Horseback Riding in the Andes Riobamba, Ecuador

Rolling hills and lush greenery in the Andes mountains

After a wonderfully relaxing night at the Hacienda Abraspungo, we set off for an outdoor excursion. We’d spent a lot of yesterday travelling and everyone wanted to get outdoors and do something active. What we didn’t know was that we’d be riding horses up in the mountains.

We were told that we’d be visiting an old hacienda that was being used as a ranch with horseback riding trails for visitors. I’ve been horseback riding before so I expected it would be something similar. You arrive at the stable, get on a horse, and then run around the fields for awhile and maybe follow some paths through a forest.

This was a little more exotic.

Getting to the ranch

The ranch was maybe 45 minutes from our location in Riobamba. While I don’t remember our exact route, that 45 minutes was spent not driving on a highway, but winding up and around narrow dirt roads with hairpin corners and switchbacks, constantly going higher and higher into the mountains. At times the roads seemed barely maintained and washed out, and sometimes you wondered if we were even supposed to be driving where we were.

Our well-maintained road to the ranch

As we continued, sometimes the brush would clear and we could peer out the window to see over the edge down into the valley below. This confirmed how high up we were—much higher than I thought. I’d never considered riding horses up at this elevation.

Villa front entry stairs, with peeling paint on a generally unmaintained building
The hacienda had seen better days

Eventually, we drove around a corner, the road levelled off and we arrived at a small villa with horses out front. The main building resembled an 18th century villa that hadn’t been maintained since… the 18th century.

Horse assignments

The stablehands came out to meet us and size us up so we’d have an appropriate horse. (Big people, big horses. Small people, small horses.) My equestrian knowledge is limited to recognizing that my horse was one of the grey ones.

Our equine companions waiting for their riders
Group of people sitting on horses, ready to start the trail ride
The group starts to saddle up and get ready

The trail ride

We started off in a small valley. It was hard to perceive how high we actually were (10,800 ft at the villa) because we were surrounded by trees. The ride started by following a dirt road for about half a mile which let everyone get used to their horses. (And for the horses to get used to their riders!)

Two people on horses ride along a trail in the green mountain landscape
Our horseback riding adventure begins

As we continued, the path became less of a road and more of a rough trail in the landscape. Things became more jagged, rocky and uneven. When I rode before, it was always on a more or less level landscape. We were starting to climb up and down and—for someone who doesn’t ride horses regularly—it was a little nerve-wracking.

Two people on horses approach rocks on a rough trail, coming up to a small stream
Our trail turned into a bunch of rocks as we approached a stream

Combined with the rocks, we encountered and crossed small streams, long valleys, steep hills and every other sort of terrain. We rode for maybe an hour before arriving in a very large meadow and open field of grass for as far as we could see, bounded by the hillside.

Group of people on horses start to climb up a clear green hill
The group follows the trail up another hill

We were surrounded by lush green vegetation, grass, fields, trees, and bushes up in the Andes mountains, now at 12,200 ft elevation. Then the weird realization hits you. We’re riding horses on a mountain range.

Calm meadow up in the Andes mountains

There was literally nobody else that we could see or hear other than our group for miles. It felt completely surreal.

We spent some time in the valley just resting and enjoying the landscape. It was a very quiet time and I suspect many in the group were taking the time to reflect on this amazing experience.

Photography while on horseback

If I was going to complain about one downside of this entire experience, it’s that it’s really hard to get in-focus composed photos while riding on the back of a horse! (Go figure, right?) I didn’t want to risk shooting with my dSLR so every photo here was taken with my Canon G15 Powershot (which was tiny and portable, and I wasn’t too worried about it in case it didn’t survive the trail ride).

Many people used their cellphone cameras. I was too worried about dropping it somewhere and having a horse step on it. I wouldn't trust myself with holding a cellphone while trying to ride a horse. At least the camera had a strap.

The number of blurry and “subject out-of-frame” shots I have is really, really high from this excursion. It didn’t help that the day was overcast which meant I couldn’t have as fast a shutter speed as I wanted. I should have worried less about depth of field and more about shutter speed (and blur). Lessons learned for next time!

Or, I'll have to get one of those fancy gimbal stabilizer units that I see people with. If there's any place it might be useful, it's on the back of a horse!

Two horses, chillin’ out in the mountains

Winning the lottery?

I haven’t won the lottery yet, but I can only imagine that winning it leads to experiences like this. A few of us in the group were talking about how this felt like we were living in a TV commercial showing the grandiose leisure activities you’ll enjoy when you win the lottery. It didn’t seem like it could get much better than this.

Portrait of Kendall Anderson Photographer, software developer, ex-architect, drummer, martial arts instructor (I like to keep busy)