This photograph, taken in the Namib desert in 2018, captures a sense of freedom for me, that feeling of vastness we get from spending extended time in the wild. I was on a horse-riding safari: 11 days of being outside all day and sleeping beneath the stars. We covered 300km; it was extraordinary.
I’d never been to Namibia and although I’d been told about the breathtaking landscape, it still did exactly that … took my breath away. You think of riding through the desert and imagine it will be all sand – but every day the scenery was so diverse – from the plains along the edge of the Namib sand sea in Sossusvlei to mountains and the dramatic, deep Kuiseb Canyon and Gaub Pass. We rode through the Welwitschia plains, Moon valley and along the Swakop River.
My favourite part was sleeping under the stars. Tents were available but there was such magic without them
We were a small group of riders on an adventure with Namibia Horse Safari Company, which always took along a few spare horses, so that any animal that needed a rest could have a day off. In this picture, Telane Greyling, horsewoman extraordinaire, is riding alongside two loose horses. They would just run along with us, sometimes playing around and slaloming with the riders.
We galloped across plains and wide-open spaces for what seemed like for ever. You get a different appreciation of space and land when you travel on horseback: you feel part of the landscape. It’s slow travel – but I still got caught out by the scenery’s many changes. When did those mountains suddenly appear? How did the endless flat suddenly become rocks? Our guide Andrew Gillies knew the desert intimately and navigated instinctively.
Perhaps my favourite part was sleeping under the stars. Tents were available but there was such magic without, even though the temperature dropped below zero some nights and frost greeted us in the morning. I loved sleeping near the horses, hearing them eat, seeing their silhouettes. We would wake before dawn to get ready for another day.
There were challenging times: walking out of a steep canyon, leading our horses on a narrow track with sheer drops was tough but incredible, and seeing the horsemanship of Telane and Andrew and the communication they had with their animals was humbling.
We learned about the plants and the environment along the way. This part of the desert is sparse in terms of big wildlife – along the ride we saw mountain zebra, oryx, springbok and on one occasion, a few giraffes, which, for a little group in a huge landscape, added to the sense of wonder.
In another part of the desert there are wild horses, a herd believed to be descended from animals that escaped the bombing of the Union of South Africa Troops stationed at Garub in 1915. The horse safari company offers a ride that ends with watching the wild horses while Telane gives a talk about them. She’s involved with the Namibia Wild Horses Foundation, which monitors the horses’ health without interfering, only topping up their feed when they need it during a drought. When it was revealed a few years ago that every foal born in the past six years had been taken by a predator, the foundation got government recognition and funds to help save the horses.
• Jenny Zarins is a UK-based photographer