When Damian heard that everyone was going horseriding, there was no way he was going to be left out – horseriding is one of his favourite things to do, as is it mine. Damian battles to sit on a horse properly because of the spasticity in his legs, so he has only ever been led around on short rides, and most recently, only bareback as he can’t sit on a saddle anymore. When my brother, Graham, said he had booked a horseback safari my heart sank a little as I thought Damian wouldn’t be able to go after all. “Can’t you hold him and ride?” he asked. I wasn’t so sure. Yes, I have ridden like that with him before, but only in an arena and for a short while – never a safari in a game reserve amongst animals. Seeing Damian’s enthusiasm though, I couldn’t say no, especially on hearing that children as young as 8 could ride on the trail horses and no experience was needed, so I felt pretty sure these horses would be calm enough.
When we arrived though, we were told it was not allowed, but after Graham insisted that I can ride and have been riding forever, the guide agreed that if we accepted responsibility for the risk and signed the indemnity. To be honest, I still wasn’t so sure I could do this. They brought me a little grey gelding, Chicca I learned a bit later was his name. I got on first and then Damian was helped up. The second concern was the saddles – they were all western saddles with a high pommel which meant I couldn’t put Damian on a pillow in front of me as usual. But we managed to get him in the saddle between me and the pommel, and then I put his arms through the sleeves of one of my little jerseys and then tied it behind my back just to be able to keep him upright while keeping my hands semi-free to control the horse, though I did keep one arm around Damian’s waist and used the other to hold the reins.
Soon we all set off and I was impressed with the kind and gentle horse we were riding, as well as all the others. We saw a lot of game – springbok (including black and white varieties), other buck, wildebeest, zebra, giraffe and some bird life. Damian was in his element and not in the least bit afraid – contrary to the girls who were squealing from time to time as their horses picked up speed or veered off path.
We were in the saddle for and hour and a half and at a few points I got a request from Damian for me to buy him a horse. He was loving every moment. As a keen horsewoman most of my life, this was an experience I had dreamed of sharing with Damian that I didn’t know would ever come true. It was the ultimate adventure for us to share and definitely tops many on our list.