This is a great ride for sightseers – people who want to see the countryside from the back of a horse. It is not really a ride for those of us who love to ride. Careful planning has gone into the itinerary to show guests the diversity of Uruguay from irrigated rice fields, rolling grasslands to strangler fig forests and miles of magnificent deserted beaches. However the riding seems less important than the sightseeing. One surprise was the flatness. I had read that Uruguay was flat and was still astonished by the flatness. You can see forever. The only “mountain” was a small hill outside of Montevido, proudly pointed out to us on a city tour.
The style of riding is to move every two days from one hotel or estancia to another, usually by van, and then ride from that location rather than riding a long distance trail. Riders change horses several times. Sometimes they are the horses of the estancia and at other times they are supplied by a local resource trucking the horses from place to place. This makes the ride feel quite different from a long distance or inn to inn trail. On long distance trails, riding the same horse, you get to know your horse partner, and at the end of the trail you have a feeling of accomplishing a journey together. The trade off in Uruguay is that you see more places.
The horses are local Criollos or mixed breeds not large animals. The tack is gaucho style tack. In trying to describe the Uruguayan gaucho saddle, the best I can come up with is imagine a leather bareback pad with a fleece cover and a set of stirrups hung far forward sort of straight down from the pommel. Forget things like knee rolls, a saddle tree or a deep seat. Some of the group managed fine with the saddles, most of us had a few adjustment problems. My saddle slipped a lot. I remember cantering down the beach trying to tell our not very fluent English speaking guide that my saddle was slipping. She kept smiling at me and saying “ Good good, you like your horse!” I gave up on that and cantered up to the Spanish speaking guide and pointed at my saddle and that worked, perhaps helped by my distinct tilt to one side. Who needs words in riding? The saddle pads were torn up bits of foam mattresses. When a new one seemed necessary the guide ripped off another slab.
At one of the estancias, English saddles were offered and I thought wonderful but English saddles have to fit the horse. This saddle was way too narrow for the poor horse and I felt I was sitting on a steep slippery slope. I had to ask for my dreaded gaucho saddle back. There might be a lesson in that — better to go native or should that be stick with the devil you know? Continue reading Uruguay Atlantic Coast Ride