The Woman behind the name – Felicia Church

Where are you from originally? I’m a Leicestershire lass – I grew up on a beautiful farm surrounded by horses, dogs, pigs. It was a wonderful and wild childhood.

What brought you to Africa? I was working in racing at the yearling sales up until December 2009 at which time the U.K. was gripped by a big freeze suspending all equine activities including hunting. It didn’t look like it was going to thaw until well into March. So I decided it was time for a new adventure. I d always wanted to go to Africa so I thought why not for a couple of months take a sabbatical before starting a full time job traveling all over the world working at yearling sales. Two months turned into 4 months and the rest is history…… and the romantic story ….. well you will have to come on safari to hear that around the camp fire.

What is it about horses that you love most? Their trust in us. Kindness in their eyes and that they give us everything. They can tell you so much through body language.

How have you found working with horses in Africa to be different to what you knew growing up? Life in Africa for a horse is hard. They are not native and there are many local diseases that are deadly or debilitating. You need to be knowledgeable in all veterinary areas and monitor them closely. In Africa you are often very far from a vet. Horse products and feed are limited as the equine community is small. There are probably only 2000 horses in the whole of Kenya. and finding good horses is very difficult.

What is it about Africa that is magic, in your opinion?  Wild, open spaces, the Kenyan smiles and humour. You can’t beat the wildlife. Riding through the great open plains amongst wildlife; just you and your horse at one. Freedom. There is never a dull moment – living with the wildlife keeps you alive and on your toes.

Tell us a bit about a typical day on safari for you?  The best part of camping on safari is being brought a hot cup of camp tea, brewed on the open fire, to our tent at dawn. Tyga likes to start the day with hot chocolate, and I expect it won’t be long before Thego is the same! Soon after that we are all up and dressed, and ready to check on our wonderful steeds after their night on the picket line. I pop in to the kitchen to discuss the day’s meal plan and into the mess to greet our guests good morning. The rest of the day is spent riding or game driving; meeting up for lunch and drinks in the bush, and meeting back at camp in the evening. The children blend in with the days activities – sometimes staying in camp to help the crew, other times moving with me. On a move day its all go go go! – packing cars, feeding children, moving tents, and setting up camp in a new place.

How do you juggle having your children on safari?  The kids are just part of the camp crew and pretty much stay out of the way depending on our guests’ wishes. Both Tyga and Thego started their safari career at 3 months old, so it’s the norm for them now. We are lucky enough to have fantastic Kenyan ayahs that help look after them. Kenyans are brilliant with kids!

How do you work out the best way to match guests to your horses? When a guest books to come on safari with us, we look at their weight and ability, and provisionally match the horse to the rider before the safari. Once we meet the guest we ask them to briefly tell us about their riding ability and what type of horse they are used to. I find that it’s important to match the human character to the right equine character!

What practices to you do on horses that you believe makes them better performers? The essential elements are to feed them well, love them, and look after them. I focus on good teeth, healthy back muscles and well tended feet. I also use the Bowen technique to help aliments. Of course copious amounts of carrots always go a long way too!

Which of the Safaris Unlimited horses is your favourite? This is a hard question – I love them all for different reasons but a kind horse is always a favourite. Mshale – Gordie’s lead horse – is a very special horse, he has an enormous heart. I like a forward going horse and one that shows bravery. Its always magical to see a horse love life on safari, especially if it has not enjoyed its previous career. You can see them suddenly relax and start to enjoy being with humans again.

What do you love most about safari?  The guests’ tears and smiles at the end of a trip – always a time of mixed emotions, but for me, it’s about how much they have enjoyed their horse and how they look so much more relaxed after a week away from the hectic first world pace.

How do you train the kitchen, and what influence do you have in that space?  We work closely together as a team. Our cooks are sent on cookery courses around Kenya, with a focus on tasty food using locally sourced ingredients. My mother is an excellent cook so many recipes come from her. The menu plan is always evolving, and we try to keep it interesting both in the kitchen for our staff, and at the table for our guests!

Do you seek inspiration from anyone in particular? eg a hero of sorts? My mother is always an inspiration, and I love the way Jamie Oliver cooks. I have so many different cook books that I draw ideas from. I also really admire horse whisperers like Monty Roberts, and I follow experienced equestrians throughout the world. I never stop learning from the many inspirational people in the world.

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