Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a horse lover. In fact, almost half my life has been spent riding, showing, grooming, and just generally taking care of horses. One aspect of this trip that I’ve been focused on is taking advantage of horseback riding opportunities whenever I could. So when I knew we were headed for Mexico’s highlands I also knew that I’d probably die if I didn’t get to go horseback riding in Jalisco.
However, I won’t just ride any horse. The health and well being of the horses offered for hire are things that I’m very aware of and choosing a responsible horse tour is crucial. For non-horsey people it can be hard. You see a string of horses all saddled up and waiting for your sunset ride on the beach. It’s a wonderful experience to have on vacation but how do you know that the horse’s tack fits properly? How do you know if the horse’s feet are properly cared for? How do you know that riding that horse actually causes it pain?
It’s for this reason that I always do my best to ensure that the horses I ride are in good shape and the people that own the horses and run the tours actually give a shit about their animals.
Enter Celena Reynolds at Hacienda de Taos.
Horseback Riding in Jalisco
When we decided to escape the heat of Sayulita we headed for Lake Chapala. Mostly known for its expat community in Ajijic on the north side of the lake, we headed south to the other side of the lake, which is about as rurally Mexican as you can get. The ranch is tucked way back in the bush near one of those little villages that one quickly forgets the name of.
One of the best things about Hacienda de Taos is that it’s not a dude ranch. It’s not a ranch where you’ll ride for a few hours then return to your hotel where colorfully garbed señoritas are waiting for you with a frosty margarita. This is a working ranch and while they do offer simple cabins for accommodation you’re going to get a very real idea of what Mexican ranch life is really about.
Celena’s herd consists mostly of American Quarter horses with the odd addition of an Icelandic pony and a Cob. Not what one would expect but these are all working horses and some can only be claimed by very experienced riders.
Celena and her partner Jose had cleared a spot for Moby and we quickly settled in. Since a couple of horses were already tacked up Celena and I took a short ride around the property and she pointed out some of the different horses and their names. Then she segued into a bit of her life story.
This is the kind of story you hear from a true horsewoman. And I know she’s got a million more.
Not Your Average Horsewoman
She and her ex-husband were living in Guatemala and were trying to cross the border into Mexico with their horses. The Guatemalan border patrol was coming up with every excuse under the sun to deny the horses exit from Guatemala and basically had them on lockdown.
Her ex-husband crossed into Mexico and found a nearby rancher and his staff who were ready to help, but the horses had to get across the border first. Celena was able to free the horses and took them deep into the jungle to hide them. She was confronted, violently at times, by the locals who were not keen to let go of these obviously valuable horses. So, at the end of the day she made a drastic decision to save them. Riding the oldest horse and with a yearling and weanling in tow she encouraged her horse jump into the river separating Mexico and Guatemala and swum them though a heavy current to safety in Mexico. The local rancher was waiting and immediately saddled them and whisked them away. If he was confronted he would say the horses were his. Celena crossed the border, retrieved her family and her horses, and eventually settled in Jalisco.
I just love hearing stories like that; I love hearing how far people will go for their horses, or any animal for that matter.
Not Your Average Trail Ride
So for my horsebacking riding in Jalisco experience I chose a full day ride and then a moonlight ride with a campfire. I was up bright and early and found Pirate, my mount for the day, already tacked and waiting. Celena, Jose, and I then spent about six hours winding our way through farmland, down overgrown dirt paths, and scrambling through rocky creek beds.
This isn’t your average trail ride. This isn’t a nose to tail, no cantering saunter through the meadow. This is a ride with tight squeezes, branches slapping your face, leaning back as your horse slips and slides down a rocky embankment kind of ride. This is the kind of ride that really tests your ability to handle a horse in a tricky environment.
However, horseback riding is the best way to see beautiful Jalisco with the Colima volcano looming overhead. The terrain is lush farmland and it was either corn or cattle no matter which way you looked. And I never thought I’d say this but corn may have saved my life that day.
As we were returning and were about 30 minutes away from home an intense lightning storm hit. We were riding very near to high overhead power lines, I was on a horse with metal shoes, and I’m fucking terrified of lightning. I mean, really, really terrified.
As the bolts struck all around us we found a rudimentary shelter in a corn field. After tying the horses up we waited out the storm, sipping tequila from the flask Celena had brought and chewing on cornstalks (they actually taste pretty good). Once it was safe we headed home drenched and as I hauled myself out of the saddle I knew I’d be sore the next day.
We never did get to do the moonlight ride as the weather didn’t cooperate but we did round out our stay with the promised campfire and Jose’s father was there to serenade us with his guitar. It was one of those moments when you just can’t believe that this life happened today, and this moment was all about Jalisco, Mexico, and perception. I loved it.
Hacienda de Taos offers a number of different rides including multi day camping trips, lessons for beginners, and one in particular that I wish we’d had time for. The also offer cute cabins for guests who want to stay longer, and thanks to us, cleared sites for truck campers. Their wilderness survival course is the same as the multi day camping rides but you go out with nothing. You’ll learn to hunt, clean what you kill, start your own fires, and generally go Bear Grylls with horses.
If any of you readers ever go horseback riding in Jalisco and take that survival course I want to hear all about it.
As for me, I’m looking ahead to more horseback riding adventures as we head south. Argentinian polo ponies, I’m coming for you.
Horseback riding trips in Jalisco with Hacienda de Taos are fully customizable and vary in price. Contact Celena to schedule your horseback adventure. It really is a one of a kind experience.