Horse riding lessons in Uganda

Monday September 18 2023

Hamidu Mayega patting a horse at the Flametree Stables in Kampala, Uganda. PHOTO | MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI | NMG


On this sunny mid-morning Saturday, Mark Lawrence Kirabo and his younger sister Blessing Francis got to ride a horse for the first time. They could not hide their excitement.

“It was amazing because I have always desired to ride a horse. It was a very nice experience, and I will return again,” Kirabo, an 18-year-old student at Seeta High School in Mukono District told The EastAfrican. The two were at the Flametree Stables Riding School in Kira Town, in Wakiso District, Uganda.

Blessing, who goes to the same school, as her brother, says she was a bit nervous at first, but then quickly got used to the horse.

Located in Kijabiijo Village, approximately 28 kilometres northeast of Kampala City, Flametree Stables, a horse training school, rears horse, offers horse riding lessons and provides space for hire for various private functions.

The equestrian facility, owned by Miranda Bowser, sits on a 23-acre piece of woodland. Currently, it is home to 16 horses, two foals and 24 ponies.

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Kirabo and Blessing were accompanied by other members of their family, who had also come to enjoy a horseback ride. This pastime is increasingly becoming popular among affluent and middle-class Ugandans, as well as foreigner expatriates.

“Ugandans are now spending their Saturday and Sunday mornings here to ride horses,” Miranda told The EastAfrican.

“Our most popular ride is the Extended Introductory Ride; this is 20 minutes riding followed by a further 20 minutes in the sand arena. This costs Ush65,000 ($17) on a weekday or Ush75,000 ($20) on a weekend,” Miranda says.

Miranda explains that weekdays are not very busy, with only six or seven people turning up to ride on a given day compared to the average 60 that visit on the weekends.

According to Miranda, horses are not able to thrive in Uganda because the country lies at a higher altitude, unlike Kenya that lies at a lower altitude with colder weather.

“Horses tend to thrive in lower altitudes, they can die from bites by tsetse flies (glossina). Uganda is infested with tsetse flies, unlike Kenya. Horses can also die from ticks. Tick borne illnesses can be fatal unless you intervene early enough,” she says.

According to Ugandan veterinary doctor, Margaret Kimezire, Kenyans have been breeding horses for a very long time, since the 1940s in fact. When horses were introduced in Uganda at around the same time, they all succumbed to tsetse flie bites. Horses are only thriving in Uganda today because of an effective and better tsetse flies control system.

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“Not everybody can afford to own horses because they are very expensive to maintain,” Kimezire, said, adding, “At the same time, they are very fragile animals, just about anything will make them sick. The owners of horses have to be vigilant with a proper management, diet, deworming and vaccination system,” explains Dr Kimezire.

She goes on, “By their very nature, horses require a special diet, they are not like other animals that can be put out to graze. There are businesspeople that make proper horse feed in Uganda. If they don’t get a proper diet, they will develop a variety of stomach problems such as colic, ectoparasites, internal parasites like worms, viral diseases like African horse sickness, bacterial diseases, and tick fever transmitted by ticks."

Miranda imports horseshoes from South Africa, and the saddles and other leather products from the United Kingdom.

"Before Covid-19 struck, Flametree Stables riders would travel to Kenya four or five times a year to compete in different horse racing disciplines," Miranda says.

“Now we travel to Kenya once or twice in a year because of the disruptions brought about by the pandemic. Besides, we can also hold inter-country competitions because we are fully established here.”

She adds that both Ugandan adult riders and child riders have won numerous competitions over the years, since 2009, in places such as Nairobi, Gilgil, Nanyuki, and Soysambu in Kenya, adding that Uganda has the potential to build international horse racing courses.