My desire to visit Ecuador started with reading a holiday report from our Galapagos expert, Lucy Ings, on a hacienda she had found that apparently had the ‘best horses in Ecuador’.
Being an avid horse rider myself (I was jumping at the age of 12 and flat racing at 14), I really and I mean really – wanted to go there on a riding holiday. Lucy decided to book places for three friends and me to go on a 14-day trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. We spent seven days at the Hacienda Zuleta in Ecuador and then went sailing for another seven days around the Galapagos Islands on a motor yacht called Sagitta.
After a long flight to Quito via Miami (take a packed lunch if you choose to fly with American Airlines – their food leaves a lot to be desired), we spent our first night at a boutique hotel called Villa Colonna, which was just magical. Like most of the properties we use, Villa Colonna is privately owned and the owners had taken a great deal of care to ensure that we had the perfect stay. Our bedrooms were simply sumptuous and our breakfast on the first day did a marvellous job of alleviating the mild headache we all seemed to be experiencing from adjusting to the higher altitude of 2,850 metres.
The horses are the most responsive I have ever ridden. The gentlest of nudges would provide instant left/right turn, a gentle lift in the saddle a trot, a wave of rein and you get instant cantor. We jumped, walked, trotted and galloped over the course of 4 hours. I did feel a bit like being on set in a Zorro Film. The hacienda is a colonial working farm and has been in the family of Mr Galo Plaza Lasso, a former president of Ecuador, for more than 100 years. The approach and surrounding roads are all cobbled, so to be kitted out in cowboy (hard) hat, and jodhpurs and gallop down a cobbled road, then put the ‘horse’ breaks on to skid, is a fond memory.