The Hacienda La Alegria, where the
ride begins, was built by Gabriel’s
grandfather in 1911, and the Espinosa
family still live there and operate
an organic dairy farm. The 334-acre
ranch boasts approximately 230 dairy
cattle and 65 horses, including the
geldings used for the rides and mares
used for breeding.
“We start with the Ecuadorian Criollo for character and sure-footedness,
then breed in Arabian for endurance,
Uruguayan Criollo for strength, and
the Andalusian for bigger bone structure,” says Gabriel.
Our first warm-up ride is a few
hours long, in close proximity to the
hacienda. I am on Principe, a 6-year-
old Paso Caminero, a gaited Criollo.
The morning light glistens through
the towering eucalyptus, cypress
and cedar trees as we ride along the
hacienda’s long cobblestone lane-way on our way to a local rodeo and
open-air market, where colorful fruits
unknown to us line tables. We get our
first glimpse of a local delicacy called
cuy asado, barbequed guinea pig on a
stick, which none of us gringos have
the courage to try.
Back at the hacienda, we share a
delicious meal with Gabriel and Patty.
We already feel like family.
In order to gradually acclimate our
bodies to the elevation, our next ride
will take us from the hacienda at
9,500 feet up to 13,000 feet, towards
the volcano Corazon, before descending into the cloud forest at 9,800 feet
to sleep. My mount today is Chugo,
a strawberry roan Criollo who is also
gaited. We ride through the town of
Aloag, about 30 miles south of Ecuador’s capital city Quito, and enter the
páramo, or high-altitude grasslands,
beginning around 11,500 feet. Teeming with colorful lupines, bright red
wild rose hips and blueberry bushes,
it’s the perfect place to stop for our