Visiting Isla Isabela in the Galápagos Archipelago

Volcano Trip On Horseback (continued)

At the stable Denise has mounted her horse, while Richar continues to assign horses to the other riders.  

The little boy and Marcie on their horses. In the background you can see Antonio and his red truck by the stable.  

Denise and Marcie riding up the jeep track, heading into misty and eventually rainy weather.  

After ordering lunch we resumed our bumpy truck ride up the volcano. The road ended at a set of primitive stables, and several horses, already saddled, were tied together awaiting us. I was pretty nervous about riding a horse, since I never really rode a horse other than on a couple of pony rides as a child. I had already read that Galápagos horses were rather small, and being heavy, I worried the horse might refuse to carry my weight or might stumble and fall. The stirrups and saddle were high up, and I even worried about getting up into the saddle. Richar and the stable workers consulted in rapid Spanish then assigned horses to each person. The lamest and skinniest horse was assigned to the young boy, who had his own horse. The two little girls rode with other people. I got assigned the sturdiest-looking horse, a pale tan horse with a short-cropped mane.

Marcie and especially David are experienced riders. David grew up in Colorado, and at one point in his past actually drove and tended cattle from horseback. David gave me a crash course in how to steer a horse: You normally hold both reins slackly in one hand, taking care to keep the left and right reins the same length and centered over the horse's neck. To turn left, you move your hand holding the reins to the left, so only one rein touches the horse's neck. This is how the horse tells which way to turn—you don't actually have to pull the bit in its mouth.

One of the workers helped to boost me up into the saddle, with a small embarrassing moment when I sat on his hand without realizing it and he couldn't get his hand out. Once in the saddle, it was a little scary. I was so high up and the horse was so narrow it felt like we should topple over. Eventually I realized that the horse is quite used to standing up and is fully capable of balancing and remaining upright even with me on its back.

Once everyone had mounted-up, we started riding up a rocky jeep track that was wide enough for several people to ride abreast. My horse knew the way and slowly plodded ahead without requiring any real input from me. The horse would pick out a route that it wanted to follow, generally avoiding areas with lots of loose rocks. After a while I became used to the motion of the horse, but I was still too nervous about falling to try to get my camera out of my backpack.

After a few kilometers, we came to a fence across the road and we turned off to the left where two or three narrow horse trails led up the hillside. The individual trails twined together here and there; sometimes there were three or four, sometimes two or only one. In most places the trails were quite eroded, sometimes full of rocks or mud or with standing water. It seemed that my horse didn't like to walk through puddles, so if the trail had standing water the horse would walk off to the side in the grass. When the trail was narrow sometimes my leg would brush against the trailside shrubs (another reason to wear long pants).

The horses were not very disciplined and would frequently bunch up in a pack, with faster horses trying to pass slower horses but stymied by the narrow trail. Sometimes we would get so close that my stirrups would clink against another person's stirrups, or my horse would press against the side of another horse (with my leg in the middle). This is considered poor horsemanship and poor trail riding etiquette but it wasn't always possible to control the horses—they (literally) had a mind of their own. If I wound up in a pack I would usually try to get my horse to slow down and drop behind, or perhaps step aside on to another parallel trail.

The horses had personalities and there was a definite pecking order. When my horse tried to pass Denise's brown horse, as soon as they got neck-and-neck, the brown horse would turn its head sharply towards my horse and make as if to nip it (although it never did). Denise's brown horse also stopped frequently to grab a mouthful of specific plants that it seemed to enjoy. When the horse stopped it would create an instant traffic tie-up, causing horses to bunch up and jostle for position. Sometimes my horse would grab a bite to eat, but if it tarried more than an instant I would haul its head away from the ground by pulling the reins. My horse also liked to walk with Marcie's horse. The two horses looked similar and were the same color, so perhaps they were related.

Much of the time the horses followed each other nose-to-tail, practically touching each other. This could be dangerous for the trailing horse, since the horses liked to fart with abandon and the leading horse might suddenly let one rip. They also can poop profusely while walking, although they stop to pee. David's horse (a male) stopped to pee and had all four legs spread apart while a river of pee splashed down.

Richar brought up the rear to make sure there were no stragglers. He also had to stop and dismount several times to pick up dropped items like hats, shoes, etc. If a horse started to fall behind, Richar had a length of rope in his hand that he would spin around to make a whirring sound. I never saw him hit a horse with the rope—the whirring sound alone was enough to keep the horse from lagging. He also made a "tch-tch" sound that would cause a lagging horse to suddenly hurry forward. The horse would sometimes break into a trot, causing other nearby horses to trot, then the group of trotting horses would surge ahead into the middle of the pack and create a jam-up. It was pretty uncomfortable riding on a trotting horse; the motion roughly bounced me up and down on the horse's back. It had to be uncomfortable for the horse, too. Marcie and David later told me that galloping is a completely different feeling—very smooth and comfortable.

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