Horse riding in Cotopaxi, Ecuador

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Our Ecuadorian guide smiles at the motley crew of would-be horse riders assembled in front of him. In Spanish, he asks if anyone has any experience. A few people shuffle their feet nervously. When no-one else speaks up, I put up my hand reluctantly.

“Yo tomó doce clases hace dos años,” I tell him in my faltering Spanish, explaining that I took 12 lessons two years ago.

He beckons me forward and leads me to a young male, one of the bigger horses in the group. I swallow. During my lessons at Lee Valley Riding Centre, I was always given a small horse corresponding to my size, not to mention a platform to step up onto the horse. Today, I need a leg up.

One by one, the guide goes through the rest of the group and assigns a horse to each of the seven riders. We file out of the enclosure and almost immediately, my horse starts to trot away from the rest of the group.

I rein him back and he acquiesces but not for long. Soon enough, he’s trotting away once more, straining to break into a canter. Once again, I rein him back, this time more firmly. All the while, I talk to him, soothing him, trying to convince him that we’re friends.

Meanwhile, the other riders catch up. One even takes the lead but my horse will have none of it. He rushes forward, insisting on leading the group. I’m wary that I don’t know our direction of travel, so keep looking back towards the guide, trying to catch his signals. Once we’re out in an open field, I barely have time to catch my breath. The surrounding fields are stunning, but I don’t have time to look. I’m too busy trying to control my horse.

Eventually, I tire and let him canter. He leaps over streams, goes off course and jumbles me about in the saddle. It’s frightening on occasion but deeply exhilarating, mainly because I’ve never cantered before. In fact, part of the reason I quit my lessons two years ago was that we were being taught so slowly and thoroughly, I got tired of spending £25 an hour on my rising trot.

We ride through the Ecuadorian highlands in the shadow of volcanoes and mountains. After two hours, we take a break for tea and cake. My thighs and my back are aching pretty badly. Horse riding in Cotopaxi isn’t like horse riding in London!

As the guide hands me some cake, I say “Él es tan rápido!” commenting on how fast my horse is. He asks if I want a break by swapping with him. A smile curls at the corner of my lips. “Rápido pero muy divertido.” I’m happy to collect sympathies from the other riders but, in truth, I’m having great fun.

I massage my weary legs and contemplate the tough two-hour ride back. That’s when Peter sets himself down next to me with a contended sigh. He looks out at the view. “Can you believe it’s Wednesday morning? Normally, I’d be in the classroom and you’d be in some meeting at the office.”

Suddenly, my legs don’t feel so weary after all.

Horse riding in Cotopaxi: The Essentials

What: Horse riding in Cotopaxi across Ecuadorian highlands ($30pp), 4 hours.

Where: Cotopaxi National Park, Ecuador – 56km south of Quito.

When: Year round.

How: We stayed at The Secret Garden Cotopaxi and booked all excursions through them. If you stay at The Secret Garden Quito, you can get a transfer to Secret Garden Cotopaxi for only $5pp. Email to arrange.

Lonely Planet South America includes a comprehensive guide to the country, ideal for those who want to both explore the top sights and take the road less travelled.

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