Colombia – The only risk is wanting to stay

Horses walking along a ridge during horse riding in Colombia

Equestrian Adventuress Katriona quit her 9 to 5 job and left England with a one way ticket to South America. While horse riding in Colombia she fell in love with the country, the people, the horses and finally found her destiny. Now her mission is to share her love of Colombia with others.

Author: Katriona Shrives

Five years ago I discovered a country that captured my heart and gave me the courage to quit my job and start an adventure I would never look back from. This country is the second most diverse country in the world, its people are passionate and friendly and every time I return it fills me with the same excitement and joy as the first time I went. The country I want to tell you about is Colombia and how their love of horses and their incredible landscapes will get you reaching for your credit card to book a flight.

horse riding in Colombia with its stunning views in the mountains
Colombia takes your breath away with its stunning views. Photo Credits: Katriona Shrives

Since I discovered Colombia I’ve been bringing groups of people back to explore this incredible country with me. My favorite way to show people Colombia is on horses and this is the story of our most recent adventure.  

The Arrival

We landed in Bogota the capital of Colombia, a city of contrasts from the colorful old town to the ultra modern North. At an altitude of 2,640 meters you can feel the elevation. After dropping the bags at the hotel it was time to escape into the downtown markets to get our first taste of Colombia. One of my favorite places to take people is the fruit market where you can discover fruit most people have never seen before, so ripe and sweet like nothing you could find back home.

Tejo – An Explosive Game

After lots of sweet treats we ventured into a tiny shop which would remind you of the Tardis. It opens out into a big warehouse, where we are able to play Tejo, the most traditional of Colombian games, it consists of explosives and rocks, a unique and great way to bond as a group. This is just the start but I could already see something stirring in the group, I’d seen it before, it was the beginning of an all-consuming love for Colombia.

A trail guide leading a couple of horses for riding in Colombia
One of our guides and his little passenger. Photo Credits: Katriona Shrives

Riding the Finest Horses in Colombia

The next day we embarked on our riding adventure, our head cowboy Chalas arrived to greet us at the hotel, I have known him for 5 years and his smiling face and passion for horses makes him a total dream to work with. We had a very special day ahead, visiting one of the top Paso Fino stables with world champion horses. We not only see them perform but also are allowed to ride them. This would never be allowed in the top showjumping yards in the UK. But the Colombian people want you to really experience everything.

They say that on the best horses you should be able to carry a cup of coffee without spilling a drop. And it’s fair to say on these horses there is no doubt that would be possible. As we journeyed on, chatting away in excitement about these fantastic horses and thrilled with our interaction with them, we made our way to our first Hacienda (farm house) where we would be spending 3 nights. After delighting our taste buds with a delicious dinner and lots of wine we went to bed with warm hearts and an anticipation of our first day riding.

Me and the 3 guides for our horse riding adventure in Colombia
Meet the team: Me posing with the guides. Photo Credits: Katriona Shrives

Our Mounts

We were a group of 17, which included our 3 cowboys and myself. The rest of the group had all come from the Kimbley Hunt so they were brave and very good riders. Sometimes this can prove difficult as the rider can expect more from their horses, however we had no issues here. These horses are not trail ponies, they are crossed between Colombian Criollo and other breeds, the result being they are responsive, fast on demand and incredibly sure footed. On the ride we would cross through mountain deserts, heavy wooded forests, towns and villages and who knows what else. These horses had to be able to do it all and sure enough, they really could and with style! What I love about Colombia and the Colombians is that nothing is complicated. We had really experienced riders with us so our route changed to give us more challenging trails.

Our guide and true caballero showing the mule to me
A true Caballero. Trying to convince me to ride a mule. Photo Credits: Katriona Shrives

A true caballero {gentleman} Chalas asked which horse I would like to ride on this adventure. Although I had been lucky enough to ride many of the horses previously, Chalas had been telling me for weeks about how fantastic the four Mules were. That’s right….mules! I mean aren’t they stubborn and lazy? But true to form, I’m not one to pass up an opportunity so I said, let’s do it, I’ll ride a mule. This was probably the best decision I’ve made in a while.

Atarraya – the Mule

She was called Atarraya, meaning fishing net. She used to be a cattle herding mule (who knew). Day one she was great but a little spooky, but that was ok. She just liked to have a little look at things, just like her rider! At this point I wasn’t sure that Chalas was totally correct about how fantastic they were but never the less I trusted him so gave her another day.

A Mule for riding during trail riding in Colombia
Atarraya – the pretty mule posing in front of a hacienda. Photo Credits: Katriona Shrives

The thing I quickly learnt about a mule is that they grow a bond with you over the days; this is very similar to the Mongolian horses we ride. With each day my respect grew and a comforting mutual trust was formed. Day one a bit spooky by day six she would trust me through the hardest of trails, and I would trust her.  She was so light to ride, she neck rained better than many polo ponies I ride and she was so sure footed on the difficult trails. If I could I’d take this one home!

Exploring the beautiful countryside

The first couple of days riding we explored local towns and the beautiful countryside of Ubate, north of the capital Bogota. We headed up into the mountains with exceptional views over the valleys, stopping for coffee in beautiful little villages that had ancient cathedrals and rocks with markings from Colombia’s indigenous tribes. We didn’t know what the markings meant but we enjoyed letting our imaginations go wild like the surroundings making up tales from the past.

Tejo – The Rules

In the evening of the second day we headed out to play another game of Tejo. I love this game, the three main elements being explosives, rocks and beer. Its not possible to simply pay money to play Tejo, what you must do is buy at least half a crate of beer…my kind of game! The ‘pitch’ is much like a cricket strip. There is a box of clay at each end and a steel ring in the middle with four explosive pockets. You are split into two teams and you take it in turns to throw your Tejo (metal rock) at the explosives.

The old timers, much like the old French boule players, will attempt to explain the slightly complicated rules system but the main aim is to make the explosives go off. The general rule is that the more beer you drink the better you get. So we literally started the evening with a bang and on return to the Hacienda we finished it by dancing in the courtyard to traditional Colombian music, it was a magical night indeed!

Incredible Views

On day three of the ride we said goodbye to our first Hacienda and embarked on the trail to Villa de Leyva the ancient capital of Colombia. Our first challenge was to cross the river, there was a steep slope down to the river where we popped across to the other side. The up was a different approach, we dismounted and walked ourselves across the rest of the path. The horses and mules amazingly lead themselves up the path to the grass on the other side. The rest of the morning, on our four legged friends we climbed up the mountains higher and higher. The views were incredible. We knew it would never be possible to do them justice on our cameras but yet we tried. Although I had seen these views many times before it would never get any less beautiful looking over the vast green mountains.

Our guide oresenting the delicious lunch to the guests
Lunch with cheeses, hams and salad. Photo Credits: Katriona Shrives

After our delicious lunch in a potato field, cheeses, hams and salad on a classic red and white checked blanket, we started our descent to the valley where we would spend the night. There is always a story like this on any adventure, this time it’s about me!

There is always a Story like this …

On the way down earlier that day I had a little slip with my saddle where I had ‘tactically dismounted’. Chalas put on a crupper to hold the saddle in place for the afternoon as we had a long downhill. Mules don’t have withers so there isn’t much to keep the saddles in place. As we started heading down the hill and we hit a particularly steep bit. Several of the others had successfully made it down and it was now my turn.

Off we went and I had nearly reached the bottom but my saddle started to inch forward, with a squawk from me the saddle popped me out the seat and I forward rolled down the hill, very graciously of course! It is probably the funniest fall I have ever had! Totally unhurt I stood there laughing to myself as we popped the saddle back on.  As we continued on down the hill, John a hunt master for over 5 year quickly spotted the problem. My very clever mule had worked out how to get her Cropper off. So off we hopped and we got some more straps, this would not be happening again, and sure enough the rest of the ride went without a hitch!

The best way to end the night

That night we spent in the most beautiful Hacienda with blue railings and comfy beds. The dining room had a huge banquet table and roaring fire as we devoured the most delicious food. As the evening wore on the music started and the dancing began, I love to dance so for me there is no better way to end the night!  

Using a quick break during horse riding in Colombia to recover
Enjoying a break during the trails. Photo Credits: Katriona Shrives

We continued on our ride through lush green valleys and stunning mountains staying at haciendas and enjoying the most fantastic food prepared by our wonderful chef Dani, he was a master in the kitchen creating the most delicious dishes. Everyone agreed that we would love to take him home too! The group all had their own tales to tell so we never tire of the conversation. We had Hilary a former stuntwoman, Polly who had sailed the Atlantic 4 times and 4 former hunt masters. This adventure was never going to be dull!

Desert Mountains

Our last day riding was one of the most exceptional. It took us into the Desert Mountains near Villa de Leyva. The landscape was phenomenal the horses still so sure footed on the tails. It was fascinating that there was no sign of wildlife in this area but if you looked just a little further into the horizon you could spot the tropical forest over in the next Valley. I have never been able to get my head around this, a desert on one side of the valley and a tropical forest on the other.

Horses walking along a ridge during horse riding in Colombia
The horses are incredibly sure-footed. Photo Credits: Katriona Shrives

We passed through an area that legend says is protected by ancient witches, who come in the night to dance and sacrifice those who passed through without permission. Maybe this is why the rain stayed away.  

Craving for more

No one was ready to finish the ride, we had 6 days and around 36 hours in the saddle but everyone was craving for more. We had all fallen in love with our horses and mules. We had all fallen in love with our cowboys who and we had all fallen head over heels in love with Colombia. The passion that runs through its veins is infectious and is a huge part of why I started AdAstra, and it the reason I will keep striving to connect people with experiences in this incredible destination.

The trip wasn’t quite over, we had a night that would be forever remembered in Villa de Leyva, the original capital of Colombia. Needless to say it is incredibly beautiful. We had a dinner of pizza, aguardiente (local fire water) and tequila, we danced under the stars to live music and the magic of Colombia embraced us.

A waterfall in the jungle of Colombia
The adventure never ends: Here we are exploring waterfalls in the jungle. Photo Credits: Katriona Shrives

The Adventure never ends

I’m writing this from the coast where five of us continued our journey exploring beaches and jungle waterfalls. I’m already dreaming of coming back to show even more people just how magical this destination is. For me it will never be goodbye, just Hasta Luego. (Until next time)

You can hear more about this and countless other adventures in our Podcast Episode featuring Katriona. We cover topics including “Polo Riding in Colombia for all levels”, “Horse trekking in Colombia” and “Horse riding vacations in Colombia, Mongolia, Nepal and more”.

Adastra Adventures have their dates for the Colombia excursion fixed for September 2019 and February 2020. So why not join them for a ride that will change the way you look at the world and will fill you with a passion for a destination where the only risk is wanting to stay.

Are you looking for further inspiration and wanting to find amazing horse riding opportunities? Have a look in our Equestrian Adventuresses “Horse Riding in Every Country” Catalog. It covers, next to Colombia, many more stables and tours in South America and the whole world.

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Published by Krys Kolumbus Travel

Krystal Kelly is a California girl on a Quest to see every country. She is a professional equestrian adventuress and has worked internationally with horses since 2010. Since then she has worked at professional competition and riding stables in Egypt, Italy, Romania, India and Bhutan! "I love travelling and I love horses and I am very blessed to be able to do both of my passions for a living!" She now has her own company, Krys Kolumbus Travel where she strives to empower women to travel and provides resources, tips and online courses to encourage women to travel SOLO to unique destinations. www.kryskolumbustravel.com www.krystal-kelly.com

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