One of my favorite things to do when I’m traveling abroad is horseback riding. First because it’s a great way to see the countryside, and second of all because it’s usually significantly more affordable than in the US. But there are a lot of things you have to take into consideration before booking that excursion. Are the horses well cared for? Are the facilities safe and do they provide helmets? How many other people are going to be riding with you? I personally don’t care much for “trail rides” where you walk at an excruciatingly slow pace for an hour, nose-to-tail in a line of 20 horses with a herd mentality. So when I discovered Centro Ecuestre Bellavista just outside of Cuenca, Ecuador and all of its glowing five star reviews, I got excited.
Ecuador in particular is a country known for its lack of regulation when it comes to animal welfare, and I was very concerned after reading a few other travel blogs that mentioned trips to stables where the horses weren’t adequately fed, were living in unsafe conditions, or were lame and still forced to ride. I even read one horror story about a place that said if you paid $5 you could get on a horse, but if you wanted to ride a “happy” horse you had to pay $10. Disgusting.
Anyways, Centro Ecuestre Bellavista is definitely NOT that kind of place. It is located about 10 minutes drive outside Cuenca, and is surrounded by green pastures, picturesque farms and beautiful mountains. When I met Sebastian, the owner of Centro Ecuestre Bellavista, he immediately put my fears at ease. The way he talked about the horses clearly showed how knowledgeable he was about all things equestrian, and the fact that he could go on and on about each horse’s personality and individual quirks proved that he truly cared about them. He also had a complete wall full of helmets, and lockers to store our belongings while we were on the ride.
After we had our helmets on, it was time to take off. Sebastian had picked out horses for us based on our experience levels. My horse’s name was “Lluvia,” and Sebastian explained that a child in one of his lessons had named her that based on an Ecuadorian cartoon character. While it’s normal for horses in the mountains to be skinny, Lluvia was clearly very well fed. In fact, I’d even say she was a bit chunky. Sebastian explained that she was about a month pregnant, which I felt nervous about but he assured me that not only is it OK to ride a mare in the early stages of pregnancy, it’s important because they need to get exercise to stay healthy.
Knowing that Lluvia was pregnant, I decided to cut her some slack (literally, ha!) during our ride. She seemed to have no interest in keeping up with the other horses, and every time we passed a puddle or particularly appetizing patch of grass, we had to stop for a snack and a drink. I think in the end she was taking advantage of my kindness, because she was basically stopping to eat every two minutes. There better have been twins in there, because she was eating more than enough for two.
It was nice that throughout the ride, we were pretty much able to do our own thing. Lluvia and I hung out in the back, and I secretly appreciated our frequent stops so I could snap plenty of photos of the gorgeous scenery. Whenever I felt like catching up to the rest of our small group, I’d let her know we needed to get a move on and she’d happily trot or canter for a minute or two. Usually you never get to actually control your own horse or go faster than a slow trot on group rides, so this laid back experience at Centro Ecuestre Bellavista was definitely a plus for me.
We mostly stuck to dirt roads that wound through several farms and up a hill that provided a great view of the landscape. Sebastian explained that normally he likes to take riders on another trail, but because it was the rainy season there were too many mudslides and some of the mountain trails were unsafe. I enjoyed riding through civilization, anyways, waving to kids and friendly farmers, and seeing cows, pigs, chickens and sheep just hanging out, grazing and being free like animals should be.
Our ride lasted about two hours, which was the perfect amount of time because I was feeling s-o-r-e. Sebastian told us aboout about how he had lived in Florida for a while working with horses, and that his primary business is providing lessons for children and hosting jumping competitions and endurance races at Centro Ecuestre Bellavista. I missed most of the talk, of course, because my lazy horse was too busy lagging behind and munching on plants to keep up with the group.
In the end, our riding trip was one of my favorite things we did in Cuenca. It was an amazing experience to ride through such a beautiful country, with the freedom to get to know my horse and do my own thing for a bit. Sebastian was very knowledgeable, friendly, and, thankfully for for my non-Spanish speaking travel companion, fluent in English (I’m sure that by this point, he was over having to wait for me to translate every conversation). Our semi-private ride was $40 per person, and we had arranged it simply by calling Sebastian via the number on their website the day before.
If you are in Cuenca and looking for something fun to do outside, then I highly recommend going riding with Sebastion at Centro Ecuestre Bellavista. If you’re not a frequent rider, prepare to be very, very sore the next day. But don’t worry, there’s a cure for that in Cuenca, too… stay tuned!
I went to Cuenca for Memorial Day weekend, extending the trip to four days by taking Friday off from work.
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