Saddle Up in Ecuador

by Linda Ballou
NABBW’s Adventure Travel Associate
 

What prompts a young Brit ensconced in the Parisian perfume industry to flee the continent in quest of creating the ultimate South American riding experience?

That was the first of several burning questions I had for Sally Vergette, owner of RIDE ANDES, before joining her in Ecuador this September.

I’m looking forward to romps through pastures in the shadow of snow-crowned volcanoes with other experienced riders on Sally’s fit and well-mannered mounts.

Each day’s ride ends at a wonderful colonial estate like Hacienda Pinsaqui built in 1790—host to no less than Simon Bolivar.Ballou CH day 1 Hacienda front of house_1_1 (2)

Sally’s offering promises an intimate experience of the people of Ecuador, exhilarating scenery, and the opportunity to meet new riding friends from around the globe.

The trek begins in Quito, at approximately 9,300 feet. Sally stresses that RIDE ANDES offers rides for families with young children and has horses and routes available for all riding levels.

NOTE: Below, Linda provides us with a transcript of her recent interview with RIDE ANDES owner, Sally Vergette. Linda\’s questions are in boldface, Sally\’s answers in regular face.

What got you started in this career? Was there a pivotal event in your life that brought you to being an outfitter?

I visited the Ecuadorian Andes on holiday. The scenery was amazing, there were several beautiful old country houses (Haciendas) converted into small, unique country hotels that seemed to be an ideal distance to ride between. No one had thought of doing this. It was countryside and terrain made for riding. I had never even been on a riding holiday but had ridden all my life and thought ‘I can put rides together, door to door between the Haciendas’ so I gave up my job and moved to Ecuador.

How long have you been an outfitter?

Since 1996

What is your background? Education? Special training?

Born and brought up on a working farm. Degree in Economics. Ridden since the age of 5 including competitive riding.

Do you have any medical training?

I, and all my guides, grooms and helpers regularly participate in first aid courses. Previously, at school and university I have obtained some first aid certificates.

What sets your company apart from others with similar offerings?

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAHuge amount of time and care selecting horses for each individual guest. We have horses for different levels of riding ability and we do not mix – i.e there is a set of horses for novice riders, others for intermediate and other horses for advanced.

Horses with great characters that guests can ride- well trained, responsive horses that will go on the bit so that guests, if they wish, can actually ride not just horses that are a means of transport.

Great care made to keep the horses in excellent condition/health. Attention to detail & safety.

How big is your company?

Small! 3 guides (me and 2 others that guide for me from time to time). The policy is quality of experience, not high volume of guests.

How many trips a year do you run?

Lots of one to four day trips (often for beginner riders, families with children…)

About 14 to 18 longer trips (7 and 10 days riding).

Which trip is your favorite and why?

Really difficult to say. Over the years I have adapted the tours so that I ride routes I really like.

My opinion is that good riders come to ride with me here in Ecuador, they have traveled quite a long way, so they deserve to ride in incredible scenery, with varied scenery and pace every day. If a route changes due to development then I don’t take guests on that route.

The accommodations – historic haciendas, on the Colonial Hacienda routes are of a very, very high standard. On the Cotopaxi Adventure we go into remote parts of the Andes, spectacular scenery. On both tours we ride alongside wild horses beneath snow-capped Cotopaxi Volcano – an experience no one ever forgets.

What is your funniest experience on a riding tour?

Riders forgetting the color of the horse they were riding and after lunch getting back onto the wrong horse.

What is your scariest?

Being charged by an African water buffalo here in Ecuador (yes, seriously!), it was a shock – I had just ridden safely through a field of Spanish fighting bulls!

Do you have a typical guest profile?

No. youngest guest: 5 years old. Oldest guest: 84 years old. Last Saturday: a really advanced rider. Last Sunday: a 12 year old who had never ridden before.

If you weren’t an outfitter what would you be?[[[6]]]

I was working in Paris in perfumery and cosmetics before moving to Ecuador. I think I would be involved in animal welfare. I would also like to learn to train sheepdogs and fly kestrels – falconry, but would never be able to set a bird after live prey so not sure how that would work!

In what part of the world does your trip take place? Please give a geographical reference point. What it the closest international airport?

RIDE ANDES operates here in Ecuador, in the Andes either side of Quito (the capital of Ecuador). The nearest airport is Quito and the start points of the tours are two hours or less out of Quito – so no long drives. We also offer rides Across the Andes (Chile-Argentina) and in Uruguay (beach/coast). A sister company offers riding in magnificent Andalucia, Spain.

What is the local cultural experience like?

Ballou Ride Andes hacienda lunch Cayambe Valley day 4 (2) Incredible. The indigenous population still wear lovely local dress, they are so friendly but are dignified and do not pester. There are colorful local markets (the famous Otavalo Market, for example). We ride with local horsemen. On some tours visit weaving centers and other local craft centers.

What is the weather like generally? What is the best time of year to enjoy your trips?

We ride many months of the year. The weather is ideal for riding – never too hot and no flies, mosquitoes, nasty insects…

The best time is June to October (main dry season) and mid- November to mid- March.

Is there a “special moment” on this activity that can’t be experienced elsewhere?

Cantering alongside the wild horses on huge grassy plains in the national park, very close to a magnificent snow-capped volcano.

What wildlife or interesting fauna might one see?

The smallest bird in the world: hummingbird (some bumble bee sized) and the heaviest flying bird: Andean Condor (with huge wingspan) –BOTH ON THE SAME DAY!

Do you hire local guides?

Yes – bilingual Ecuadorian guides and local horsemen who know the highlands so well.

In what ways do you take steps to protect the environment?[[[11]]]

We take advice from several companies very knowledgeable in this. Then there are the basics – being careful on what terrain we ride, not leaving litter, not starting fires, recycling…

I can’t wait to meet you in person. Your tour promises to be the perfect way to Explore Ecuador.

Linda Ballou says her mission is to experience as many beautiful places on our planet as she can, before they are no more. “Travel tales relating my experiences while kayaking, horseback riding, sailing, birding and hiking about the globe have appeared in numerous national magazines. I had a great deal of fun collecting travel stories, and profiles of people I have met in “naturally high places” for my newest book, Lost Angel Walkabout-One Traveler’s Tales. For a complete bio as well as published on-line clips with photos go to my website www.LindaBallouAuthor.com. Your reward, aside from learning about me and my work, will be to discover the secret to youth! Follow my blog to keep up with my latest adventures.

Linda's mission is to experience as many beautiful places on our planet as I can, before they are no more. Travel tales relating my experiences while kayaking, horseback riding, sailing, birding and hiking about the globe have appeared in numerous national magazines. I had a great deal of fun collecting travel stories, and profiles of people I have met in “naturally high places” for my newest book, Lost Angel Walkabout-One Traveler’s Tales.