Horseback Riding in Ecuador

Ecuador provides riding enthusiasts with a surprisingly rich variety of opportunities. You can ride high in the Andes through the grassy páramo plains with glaciated volcanoes as a backdrop; through lowland tropical rain forest; or even through the many unique ecosystems of the Galapagos Islands.

Ecuador’s specialty is the combined horseback riding/hacienda program. The country’s extensive hacienda system makes it possible to ride through quilted pasture land from one hacienda to another, many of which now operate as country inns and send riders out with scrumptious country picnics.
Riding in the Pululahua Crater north of Quito.Photo by Finca Colibrí.

Ecuador has a number of stables which rent good horses, and if you know where to look you can find pure Peruvian Pasos, Andalusians, and Arabs. Beginner riders are advised to hire the tough, mixed-blood “Criollo” horses. Be forewarned: even healthy horses will generally look thin in the Sierra – at these altitudes the horses cannot afford to carry extra weight – so you will rarely find “bonnie”, well-padded mounts.

Golden Rules of Riding

Stable standards, ethics and horse-care policies vary tremendously in Ecuador. Stables, owners and trainers change regularly, which means that the training and care of the horses also changes. Common sense is therefore essential. When considering a horse for hire, follow the golden rules of riding:

1. If a horse appears ill, lame, or abused, REFUSE to ride it. Change horses or leave. Please let know if you find inhumane conditions at any stables.

2. If you cannot control the horse or do not feel safe, it’s best to change horses or to not ride. If you are on the trails when a problem arises, do not hesitate to dismount.

3. If the tack (saddle & bridle) looks ill-fitted, old, cracked, and/or damaged, ask to have it changed, or a fall could ruin your holiday.

4. Check the tack adjustments before getting on the horse. Is the girth band tight? Are the reins and stirrup leathers in good condition? Most importantly, take the time to get your stirrups the right length. Stirrups that are too short will hurt your knees and can be dangerous.

Stables at Hacienda Zuleta.

Western tack is typically used in Ecuador, though some stables offer English saddles. Western saddles are recommended, as they are safer going up and down steep terrain and are generally more comfortable for long rides. Few stables offer riding helmets, so if you are planning on doing any serious riding bring your own helmet.

Where to Ride

The Sierra (highlands) offers the best riding in Ecuador. Imbabura province provides Kodak-worthy pastoral scenery with volcanic backdrops. Some rides showcase the area’s haciendas, as well as the Cotocachi and Mojanda ranges and the snow-capped Cayambe volcano. Cotopaxi National Park, with its wild páramo plains (above 16,000 feet) and omnipresent Cotopaxi volcano, provides a uniquely Ecuadorian landscape in which to ride.

In equatorial Ecuador you can ride year-round, although some months are better than others for certain areas. The coastal areas and semi-tropical Baños have a tendency to be muggy. In the Sierra north of Quito, the month of May can be rather wet, while during the rest of the year it typically rains only in the late afternoons; and by this time the horses are back in the stables and you are fireside enjoying a pre-dinner aperitif.

Please see our horseback riding tour operators page for a list of Ecuador’s finest tour operators.