We came to Ecuador in part because we love horses! Its so much easier to have them in a country where they can be out grazing all 365 days of the year. We love the openness of the land for riding, there are no set trails and no highways to cross.
We live in this country with horses for more than 8 years now, and had it all. Our first horses where “prestados” – given by a friend of a friend. I was thrilled by this option! Later I learned that this guy smelled his chance to put a herd of starving horses back to shape without any cost and sell them.
But others came…
Those three first years I was in heaven, getting horses for free from everywhere, raising foals and dreaming about a breeding farm.
But if you don’t own an hacienda, its easy to stock up on horses and end up without food eventually. We learned this lesson the hard way, at a point where I had 7 horses (rescued, donated and born). Our current job came to an unexpected end and we had to move to our next station. All of a sudden we were dealing with 2 acres of dry land instead of 40 acres of lush pasture! Feeding the horses of course killed our budget and we had to downsize significantly. Now I was sad that we didn’t have the option of boarding at least one horse in a nice barn nearby!
I have been asked quite a few times, if I could help others import their horses, recommend a boarding barn, a farrier and so on. To be honest, I do not recommend to bring a horse here, unless you are building a facility yourself and need your precious breeding stallion. I personally also strongly dislike the very expensive clubs in Quito – the horses there are not well taken care of.
For the ordinary trail rider in the country side I’d recommend to settle down, ask around, find a hacienda you trust, buy a horse there and keep it there – or build a safe paddock on your grounds. You can not rent a field next door. The horse will disappear soon.
Local horses are adapted to the food, altitude, trail patterns and climate. Ecuadorian horses are used to being shoed cold, eating Kikuyo grass with mineral supplement and to traveling on open trucks. You will insist on a real farrier, a real trailer and real horse food for your baby. Don’t. Unless you want to spend a ton of money. So many horses here are waiting for a loving owner.
In 2005 I got access to horse heaven with my job at Hacienda Zuleta. The Hacienda has over 100 horses, most of them a beautiful cross breed of Andalusian and Quarter horse. I was in charge of two herds of 59 heads total that lived happily on dozens of pastures of 20+ acre size. If you can afford it, the horseback riding at Hacienda Zuleta is outstanding and I have never seen horses of similar quality for rent in this country.
Read more about taking an Otavalo tour.
Over the years we introduced natural horsemanship methods at the Hacienda, set up plans for breeding, care, safety and supplies with international standards and did the most amazing rides to the paramo and surrounding valleys. My biggest childhood dreams came true!
Being located in a rural area and two hours from Quito there is one really big problem (even with money in the bank):
Veterinary care is just NOT AVAILABLE! Many people in rural areas are called “veterinario” or “doctor”, and even some experienced grooms will get that title. They know a lot about animals, they can give shots, deal with colic and birth and many are even capable of a surgery for castration. They master the common tasks, but have no knowledge whatsoever about other clinical pictures and – won’t tell you. The prescriptions I got for tying up, hoof care etc are hair-raising. Thanks to Google I can get a second opinion on anything.
Of course there’s the renowned Quito Equestrian Club vets, who will travel for big money and deal with “hacendado” horses. They bring modern ultrasound machines to check gestation, they prescribe medication that must be ordered in the US and they treat the horses and the indigenous grooms with highly educated arrogance. On top of that they are always busy, late and unreliable. At Hacienda Zuleta I went through many different vets and hated them all. After 4 years I finally found a woman I liked, Dra. Cristina Saltos. She knows natural remedies for many things, and went to the expensive treatment only if necessary. She knows her job, is kind and loving with the horses and she was available. That’s 2 years ago, and by now she’s very busy, but still highly recommendable.
As a horse owner in Ecuador you should learn to do basic vet tasks. Deworming, hoof care and shots in the muscle are very easy and you can buy the remedies without prescription.
Spend the $70+ per visit for a really good vet for diagnosing and group check-ups. Find a local, experienced horse handler for emergencies such as cuts, birthing and colic. Ask around for his reputation. People will tell you if he knows his stuff or if he kills his patients.
Most probably you will enter the horse people society sooner or later. I don’t know about general rules in the US, but here I had to adapt my German standards quite a bit:
- Horses looses a shoe on the trail, you should walk home slowly. NO! They can canter for another day on three shoes. We’d even start to ride with loose shoes.
- Everyone has his own, perfect fitting tack. NO! Why’s that? There’s two types of saddles. Wide ones and high ones. One of them will fit! And just grab a bridle from the big bunch over there.
- Only well educated horses come on group rides and parades. Safety first. NO! Its much more fun if you can impress others with rearing, galloping furies!
And it goes on! Those situations have nothing to do with money or education. We treat our horses differently back home. Help me teach people here, and adjust some of your ideals with time.
If you’ve read to here, you must be really interested in the topic and I hope I was able to share some insights. In my decade in this country I owned a total of 16 different horses and met over 100. Now I have one beautiful and complicated rescued bull fighting horse for me, and a little countryside mare for my children. I’m be happy to answer your questions and help plan your horse life in Ecuador! On my property 4Volcanoes Lodge near Otavalo we do natural horsemanship the Resnick and Parelli way, we do therapeutic horsemanship and Horse Guided Empowerment (TM) with local children and rescue/ retrain other horses. Donations, students and visitors always welcome! Thanks for reading. May the horse be with you.
Read more: The Wild Horses of Southern Ecuador