|Where||15-45 minutes from Cuenca|
|Cost||Private tours around $25/hr, one-day group tours around $80/day. Schools $5-$10/lesson|
|What to bring||Warm clothes, enclosed shoes, water, sunscreen, tips for guides|
|How to book||Varies by provider. We've included links for each.|
Cuenca is a great destination for horse riding. It's one of our favorite activities to do as a family. We take regular lessons, but also enjoy exploring new areas on horseback with different tour providers.
Here's a few of the reasons we choose horse riding as a regular activity whilst living in Cuenca:
There's several horse riding centers within a 15 - 45 min drive of Cuenca. It certainly helps to have a car, but transport is available for all centers.
Horse riding in Ecuador is great value, and particularly so in Cuenca. Expect to pay $20-$30 per hour for private tours or $70-$100 per day for a group tour.
Riding schools are exceptional value where you can expect to pay around $60 / month for 3 lessons each week. This equates to around $5 per class. Wow.
There's a substantial horse riding community in Cuenca, making it a great way to meet locals with similar interests. The strong base also means that there's multiple quality options for both tours and schools.
The outskirts of Cuenca are filled with winding valleys and lovely, green farmland. The mountains provide spectacular views. And Cuenca's elevation of 2,560 meters (8,400 feet) means it's still warm enough at the top of the mountains that you don't need to worry too much about getting caught in freezing cold conditions.
Sure, every tour operator and riding school has their own standards when it comes to horse safety. Our experience is that horse safety is something that MOST operators take seriously.
That said, if you happen to find an operator that is charging less than the prices outlined here, that is a potential red-flag. These operators can't possibly treat the horses how you'd want them to be treated. Did you know that horses need to eat every 2 hours? There simply isn't enough margin for the operator to run their business & treat the horses properly.
Most visitors to Ecuador will only have time to jump on a tour. However, expats or digital nomads that are here for longer can look into booking weekly lessons at one of the schools.
Some operators provide both tours and schools, but the majority stick to only providing one or the other.
The 5 operators we recommend for Cuenca horse riding tours are:
The above map shows the location where the tours take place. Please don't just turn up at these locations and hope to book a ride on the spot - they won't accept you as they need time to arrange the horses and guides etc.
Here's what each tour provider offers.
This is our go-to horse riding center in Cuenca. They offer 8+ tours from 1-5 hours, with longer multi-day trips available on request too.
This pricing doesn't include transport, which will set you back around $8 each way from Cuenca. There are no minimum group sizes. Read our full review of Centre Ecuestre Bellavista.
Best for: Those looking for a great value private horse riding tour 15 mins from Cuenca. We also recommend it for serious riders looking to hone their craft as the owner also provides high-level competitive coaching.
Approx 30 mins from Cuenca, above Tarqui, you'll find Terra Diversa's hacienda that they use as the base for their horse riding tours. They offer trips from 1-4 days, with various combinations available too. If you happen to be in Cuenca for a full-moon, then also check out their 5-hour moonlight tour.
Prices are very reasonable:
These prices include transport to/from Cuenca. The multi-day trips include accommodation & food. These prices are for a group of 2, you can expect a discount if you're booking with larger group sizes.
Best for: Those wanting a weekend escape in an isolated rural setting high above Cuenca. The moonlight ride in particular is a unique, rustic experience complete with a fire, liquor, and fun.
Around 35 mins from Cuenca, towards Giron, is Rancho Patococha. This center mainly offers weekend based horse riding tours for locals and tourists alike. In addition to tours, Rancho Patococha also offers polo training.
Their day tours cost $70 per person, including transport from Cuenca and snacks.
This is a working dairy farm, so you can also purchase fresh cheeses and yogurts, etc from their dairy store.
Best for: Groups that want to enjoy horse riding in a family-friendly dairy farm setting.
Set on the outskirts of Cuenca, near Banos, is Caballo Campana. This is a hacienda with numerous outdoor activities, including horse riding.
They offer horse riding for $20 / hour per person with a couple of different trail options to choose from.
It's also close to the soul-soothing thermal spas of Piedra de Agua. Combine your stay at Caballo Campana with a long soak for a fabulous weekend escape from Cuenca.
Best for: Family or romantic weekend getaways enjoying a boutique hacienda with some horse riding thrown in.
On the other side of Cuenca, smack bang in the famous Cajas National Park is Hosteria Dos Chorreras. This luxurious hosteria offers basic horse riding tours to condor caves and waterfalls for $25 / hour.
I wouldn't necessarily go there just for the horse riding, but I'd certainly recommend it if you're looking for some luxury after hiking the Cajas. They have several rooms with fireplaces and jacuzzis - perfect for unwinding after some light horse riding.
Best for: Those wanting a luxurious base in the Cajas National Park so they can combine light horse riding with the many stunning hikes of the Cajas.
There are numerous key factors that we use when deciding which tour company to use:
This is the most important factor for us. We don't want to contribute to horses being mistreated. Yes, sometimes it can be difficult to tell before you've booked a tour whether the horses are actually well cared for.
But, once you get to see the horses, the following are good indications of horse welfare:
Spending their entire life saddled just in case a rider shows up is not good for a horse's health. Try to choose a provider that only saddles their horses immediately before your tour.
A limping horse is easy to spot and can indicate poor or limited treatment from vets. Try to stay clear of providers that allow their horses to be used whilst injured.
This one is especially important for larger expat riders. Ecuadorians are short and generally lighter than many expats. This means that some providers may not have enough 'heavy duty' horses for all members of your expat group. Some providers impose weight limits and impose a weight supplement to help ensure the safety of their horses.
Nervous or stressed horses are more prone to unexpected behavior and causing incidents. A good sign of a happy or content horse is the occasional casual snorting sound.
All horse tour guides should at a minimum know how to fix horseshoes should the need arise. Don't be afraid to ask specific questions like this to your guide. It's not uncommon for guides to be very good riders, but still not know much about basic horse care or even how to properly guide tourists.
Obviously, we also want to ensure that safety precautions are taken for riders too. This flows from the horse welfare as a healthy horse is happy and less prone to accidents.
Some key considerations for rider safety:
Beware of cheaper substitutes like bike helmets etc as they don't provide the same neck support in the case of a fall.
Some providers only use one saddle type that may not be what you're used to or it may not be an appropriate match for you and the horse.
Either your Spanish is passable or they speak English. It's very important you can understand instructions from the guide.
This is purely down to personal preference, but some of our location-specific considerations include:
Your main options for Cuenca horse riding tours are private or group tours. Some operators like Centro Equestre Bellavista only do private tours, which can be great as you know you won't be herded into a large group of 15+ like we've seen with some group horse riding tours.
Price alone doesn't really offer us much help when choosing a tour operator. But, we do certainly look for value.
Some of our value considerations:
So now you know what we look for in a good horse riding tour, let's move onto some of our favorite horse riding schools that operate within close proximity to Cuenca.
Schools are a fantastic option for anyone that wants to regularly hone their horse-riding skills. Kids absolutely love it and it's an affordable after-school activity.
The 3 horse riding schools in Cuenca we recommend are:
The above map shows the 3 different horse riding schools in Cuenca we recommend. Bookings at each are essential.
Let's look at what each school offers.
In addition to tours, Centro Ecuestre Bellavista also offers lessons for:
The owner competes at the highest level of show jumping in Ecuador and is one of two people in Ecuador that holds accreditations as an FEI Coach (International Equestrian Federation) in:
The owner's passion and dedication to the horses are evident from your first visit. The horses are clearly well taken care of. It's part of the reason we've chosen this center for our regular family lessons.
Lessons are priced per month and are the same price regardless of what type of lesson (ie beginner vs show jumping):
Each lesson generally lasts between 30-50 minutes. The length does depend on the type of lesson. For example, showjumping lessons are generally shorter as they are more intense for the horse.
This pricing does not include transport. If you don't have a car for the 15-minute journey from Cuenca, you can arrange private transport via the center or get your own taxis.
Regular transport can be arranged too. This can be very convenient if you don't want to wait around whilst your kids have their lessons every week.
Best for: Beginners that want a safe environment to learn how to ride and be able to choose their path within the sport. The rural setting means you aren't just limited to showjumping, but can also pursue endurance or trail riding too.
This established horse riding center 15 mins from Cuenca, in Nulti, caters to all levels of experience. With a focus on showjumping, it might be a convenient option for you if you happen to live in the expat-friendly neighborhood of Challuabamba.
They hold regular jumping competitions and even if you aren't competing, just spectating can be a nice way to spend a morning.
Best for: Riders of all standards that have decided jumping is what they want to pursue. The location makes it convenient for those living on the NE side of Cuenca.
Around the corner from Escuela hípica 4Rios in Nulti is Kawallu (Quechua for horse). However, they offer very different lessons to the other schools as they focus on equine therapy or 'hipoterapia'.
The founder of Kawallu describes equine therapy as a complementary therapy that "uses the horse as a co-therapist and mediator to improve the quality of life of people with different conditions: physical, psychological, sensory, mental health problems and/or problems of social adaptation".
They work a lot with local organizations that support kids with special needs and rely on community support for part of their funding. It's a special program and whilst we haven't sent our kids there, we have checked out their premise and often hear from other parents that it can really help their kids emotionally and physically.
Best for: Parents looking for an alternate therapy for their child.
The main types of lessons you'll be able to find in Cuenca include:
Once your child gets a hand on the basics of riding, they are likely going to want to progress to one of the discrete disciplines like jumping, endurance racing, or dressage.
But, how do you decide which is best for your child?
There are obviously many factors, including the child's preferences and quality of coaching available. But, for us, one of the most important factors to consider is cost.
They say horse racing is the sport of kings. Partly because you need deep pockets to compete. But, some horse riding disciplines are much more expensive than others.
Let's take jumping vs endurance racing to illustrate this further.
To compete at the lowest level, you're going to need a horse that can jump 20cm. You'll need to pay around $5,000 for a horse that can do this. Remember, this is the entry-level horse. If you decide to get serious and compete nationally with riders from Quito, you'll be competing against riders that have spent $100K+ on their horse.
To start competing in endurance events, you'll need a horse that is comfortable competing over a distance of 20km. You can find these horses for $500 or so. Yes, 1/10 the price of a jumping horse. Of course, you can pay a lot more for a more competitive horse, but the point is you don't have to. It's a much lower barrier to entry.
One other question we ask ourselves is whether we want our kids to compete based on their skill or how much money we have?
Again, using the jumping vs endurance racing example:
So, if your child wants to win jumping events, you're going to have to fork out for the best possible horse. However, if you want to win endurance events, a good horse is certainly going to help, but there's more room for your child to influence the result with their riding skills.
With that in mind, let's move onto what the different schools in Cuenca have to offer:
There really are some quality horse riding tours and schools in the Cuenca area.
We've found tours and schools here to be fun, safe, and affordable. So much so that it's rapidly become one of our favorite activities to do as a family and we're constantly looking for new centers to try and locations to ride.
Do you have a favorite riding school or tour provider in Cuenca? Feel free to let us know in the comments.
Guides from a mixed expat & Ecuadorian family.
We provide Ecuador travel tips and help other #expats make the transition to life in #Ecuador.