How to ride an ostrich in South Africa
The town of Outshoorn, in South Africa’s Klein (Little) Karoo, is famed for two things – the Cango Caves and ostrich farming. Why farm ostriches you may ask?
Ostrich meat is popular game meat in South Africa, available in most major supermarkets. It’s lean, high in protein and quite tasty and tender. Ostrich leather is great for shoes, handbags and belts and those huge feathers make fabulous feather dusters.
But apart from the practical uses to ostrich, there’s some fun to be had in Outshoorn learning to ride an ostrich. Ostrich races are fairly common on ostrich farms in the Outshoorn area, but be warned, it’s not as easy as the professionals make it look!
On a trip to the Cango Ostrich farm, we decided to try our hand at riding an ostrich, and realized that we were going to need a bit more help than we originally thought. Jacobus, our tour guide, had given us a demonstration before hand on how to “drive” an ostrich. How did he demonstrate the turns and stops? By using an ostrich feather duster of course.
The basic principle is that the neck of your ostrich is your control level – to turn left, push it to the left; to turn right, push it to the right. And to slow down? Why, you have only pull back on the neck as if it’s a brake lever.
After this basic driving lesson, we were guided out to the racing coop where our ostrich awaited us. The riding ostriches wore a basic cloth covering on their backs, hardly enough to cushion either the ostrich or the rider. Before mounting the ostrich, it was led into a pen, with a hood over it’s head, sadly making it look like it was being led to an execution.
Once safely in the pen, I mounted the ostrich as if it were a horse, but instead of having stirrups to put our feet in, I had to cross our legs at the front of the bird, holding on as tightly as possible. Each of the giant wings served as a rein, one left, one right and, we were assured that leaning back in the non-existent saddle would keep you stable and upright. Suddenly, with a quick flick of Jacobus’ hand, the executioner’s hood was removed and I was off.
It turns out that an ostrich can run pretty fast. Being carried along at such speed was quite exhilarating, and I was beginning to feel pretty proud of myself for staying on for so long. The sense of achievement wore off however when I realized that on either side of the ostrich there was a handler making sure that I didn’t take a tumble.
Although the ride was short and sweet, it was great fun and will definitely serve as a quick, and inexpensive (R69 for the entire ostrich tour) adrenalin shot. If you find yourself in the Outshoorn area whilst travelling South Africa, be sure to stop off at a local ostrich farm to see for yourself.