Our family recently spent a lovely morning enjoying one of Cuenca's best horse riding tours.
We regularly go to Centro Equestre Bellavista for classes, but this was the first time we've had the opportunity to go for an extended 2-hour horse ride through the mountains and valleys surrounding the property.
And, we loved it. The highlight for me was the 360-degree views as we climbed the Frances Urco hill.
But first, some basics:
|Where||15 minutes from Cuenca|
|Address||Panamericana Sur - km 7,7|
Before you get to Tarqui
|Price||Tours: $25/hr (1st hour), $15/hr (hours 2+)|
School: $50/month for 2 lessons/week, $60/month for 3 lessons/week.
|Tours offered||From 1 hour to multi-day tours.|
|Lessons offered||Beginners, jumping, endurance & dressage|
|What to bring||Enclosed shoes, pants, jumper, water, sunblock, tips (not mandatory)|
|Transport||Available. Or arrange your own taxi for $8 each way from Cuenca.|
|Bookings necessary?||Yes. The horses are not saddled unless booked prior.|
|How to book||Direct with owner|
Centro Equestre Bellavista offers a thorough range of services to their customers, from horse riding to breeding, they do a lot. But, our main focus is on their horse riding tours and lessons provided by their school.
They offer over 8 different types of tours ranging from 1 hour to multi-day trips. All of the rides leave from the main stable area.
The one hour tours are ideal for beginners or those that maybe don't have a lot of confidence riding.
The leisurely 6 km (3.7mi) ride is mostly on even gravel terrain and the horses know this track like the back of their hoof.
Many of the longer tours take the same path at the start of the tour before veering off.
Whilst this tour is designed for beginners with flat terrain, that doesn't mean the scenery is boring. Some highlights:
The evenness of the terrain and slow pace makes this the ideal tour for beginners, children and the elderly. If you have any reservations about riding a horse, then this is the best place to start.
There are several 2-hour tours available. I'd still classify them as beginner-friendly, but slightly more challenging than the 1-hour tour.
One of these tours even goes to a waterfall if the weather allows (ie there's been rain and it's flowing).
We went on the 2 hour Frances Urco tour, skip ahead for our experience on this tour.
Whilst each tour is different, some possible highlights include:
Beginners that have a little more confidence or even experienced riders that want to see a lot in a short period of time.
2 hours is long enough that you're able to get comfortable with your horse and the ride, but short enough to still be gentle on untrained bums.
We're now getting into the territory of more experienced riders. These tours are classified as "moderate", so we wouldn't recommend these for beginners. Beginners should start with the 1 or 2-hour tours and progress from there if comfortable.
Some of these tours include lunch, so be sure you know if lunch is included in your tour.
Their standard tours last up to 5 hours, with multi-day trips available that combine several trails. These multi-day tours are popular amongst more serious riders that value the coaching provided by the owner, Sebastian.
Accommodation for multi-day trips is either directly at the centre or at a nearby horse-friendly hosteria. Contact the owner for pricing details of multi-day trips.
Again, what you'll see depends on the tour taken, but some potential highlights include:
Experienced riders that won't get saddle sore after 3+ hours of riding. Their multi-day tours are also a great option for riders that are looking to improve under the guidance of a professional rider and certified coach.
The owner of Centre Ecuestre Bellavista, Sebastian, suggested the 2 hour Frances Urco tour for us because it's one of the most popular routes for beginner riders.
And I'm super glad he did. It was ideal for us. The two kids (5 & 7 years old) were able to comfortably handle the terrain and it was just the right length for the youngest who ran out of puff towards the last 15 minutes.
We made a booking during the week and arrived just before our scheduled time for our Saturday morning ride. Sebastian was there to welcome us - as were his horses!
Note: It's important to arrive on time because they don't like to have the horses saddled for extended periods when they are not being ridden.
Sebastian was kind enough to take us for a quick tour of the property where we checked out a lake with a gondola, the paddock full of horses, and a bunch of farm animals like a llama, peasants, and chickens.
The safety briefing was mainly for my benefit as Michelle & the kids ride regularly at the center. I am more of a casual rider that joins in every so often.
I quizzed Sebastian on several horse and rider safety questions and it was immediately clear they actually care about these issues. This isn't always the case with horse riding in Ecuador.
Maybe it's just me, but I really enjoy the first moment when I can reach out and touch my new four-legged friend.
It's very important for any horse riding tour provider to match each rider with an appropriate horse. Especially so for us expats that tend to be significantly bigger than many Ecuadorians. We need bigger horses.
Sebastian paired me with a gentle giant of a horse named Mote Pillo. In case you haven't tried it, mote pillo is a dish made from a large variety of corn with scrambled eggs. It's very tasty when made right.
Anyhow, I immediately felt an affinity with my horse and he did not let me down for the entire trek. He did want to stop to graze a few times, but who doesn't like to eat!
We leave the stables and start the first part of the tour on a gravel path that is very even and it's an easy ride.
It's a great opportunity to get in sync with your horse and just enjoy the scenery and do a bit of wildlife spotting (we saw a large eagle).
The next 15 minutes or so along the gravel path will meander through dairy farms and small villages. Most folks in this part still live a very traditional life.
The atmosphere is very relaxed but friendly. Michelle shares some jokes with the locals about them wanting to borrow our horses to get some of their farming done. They are 99% joking, but I'm also positive they would have embraced any assistance we offered.
This type of friendly interaction shouldn't be taken as a given for all horse riding tours in Cuenca. Some tour providers don't give a lot of thought or have a lot of options for their trekking routes. This can have you weaving through semi-urban environments where big horses and loud tourists aren't exactly loved by busy locals.
About 25 minutes into the tour we're finished with the gravel path and start making our way up towards the Frances Urco hill.
The pace slowed down a little as we made our way up the various hills towards Frances Urco. It started to lightly rain for about 5 minutes, but lovely blue skies quickly prevailed.
After about an hour we reach the Frances Urco hill and enjoy the incredible 360 views as we ride the spine for the next 15 minutes.
This was the highlight of the ride for me. With spectacular views on both sides, I found it difficult to know where to look.
We also passed a cute little church at the top of the hill.
This area has historical significance too:
A large white statue can be seen from the bottom of the hill. This marker represents a geodesic mission that took place in the 17th century.
You get a fantastic vantage point over the area where Ecuador (as part of Gran Colombia) battled against Peru in the War of Tarqui in 1829.
A horse unit was involved in this battle and their memory is kept in-tact as one of Ecuador's current horse squadrons is nicknamed the "Tarqui Grenadiers".
From this vantage point, it's hard not to vision Sucre and the Gran Colombian army doing battle in the long flat valleys of Tarqui that are flanked on both side by mountains and steep terrain.
The open terrain at the top of Frances Urco hill continues to deliver incredible views as we make our way down the hill.
I spend way too much time taking photo after photo whilst the rest of the tour slowly plows ahead.
The next 15 minutes are spent leisurely descending through pine forests. The decaying pine leaves mix with the already deep red earth to create a bold texture that catches the eye.
We slowly move through the private farm that has very clear trails that are safe for beginners and young riders such as Sarah.
As we start to reach the bottom of the pine forest the vegetation changes again. From the rich, dry reds to green and thicker canopies. The trail is flat and well maintained, making it easy for all of us to just take in our surroundings.
Our trial leaves the private farm and we end up back on the gravel road. We start making our way back towards stables.
The pace quickens up a bit with more trotting. The horses have a keen sense of direction and you feel that they know they are now on the home stretch.
The last 25 mins of the 2 hour horse ride is spent on the gravel path where as make our way back to the stable.
There's very little slope now and the only potential hazards are the occasional farmers passing in their cars.
Sebastian spends his time going back and forth between all members of our tour to provide riding tuition and just general chit-chat about horse riding and he shares his plans for the business with me. I get excited and start unloading some business ideas on him. He takes it openly and we have a productive chat all the way back to the stables.
We arrive safely back at the stables with big grins on our faces and mildly sore legs.
We've racked up an impressive 22km (13.6 miles) over the course of 2 hours and I start to think I can sign up for endurance riding classes!
We all dismount, thank our horses, and take off our helmets. Our 2-hour horse riding tour has come to an end, and we're already talking about the different tours we can take next. We want more!
Sebastian and his team at Centro Ecuestre Bellavista also offer a variety of horse riding lessons covering:
We regularly have lessons with Sebastian and his team. Well, mainly the kids and Michelle. I tend to just tag along once in a while.
We've chosen Centro Ecuestre Bellavista for our regular lessons because:
The most important criteria for us was the level of coaching we'd receive It's hard to judge this before you take a few lessons. But, knowing Sebastian's credentials really helped put us at ease initially.
Sebastian is one of only 2 people in Ecuador that is accredited as an FEI Coach (International Equestrian Federation) in:
Sebastian also competes in show jumping at the highest competitive level in Ecuador.
The combination of competing at the highest level and being able to effectively transfer this knowledge to students is simply very difficult to find in Cuenca (or anywhere really).
It's rare that you find a current professional at the top of their game that has also taken the effort to get coaching accreditations. There are so many great professional riders that have no idea how to coach, guide or even have basic horse health skills.
You can be the best teacher in the world, but this means little to our family if safety is not a priority.
I've seen countless horse riding providers in Ecuador flaunt any appreciation for the safety of their horses and riders.
There are certain signs that are generally a good giveaway that horse and rider safety are not a priority:
We have not experienced any of these indicators whilst training at Centre Ecuestre Bellavista. Indeed, Sebastian is always talking about safety and we've seen him err on the side of caution multiple times - even if it's more difficult for him than the unsafe option. Again, this is rare as shortcuts are very common here.
The school is located 15 minutes away from Cuenca. This makes it very accessible which is important to us because we go twice each week.
That said, it's not the closes horse riding school to us. We live on the north-eastern side of Cuenca. But, we still prefer to travel a little further each week because of the rural location. For us, it's a much better atmosphere than a semi-urban location that only has an enclosed practiced area without quality trails close by.
Transport can be arranged by the school if you don't have a car.
I've been conditioned to think that anything involving horses is going to be expensive. Whether it's buying a racehorse, owning a horse or having lessons.
That is not the case at Centre Ecuestre Bellavista. I was actually a little shocked when I first learnt how affordable horse riding lessons were here.
Like many after-school sporting activities in Cuenca, pricing is based on monthly payments. How much you pay each month depends on how many days of training you want each week.
If you do the math you'll find that this equates to about $5 per lesson! Wow. Whichever way you look at it, this is simply great value.
Lessons last between 30-50 minutes. Jumping lessons tend to be the shortest because the high impact nature takes a lot of energy from the horse.
Our initial decision to go with Centre Ecuestre Bellavista has since paid off. The kids are comfortably progressing with their skills and they're always eager to return each week.
In addition to horse riding tours and lessons, they're also a popular option for kids birthday parties. Which makes perfect sense when you see the kid-friendly large green fields, stables and farm animals.
They have a set fee for the use of the premises and a small fee for each child that wants to ride a horsey.
You can book directly with Sebastian via their website. Sebastian speaks very good English, so feel free to ask any pre-booking questions directly with him.
He'll ask you about your horse riding experience and preferences, so feel free to include these in your initial inquiry.
Have you checked out Centre Ecuestre Bellavista? We'd love to hear about your experience in the comments below.