In order to raise much valued funds for Mount Kenya Trust, an event is organised every year known as the 10to4 Mountain Bike Challenge. This is essentially a mountain bike race through Borana Conservancy and the name describes the drop in altitude from the lofty 10,000 feet above sea level at the top of Kisima Farm, running down to 4,000 feet on Borana Ranch, hence the ’10to4.’ Luckily for me, this event can now be done on horseback so I swerved the arduous and incredibly challenging bike ride and opted to follow the trail through the conservancy on a horse. This event was known as the 10to4 Altitude Horse Ride and sponsorship was obtained to raise money for Mount Kenya Trust.
Mount Kenya Trust was set up to protect and restore the integrity of the forest and wildlife of Mount Kenya by partnering with government agencies, local communities and other stakeholder organisations. There are daily threats to the forests and wildlife and Mount Kenya Trust have sought to counter such threats. A rich biodiversity exists on the doorstep of a dense population and poverty therefore the threats that exist are inevitable and complex. Mount Kenya Trust have a range of themes to alleviate such threats including education and awareness, reforestation, anti poaching and illegal activity monitoring, human/wildlife conflict mitigation measures and habitat connectivity. Projects undertaken include creating elephant corridors and fencing, anti poaching patrol teams, tree planting and community engagement.
The horses on Borana Conservancy and neighbouring ranches are involved in horse back patrols and are known as the Mount Kenya Trust Horse Patrol Team. These horses were kindly loaned to myself and other riders for the 10to4 event. They are invaluable in their work as they patrol areas within the conservancy which are often inaccessible to vehicles given the difficult terrain and hostile conditions . The land is so vast that patrols on foot would be fruitless as the area simply could not be covered. It is reported that following the introduction of horse back patrols, there was an 80% reduction in poaching between 2013-2015. The horses are tough hardy types, often Ethiopian ponies as they are suited to high altitudes and rough terrain. The horses can move quickly to inaccessible routes in emergencies such as snared animals or forest fires and their assistance over the years has proved to be priceless. Given my love of animals, the African countryside and horses, this event was a no brainer!
So after camping overnight in the garden of somebody’s beautiful home within Borana Conservancy, myself and 24 other riders set off to the stables on foot where we were allocated a horse to ride for the day. My horse was a beautiful chestnut mare called Penelope. She was quite a small, slight horse but she was sure footed and fit and happily embraced the ride. There were in total, 30 horses and ponies on the ride; 25 riders who had obtained sponsorship to undertake the ride, all with varying ages from the youngest at 8 years of age to a rider of around 70 years of age. We were accompanied by 5 grooms (or ‘syces’ in Kiswahili) who rode with us to monitor the ride and provide assistance if necessary.
The ride through Borana Conservancy was phenomenal. The landscape was beautifully rugged and as wild as it could be. There were vast plains to saunter across, dense bush to wind our way through and even mountainous cliffs and inclines to scramble up. We crossed small streams and paddled in a large dam, taking the opportunity to allow the horses to have a refreshing drink.
As we were in a conservancy, there was an abundance of wild life.
I spotted a rhino, many giraffe, elephants, a lone Grevy’s Zebra and herds of common Zebra, along with impala and gazelle.
The animals don’t seem too startled by the presence of horses so we were able to get quite close to them. There were huge birds to see and I was able to spy a giant Owl, along with numerous majestic looking eagles silently watching us from above. It really was stunning and with such tough and able horses, the ride was relaxing.
We stopped for a lunch break and the horses were untacked, tied to a picket line and provided with food, water and a rest!
After copious amounts of blackcurrant juice and a meaty burger, the horse was tacked up again, I clambered aboard and we rode back to the stables. I was in the saddle for approximately 6 hours and we covered around 22 kilometres at a slow and steady pace so whilst it was nowhere near as physically exhausting and perhaps as challenging as a bike ride may have been, it was still a long ride on a horse in the searing heat and unforgiving African sun. Despite my best efforts with sun tan cream, I still managed to finish the ride with a sun burnt face.
The ride was thrilling and it was astounding to learn that the participants of the ride had raised over 1.27 million ksh for Mount Kenya Trust. This is not far off the grand sum of £10,000! It was an absolute privilege to be provided with an amazing horse and to ride through the stunning Borana Conservancy whilst raising such a huge amount of money for a very worthwhile charity. Hopefully such funds will allow the valuable work to continue to ensure the countryside and the wildlife will be preserved and protected for generations to come.