Horse riding with rhinos and elephants in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe

Imire Volunteer Program - Horse riding with rhinos and elephants

Horse riding in the African bush with wildlife surrounding you. Cantering through open plains and zigzagging through thickets full of old acacia trees. Giraffe browsing on your left and baboons walking around on your right as you approach several white rhinos. Listening to stories told by Judy Travers, a leading figure in rhino and wildlife conservation as you slowly make your way back to the stables while the sun sets, somewhere in what looks like an endless reserve in Zimbabwe. It’s every horse rider and traveler's dream to do a horse riding safari with rhinos in Africa, and at Imire they truly make this dream come true, and you’re able to contribute to their conservation efforts simultaneously. Make sure to keep reading to find out all about Imire’s incredible volunteering projects with horse riding, rhino and elephant conservation. Volunteering with rhinos in Africa is every nature-lovers dream holiday! 

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Volunteering with horses and wildlife in Zimbabwe

There are different programs to be done as a wildlife volunteer at Imire. You can opt for the equine program and for the regular program. The regular program includes all your activities and an easy going horse ride one morning a week, the perfect program for non-riders or beginners. If you choose to do the full horse riding program you will be on your horse in the bush every day, either in the morning or afternoon. Two days a week you will be rounding up cattle. Imire has 100s of cows roaming the reserve, they are there for natural tick control. Ticks absolutely love cows and therefore leave the other wildlife alone a bit more than they normally would. The cattle are then rounded up and brought to the dip, where they are sprayed to get rid of ticks. Afterwards the cattle are released back into the reserve to catch more ticks! It’s such a fun thing to do on horseback, herding 100s of heads of cattle through the reserve. The other days of horse riding will include checking up on the wildlife and you’ll likely spot some elephants and rhinos from horseback! 

Your horse riding guide will be Judy Travers, her and her have husband John Travers own Imire and their children run different parts of Imire: the reserve, lodge and farm sections. Judy has lots of knowledge about all the animals on the reserve, the landscape (ask her about the trees!), her horses, and the history of Imire. Josh guided us in the first week, he trained a couple of Judy’s horses and he’s an incredibly talented rider and horse trainer - a pleasure to ride with. The horses are in great condition and well trained by Josh, responsive but bomb proof, the perfect combo for an enjoyable ride out through the reserve! If you get the chance, ask to ride Lundi and/or Zambezi, they are absolutely incredible!!!

Activities in the non-rider program are incredibly valuable to the reserve, conservation and they are super interesting. You’ll be able to learn so much from your experienced volunteer managers and activities guide. About nature, all of Imire’s wildlife, anti poaching, tracking, and so much more! Riders are also able to join all the regular activities when not on the back of a horse. This makes this volunteer experience in Zimbabwe the perfect place to go for families, couples and best friends of which some are riders and some are not. To give you an example of the activities done in the volunteer program, here’s a day in the life of a wildlife volunteer in Zimbabwe. 

2 imire volunteers having sundowners on castle kopje in zimbabwe
Sundowners! Photo by Maddie Turner

Sample itinerary of a day in Imire's volunteer program

6.15am up and ready to start the day with your first activity

On Monday we deliver hay bales and cubes around the reserve, for the elephants, buffalos and cattle. Other days you might do cheetah or rhino tracking, teaching the elephants some tricks, watching a demonstration by the anti poaching dogs or more! 

9am time for your full breakfast back at the house

In the early morning you just grab a coffee or tea and a piece of fruit, but at 9am the kitchen staff has made an incredible full spread breakfast for you! You’ll have an hour break until 10am and then it’s time for your second activity. This could be a game count of the animals, doing some maintenance work around the reserve such as building, replacing or repairing fences. Other activities are visiting the community, the women’s support group, the local caves with bushmen paintings, and more! 

12.30pm back to the house for lunch and a break

This is your time to unwind a bit, read a book, go around the dam in the kayak and swim or lounge by the pool. 

2pm head back out into the reserve for your afternoon activity

In the afternoon we’ve gone litter picking along the main road, walking the elephants back to their boma, planting spiky plants to create a natural fence (wear gloves), feeding the lion and/or the crocodile, de-weeding parts of the reserve and building a bridge! 

5pm it’s the end of your day of work - time for a drink and dinner!

After a day full of learning and helping out around the reserve it’s time to relax, chat around the fire or on the lounge set, enjoy a drink and watch the sunset. Once a week we climb up a rock formation nearby to have a few drinks and watch the sun go down behind the Numwa dam. 

Saturday afternoon and the whole Sunday are your off days. You can arrange a lunch or dinner at the lodge if there is availability, or just enjoy the Numwa volunteer house, pool, little library, dam, boat and more! If you’re staying for quite a while you might also want to arrange a day trip elsewhere in Zimbabwe. You can read more about where else to go below.

Horse and rider swimming in Numwa dam at imire in zimbabwe
Lundi and I off for a swim in the Numwa dam in front of the volunteer house!

Also read: Riding Holidays with non-riders

Accommodation, meals and more info about volunteering with rhinos in Africa

You will be sleeping in the Numwa volunteer house, in dorm style and double rooms. The showers and bathrooms are shared but there is more than enough space! There are 3 outdoor showers which are solar heated and have an incredible view. You get amazing meals at the house, made by the local chefs who will surprise you every day. They will cook you tasty local meals and international cuisine and they never miss a beat! You can also get your laundry done at the house which is great after long hot days of working with the animals and horse riding. There’s no wifi at the house but you can get an EcoNet sim card at the airport with data on it which works very well at the house. The electricity can be a bit temperamental but there is a backup generator if need be! Last but not least, the house has a big cupboard from which you can buy shirts, souvenirs and drinks! 

Also read: Horses involved in rhino conservation and anti-poaching 

Gin and tonic with elephant in the background in zimbabwe at imire
Gin and tonics at the Sunday lunch with the elephants!

Costs and how to book your volunteer experience at Imire

Horse Riding and Rhino Conservation per week: 1305USD 

Elephant and Rhino Conservation (non riders) per week: 900USD

Price excludes your flights and visa, 40USD administration fee, covid tests, insurance, sodas and alcoholic beverages, lodge lunches or dinners and any excursions you would like to do outside Imire in your free time. 

To book your volunteer experience send your email to volunteering@imire.co.zw and together you will find available dates that suit you. Afterwards you’ll fill out your booking and medical form and you’ll receive your invoice. To confirm your booking you pay a 50% deposit, and the remaining 50% must be paid 60 days prior to arrival at Imire. When you email Imire do make sure to mention your discount code HATW5 for a 5% discount on your volunteer experience

To transfer money abroad can be pricey and that’s why Imire will recommend using a website called Wise. It’s very easy to make an account and transfer fees are low. Click this link to create an account - if you sign up through this link your first transfer of up to 500 EU will be fee free!

Make sure to also bring enough USD cash to Zimbabwe as ATMs don’t work in the country. You’ll need to bring some pocket money for drinks, covid testing, optional lodge meals and some souvenirs. 

Also read: Planning, booking, and paying for your horse riding holiday abroad 

3 volunteers at Imire in zimbabwe with mac the elephant
Poppy, Katie and myself with Mac the elephant!

Travel to and in Zimbabwe: Victoria falls, Harare day trips, safaris and more

Visa costs vary depending on the country you’re from, but are never over 55 USD. The UK is on the higher side with 55 USD for a single entry visa, and the Netherlands is 30USD for a single entry visa. As for now, you need a printed negative PCR test taken within 48 hours of arriving at the airport. To leave Zimbabwe, you also need a printed negative PCR test, which can be arranged by Imire. The cost for the testing at Imire is 30 USD for the test and 150 USD for the transfer (they come to you at the house - quick and easy!). The transfer costs are shared between all volunteers leaving that day.  

Imire can also arrange a taxi for you to Harare, the perfect day trip to see the town and its markets. The taxi is 100 USD each way and shared between all volunteers going. 

Also read: Complete guide on what to expect when volunteering with horses

imire volunteer feeding a black rhino from the boma
Feeding one of the black rhino after tracking them! Photo by Katie Spiers

As add ons to your trip I highly recommend the safaris and experiences below. I would add these to your travels either before or after your stay at Imire, as your 1,5 days off is not enough to explore this beautiful country and its natural wonders. Safaris are quite pricey but definitely something worth saving up for! 

Book your 5 day safari in Hwange national park and Victoria falls here

Book 6 days of canoeing from Kariba to Mana pools here

Book your 8 day classic canoe safari on the Zambezi river from Chirundu to Kanyemba here

Click here to find more safaris all over Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa

Also read: Travel and horse riding in Zimbabwe

Want to get even more involved in rhino conservation? Have a look on the Save The Rhino website.

2 imire volunteers on the top of castle kopje while the sun sets on numwa dam
Katie and myself having some sundowners on top of Castle Kopje! Photo by Maddie Turner

I can highly recommend this volunteer program with Imire to everyone! This is by far my favourite volunteer program I've ever had the pleasure of participating in and you'll truly make memories you'll never forget. This place really creeps into your heart and stays there. I will most certainly be back soon. I even ended up extended my stay for another week because 2 weeks wasn't nearly enough.

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