Horse riding and volunteering in Colombia


Finding one-day horse riding trails in Colombia can be difficult, especially if you are looking for horses that are well cared for. Colombia is a massive country, and absolutely stunning! If you want to go on a horseback ride in Colombia, I definitely recommend doing a multi-day horse riding holiday. I suggest going on one of our very own Hooves trips in Colombia. Read my blog post about their indescribable horse rides, or send me a message if you have any questions.

Written by Stine Andersen
Photos by Stine Andersen

Steel Horse's story: traveling through South America

From growing up in the UK, riding cross country, to living the dream on a horse ranch in Colombia. This Colombian adventure has been going on for 7 years now and is just getting started. However, you must be made of something special to do that. Imagine travelling from Colombia, through Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina and then all the way back up. Not just by bus or plane, but by motorcycle. Yvette of Steel Horse did this. An incredible experience, you can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like. 

Travelling around Colombia has been a lot of fun for us! As always, I am travelling with my friend and we have met the most amazing Colombian people. However, after two months something was still missing. We both love Colombia but travelling from hostel to hostel and meeting other tourists simply wasn’t what we were looking for. 

Obviously, you can guess it. We needed a horseback ride. Not just some random “Paseo a caballo” you can find in any town. We wanted to go somewhere special and get to know the countryside of Colombia on horseback. We had been in contact with Steel Horse before, regarding volunteering but unfortunately it didn’t quite fit into any of our plans at the time. Since I am currently working for Hooves Around The World, and I am in Colombia, I thought “Why not do a ride with Steel Horse and share it with all the other horse enthusiasts that are looking for places to go horseback riding in Colombia?” So that is exactly what I am doing.

Horse riding in Colombia
Riders enjoying a beer while the horses are having a break. 

Trail riding with Steel Horse

Steel Horse is a charming Finca – Colombian ranch, just a 10 minute drive outside of Filandia. Filandia is a local town but more tourists are starting to discover its potential. If you go to Colombia you will surely hear about Salento. From one traveller to another, go to Jardin and Filandia. You can easily skip Salento. Filandia is what Salento once was. A cute local town with the locals sitting outside the small bars and chatting. Today Salento is a tourist hotspot, with nice vegan restaurants, crowded tourist attractions and one million souvenir shops that all sell the same jewellery, hats and t-shirts. 

Filandia does have a few souvenir shops and nice restaurants. Not sure if they are vegan, but you can get some great rice and beans at the local restaurants. 

A great experience in Filandia is horseback riding with Steel Horse. My friend and I did a full-day trail ride and enjoyed it very much. We rode our horses past banana, coffee and avocado plantations. Rode on the small dirt roads past the colourful Colombian houses. It was a truly authentic experience. Every Colombian you ride past will say “Hola” and wish you a beautiful day. Some might even stare at you with their mouth open. (Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of this). 

The tour will be adjusted depending on what the group wishes for. You can ride at a faster pace if you’re more experienced horse riders, or maybe just take it easy if you’re a beginner group. 
If the group has more than 3 guests, there will be two guides on horseback going with you on the ride. Usually, it is Yvette guiding the group, and then Hugo in the back. 

Horse riding holiday in Colombia
Hannah pointing out the coffee plants.  

Hugo is a Colombian man who has been working for Steel Horse almost from the beginning. When I asked how she got in contact with Hugo, she answered “Everyone knows Hugo, he was just there”. That’s how you know he’s a local fella. Hugo grew up on the Colombian countryside and knows everything there is to know about herding cattle and taking care of horses. Hugo is a true “llanero”. Llanero is the word for a man from the country in Colombia. The same way they have the gauchos in Argentina and Uruguay, huasos in Chile and chagras in Ecuador. The llanero Hugo is, he is a quiet man. He will be the last rider in the group and you will think he's fallen asleep, but he is the one who will be the first to spot any trouble ahead. He’s a great horse man and if you ask him a question he will nod or shake his head, or maybe even reply with a one-word sentence if you’re lucky, but it’s nothing personal. 

Yvette and Hugo have a great partnership and show mutual respect for each other. I value partnerships where foreigners work together with locals and ask them for help. This, at least from my experience, is a great way of combining culture and authenticity with certain standards that ensure the wellbeing of each horse.

The horses at Steel Horse are all very well behaved and are both suitable for beginners and experienced riders. A beginner and an experienced rider can both go for a ride (obviously not at the same time…) on the same horse and have two completely different experiences! They all have their own personalities and Yvette takes good care of her horses, and has a story to tell about every one of them. The horses are criollos, Appaloosas, Belgian cross criollo and quarter mixes. She has 10 horses with 9 of them being active tour horses. The last one had a broken leg, but luckily, she recovered. She is only being used for kids now and else she is living her best life walking around in the garden. Fortunately, it is not hard to get vets out there. It is not too far out, and Filandia is a relatively wealthy area with a lot of horses around, meaning  they had the right equipment to help the mare recover. The horse was sleeping outside during the night and during the day she would be “hanging” in a hammock, so she could stand on all four legs but without putting too much pressure on any of the legs. 

Horse riding in Colombia
Pegaso at our lunch stop

Steel Horse is owned by Yvette, who I briefly mentioned earlier. The woman who rode her motorbike through South America? Yes, that’s her. Yvette bought the farm in 2016 as she was travelling through. She was looking for some place to “settle down” but didn’t quite know which country. Understandably she chose Colombia.

Steel Horse offers both one-day and multi-day horseback rides in Colombia. When I travel, I tend to look for horseback riding ranches owned by foreigners. In most cases they have higher standards of horse care, and show more affection towards their animals. Obviously, it is also a little more pricey, but please, pay those extra 30 USD for your horse to be happy and get fed. They also have better resources to start up their business and keep their business running. (This is my own personal opinion that I have gained by travelling and visiting ranches). 

Steel Horse offers multi-day horse rides for up to 2 weeks. You will ride from one Colombian finca to another and in between you will enjoy the beauty of the Colombian nature through your horse's ears. If you wish, they can also arrange for you to go camping instead of staying at the Fincas, but Colombia gets a lot of rain at times, like the really, really wet kind, and when everything you own is wet and you have to ride again the next day, it is no fun (speaking from experience). Regarding the price, it is almost the same, whether you stay at a beautiful local Finca or go camping in the remote hills. In general, the prices at Steel Horse are very budget friendly. Yvette is very down to earth and an absolutely amazing host. On your horse ride you will pass by some local bars where you can stop to have a beer and just enjoy the quiet countryside of Colombia. Yvette is flexible about the trail rides and can tailor them just as you want, which is such a benefit when it comes to horseback riding. 

Horse ranch in South America
A beautiful morning at Steel Horse

She is always exploring new trails so she never gets tired of her rides. Not even after 7 years. Sometimes she will take her motorbike and just drive around exploring new trails for her horseback rides. When she makes it so far out that she can no longer get through with her bike, that’s when she knows that here is her next route on horseback. 

Steel Horse also works as a hostel and you can even rent the whole house if you are to have an event. We stayed one night here and we wished we could have stayed much longer! The house is something special. Outside it looks like the typical Colombian house with every colour imaginable. Inside it is spacious. Like very spacious. It is decorated with details from Colombia like saddles, tack, ponchos and hats hanging on the walls. Even if you don’t want to go horseback riding, you should just go there for the hostel and the surroundings. Oh! And the dogs!  

Horse riding holiday in Colombia
You will ride past traditional Colombian houses and neighbourhoods 

Volunteering with horses in Colombia

If you have references from previous places where you have volunteered or worked, there is a chance that you can volunteer at Steel Horse. It can be hard for ranches to know if the volunteers reaching out to them are good workers or just want a free holiday. Therefore, you need to have previous volunteer experience, common sense, be able to help out when it's needed and be proactive. Your work will consist of guiding tours, feeding horses, general maintenance and if needed, help around the house. As mentioned above, Steel Horse is also a hostel, so there are always people around who are looking for a friendly face to talk to.

If you tick all the boxes, Steel Horse might just be your new favourite place! If you get to volunteer at Steel Horse you will have a lot of freedom in the sense that you won’t have anyone looking over your shoulder watching your every move. You will have an incredible amount of fun with Yvette as she is a wonderful person.  You will get to work alongside her local workers who will be able to teach you a lot. They do only speak Spanish, so a basic knowledge of Spanish is needed. 
There's no minimum stay, so even if you’re just passing through Filandia and are looking for a place to settle down for a few weeks, this is the perfect place. You could even start your Colombia trip here, to get to know the local culture and the country. 

We only spent roughly 36 hours at Yvette’s place but leaving was like saying goodbye to a long-time friend. The atmosphere and hospitality was amazing and Yvette is a person full of joy and adventures. She will welcome you with open arms and make sure you have an amazing ride and a beautiful stay.

Feel free to send me a message on Instagram @stineandersen98 if you want to know more about Colombia and horseback riding in Colombia.

Find out more about Steel Horse here.

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