Soysambu Conservancy: Horsing Around

Our last adventure of 2020 took us to Soysambu Conservancy and the very purpose of this was actually a horse show. It was to be my first competition on the horse Goldie. It was also to be Goldie’s first competition. Whilst horsing around is not normally Mr Nomad’s thing, he is an amazing support to me and he simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to camp in such a wonderful location; on an actual conservancy bordering the most majestic Lake Elementaita.

Soysambu Conservancy can be found some 130 kilometres north west of Nairobi. Its north west of the nearest biggest town of Gilgil and is in the Rift Valley Province in Kenya. It started life as a ranch approximately 190 square kilometres (48,000 acres) in size but in 2007, was made into a conservancy to conserve the flora and fauna and the epic scenery. It shares borders with Lake Nakuru National Park, and the volcanoes of Ol Doinyo Eburru to the south and Menangai to the north. This amazing landscape provided our home for five nights, and accommodated the horses for a fun show to enable me to compete the horse in a challenge consisting of a round of show jumping followed by a thrilling cross country course. With the pandemic of Covid-19 still raging across the world, all sporting events throughout 2020 had been non-existent and with infection rates very low in Kenya, this was the first horse show of 2020 (and last one!), run in accordance with stringent Covid requirements but it was incredibly exciting to be out there competing on the horse but also to have the opportunity to stay in a delightful location.

Soysambu is home to a great variety of wild life including around 140 endangered Nubian giraffe, also known as Rothschilds giraffe. Also to be found within the conservancy are lions, hyenas, buffalo, eland, impala, gazelle, zebra, waterbuck, reedbuck, hippo, jackal, warthog, steinbok, klipspringer, colobus and Vervet monkeys and baboons. There are also over 300 bird species to be found, along with stunning views across Lake Elementaita (also called Lake Elmenteita) and a rugged volcanic landscape. We were camping in our trusty tent known as the Thunderdome and this thin layer of canvas was the only thing protecting us from both the wild life and the elements. This is in itself incredibly exciting – we love being so close to nature, and ‘roughing it’ and combining this outdoor stay in the wilderness where dangerous predators lurk, with my passion for horses was fantastic for us. Because of the location, the furry Nomadic children could not accompany us as I feared they may become lion fodder.

After our arrival at Soysambu Conservancy, we were thrilled to witness the shores of Lake Elementaita on our drive in. This is a soda lake in the Great Rift Valley in Kenya. The name ‘Elmenteita’ is thought to be derived from the Maasai word ‘muteita’ which means ‘dust place,’ a reference to the dryness and dustiness of the area. It was incredibly hot and easy to see why this name had been given to this great lake and its surroundings. The swathes of dust kicked up by the vehicle followed us relentlessly everywhere.

This glassy lake is in the south-to-north sequence of Rift Valley Lakes, and lies between Lake Nakuru and Lake Naivasha and is home to thousands of glorious pink flamingoes, as well as being a breeding site for pelicans. The area is protected because of the amazing bird life and has been named as one of the heritage sites together with Lake Nakuru and Lake Bogoria by UNESCO. The lake itself is incredibly shallow and I was assured that we could ride through it on the horses without danger, and Mr Nomad and I were intrigued by the flamingoes frequenting the lake.

So after driving past the numerous zebra greeting us, we drove down to the lake to sit on the rocks scattered around the lake’s edge to take in the views while the sun went down. We saw eland and impala, waterbuck and gazelle and warthog just on the way to the lake and as our eyes adjusted to the glare from the lake, the flamingoes took flight and flew off, like a giant swarm of peachiness and what a spectacle this was!

We were disappointed to witness their exit but it was a breathtaking sight to see! We watched, mesmerised by these strange birds and sipped gin while the sun went down. It was a wonderful start to this mini break and we couldn’t wait to explore the conservancy in the days to come.

As the daylight faded, we spied the outline of two lumbering hyenas passing by us only a matter of metres away, followed up by a herd of buffalo who weaved their way around our car. We were staggered at how close to these dangerous creatures we were and hoped that these animals would not be so bold as to approach us. These animals are truly wild in every sense of the word but also, not especially habituated to humans so they went on their way without any issue whatsoever.

Our first night in the Thunderdome was interesting in that the slim canvas offers little abatement from the sounds of the bush. We could hear the loud chirping of bugs and frogs, the whirring noises of the flying critters and even the rustling of the bushes near to the tent was somewhat unsettling. The zebra must have been disturbed through the night as little sleep was had owing to their continuous honking and braying. Cleary, there were predators on the prowl as the next night in the conservancy was to prove.

The first couple of days in this glorious habitat were spent taking in the sights and riding Goldie around to settle her in, to become accustomed to her new albeit temporary surroundings in preparation for competition day. It was a joy to ride around such a beautiful setting, and we came across zebra, impala, waterbuck, gazelle and warthog who watched us curiously as we pottered around. Mr Nomad busied himself in walking the cross country course on foot to further prepare the fences for the competition and he excelled in his cooking over a camp fire, doing his ‘man’ duties to hunter-gather for us.

On only our second night, again, little sleep was had as we nervously lay in bed listening to grunting sounds of nearby unseen large creatures, followed by what can only be described as excited chatter and cackling, a distinctive sound that we recognised as made only by hyenas. There seemed to be much night time activity and I have to admit that despite my bursting bladder, I did not feel brave enough to venture outside the tent to relieve myself. In the darkness, our senses were heightened and we felt that we could hear every sound representing a sign of danger, and that every rustle in the bushes seemed far too close for comfort.

Upon venturing out the following morning, we were informed that the resident pride of lions had made a kill in the valley only metres behind our tent. Once the lions had had their fill, the hyenas moved in to clean up, hence their midnight giddyness. A salient reminder that we were living very close to incredibly dangerous predators on their own turf and respect must be given to this savage wilderness.

Competition day came and despite the unnerving night time activities resulting in lack of sleep for both us and the horse (a hyena had visited the stable yard!), and despite a minor injury incurred by Goldie in the stable, she performed magnificently. We took care around the showjumping course and although we knocked one fence, she jumped brilliantly and was not all perturbed by the crowds, the loud and buzzing commentary, the flitting of the tape marking out the arena and the other strange sights and smells of the show.

We proceeded straight out to the cross country course and Goldie performed out of her skin. We flew round and she took every jump in her stride. There were no refusals or run outs, and the only slight difficulty with this spirited mare was brakes! She was beyond excited but as this was her first ever show, she could be forgiven and the exhilaration of charging around a conservancy was thrilling! To say I was overjoyed was not an understatement.

Mr Nomad was good enough to take numerous photographs of us so that I could savor these magical moments. Goldie was amazing and it was made all the more special that Mr Nomad was with us to cheer us on, and the setting was the stuff that dreams are made of. To top it off, we were placed third! I was chuffed with this achievement.

After the electrifying competition day, Goldie and I went for a chilled walk to the great Lake Elementaita and it was delightful to stroll through herds of zebra, to pass by buffalo, to wander by the impala, the gazelle, the waterbuck, the eland and the warthog that reside within the conservancy.

The flora was also epic with the giant prickly Candelabra plants dotted around the expanse of water. The landscape was mountainous with a huge formation known as the ‘sleeping warrior’ which looked like the outline of a Maasai warrior laid on his back slumbering away. It was outstanding. The walk to the magnificent lake was dreamy, and to then splash through the shallows amid throngs of flamingoes was just epic.

Mr Nomad met us at the lake in the car to take pictures and to capture these magical moments. On his journey to the lake, he had been lucky enough to spot a black backed jackal feasting on the carcass of a gazelle, and fending off the advances of a Tawny eagle, attempting to muscle in on this lavish meal. He had also spotted one of the endangered Rothschilds giraffe that reside in the conservancy, a rare sight indeed.

We had thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Soysambu Conservancy and Lake Elementaita. We had been unnerved by the night time wild life but this was part of the thrill of being in the wilderness and being close to nature. Olympic Gold and I had participated successfully in our first show together. I had not fallen off her and she had carried me round like a professional even whilst carrying a minor injury. We had made new friends and shared new experiences lake side and made wonderful memories whilst in the most epic of settings. The sight of flamingoes in flight was enchanting and something we will always remember. What a way to end this year!

Christmas was now beckoning and we couldn’t wait to plan further escapades to continue with in the New Year. Goldie will now have a well deserved rest until the New Year. This is the Nomadic Family Unit’s last Christmas in Kenya so we are hoping to cram more adventures in before we continue on our journey through life. Follow this space to see what happens next in our slightly crazy world.

In the mean time, the Nomadic Family Unit would wish peace and good will to all. Live long and prosper!




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