property, be it the housewives’ classes in the mornings, a horse being trained or just a pony galloping up and down. There’s never a dull moment,” says Uli.
Okakambe offers out-rides of between one and three hours, sunset rides, and horse trails over one to three days. Overnight trails include all meals, tented accommodation and free lessons into some of the secret places of the Namib often inaccessible by car, such as the ringing stones. Overnight trails are offered on tailor-made itineraries only. Moonlight, honeymoon, wedding and all other fantasy rides can be arranged on request. Group lessons, pony rides, lunch and overnight accommodation for the riders are also offered. Okakambe takes volunteers and offers therapeutic classes for handicapped children from the area. Depending on the guide, rides can be conducted in English, German, Dutch or Nama/Damara.
“It was the space, nature and people’s positive mentality that drew me to Namibia,” says Kathrin. “Here you can just be. And Swakopmund specifically had the right infrastructure for what I had in mind. The combination of out-rides, horse trails and riding lessons works here.” Being an animal lover, Kathrin takes special care of her horses, making sure they are stimulated by close contact with other horses and the children who come for rides. There is a wide variety of horses- to choose from, including Hanovarians, Thoroughbreds, Friesians, Arabs and plain old farm horses. Look out for Spok, who—being the only mule on the property—is known as Okakambe’s icon. “Because he is so big, he is affectionately known as the husbands’ horse. And yes, like most mules, he is a bit stubborn, but in a funny way.” You’ll probably notice his ears before you see the rest of him.
Because safety comes first, riders will always be accompanied by a guide and are asked to wear a hardhat (provided). Horse rides are available for shapes and sizes weighing up to 80 kilograms for beginners, or 90 kilograms for intermediate riders. Before booking your trip into the moon landscape, keep in mind that the rider evaluation chart is there for a reason.
This article appeared in the Aug/Sep ‘10 edition of Travel News Namibia.