The day had finally arrived. We were only one week into an eight week trip but I had been thinking about this day for years. It was the day I would finally ride an ostrich.
It’s kind of an odd life aspiration to have, but ever since seeing a Stride Gum commercial featuring men riding ostriches (watch it here), I have felt an unusual urge to take a whirl on one of these large, flightless birds. Almost six years later the opportunity was finally in front of me.
For the first time in as long as I can remember, I was a morning person. I packed my bags, grabbed a quick bite to eat then excitedly paced about waiting for the rest of the people in my group to be ready. I could hardly contain my excitement as we drove the four hours from Struisbaai to Oudtshoorn.
We arrived at Safari Ostrich Farm where my dreams were about to come true. I grabbed my gopro and chest piece, making sure the battery and memory card were set to capture the moment when our Absolute Africa guide boarded the truck, a look of sadness on her face. then she said the words that made me tear up.
“It’s too hot out today so there is no ostrich riding”.
All eyes were on me. This ostrich ride was the reason I booked the trip I had booked. I flew to Africa for nine weeks just to ride an ostrich for thirty seconds, and now that wasn’t going to happen. I was completely crushed. I choked out the words “Oh, that’s okay”, then turned back to my bag to try to collect myself so not to bawl. I put my camera away and took a deep breath before heading to see the group, who had made their way to the gift shop.
Safari Ostrich Farm is a working farm on about 1800 hectares of land, so there was a bit to see. We loaded up in a trailer that was being towed by a tractor and set off to learn about the biggest bird in the world. I let the disappointment of not getting to ride an ostrich get in the way of enjoying the start of the tour which was too bad as it was actually rather interesting.
We saw ostriches of all stages of growth, from young chicks, to adolescents, to full grown males sitting on their next batch of eggs. We even saw a rare white ostrich. He seemed a little more antsy than the rest of the birds though, so I didn’t get too close to his cage.
After the tractor tour we still had a bit to see on foot. There was an opportunity to feed the ostriches which I made sure to participate in despite still feeling a little sour. Unfortunately I didn’t keep the palm of my hand quite flat enough and one of the birds bit my finger, luckily I still have them all.
We were also able to put the strength of an ostrich egg to the test by putting all our weight on them. The eggs (which are nearly as big as my head!) are able to bear the weight of a full grown person up to around 250 pounds. Unless the egg is rotten. If the egg is rotten you’ll get a shoe full of yolk and a bad smell following you around for a few days.
We learned about the history of the ostrich market and tried on some old hats decked out with ostrich plumes. I felt fabulous, as though I should have been living in the Victorian era.
At the end of the tour we were all given a chance to sit on an ostrich. The temperature was still above the thirty degree mark so there was no chance of riding. I took my chance to perch atop the large bird and had an internal battle as to whether or not I should just start spurring him and see if he would run away with me, go for an “accidental” ride. I decided against this, for the well being of the bird.
Before we boarded our truck to head back to camp for the night my Absolute Africa tour guide disappeared into the gift shop to find and speak with management. After a few minutes she came back and told me the best news I have received in my life: We were allowed to come back first thing in the morning, just as the farm opened, so I could ride my ostrich.
As the sun rose the next morning, so did we. Our lovely truck driver was all set to backtrack to the farm where staff was waiting. The parking lot was empty when we arrived and the mercury hadn’t hit the cut off temperature yet. I was bouncing with excitement.
We were led around to the ostrich arena and each handed shoe covers that looked like hairnets and blue pants that were far from attractive. Two ostrich jockeys brought in a group of ostriches then walked through them before catching one to bring over to be ridden.
The jockeys held the bird steady as I climbed the fence behind him to get high enough to swing my leg over and get seated. They then fluffed the wings over my legs, it was like a leg seat belt.
“Move forward”. I shuffled my bum closer to the front of the bird.
“Hold his wings”. I reached forward and took hold of the wings toward the front of the ostrich, one wing in each hand.
The bird took off running, The jockeys running along beside and behind me, egging the bird on and making sure I wouldn’t fall off. Reaching top speeds of 70 km/h, ostriches would not be the best animal to take a tumble off.
The ride was short but thrilling. I laughed and cheered and wooped and hollered. I nearly cried again, but this time with joy. I beamed from ear to ear, legs shaking with adrenalin as I climbed off at the end of my ride. When everyone else had had a turn riding we were escorted to the racetrack.
“Today’s race will be Speedy against Whiskey,” we were told. We all bet against each other on which bird would win while the ostrich jockeys got into position. I bet on Whiskey, as it is my drink of choice.
“One. Two. Three. Let’s go!”
The two birds took off down the race track with two little South African men dressed in all orange perched atop their backs. The birds ran straight towards the finish line where we were cheering on our birds of choice. Unfortunately, Speedy was the winner but that was okay because I had ridden my ostrich and nothing was going to bring me down from that high.