Horses on the Galapagos Islands

Galapagos Islands

This is Stine again, guest post writer for Hooves Around The World. I went to the Galapagos Islands with my friend to volunteer at Galapagos Horse Friends. We found the organisation on workaway, applied to volunteer, and were accepted. I would like to tell you about my experience here but first I will tell you a little bit about the Galapagos Islands. 

The Galapagos Islands consist of 21 islands. We flew to San Cristobal and stayed here for one week. When you first arrive at San Cristobal, you will be surprised by the life on this island. On the roads, sidewalks and beaches, there are sea lions laying around, chilling in the shade. Giant iguanas are suntanning on the rocks and boobies sitting just far enough away to feel safe but still close enough so you can admire their blue feet. On San Cristobal, there are not many of the giant tortoises living in the wild but there is a sanctuary that you can visit for free. San Cristobal can be discovered within a few days. The island itself is not that big and there is one main road. After relaxing on San Cristobal for a week, we went to Santa Cruz. It’s a two-hour boat ride from San Cristobal to Santa Cruz. Arriving at Santa Cruz was a whole other experience. The town is much bigger and there is a lot more life. There is a wide choice of restaurants and bars. A lot more tourists as well. 

The wildlife is less on land. However, there is a better chance of seeing sea turtles and small sharks in the ocean. There are not that many sea lions and they don’t go on land as much as they do on San Cristobal.

We lived in the highlands of Santa Cruz. It’s a 30-minute bus ride from Puerto Ayora. It changed from sunshine, beaches and the whole holiday vibe to being cloudy, humid and surrounded by green jungle. Walking in the highlands is a truly amazing feeling. Here you can spot the giant tortoises everywhere! They are on the sides of the roads, in the fields and even in people’s gardens. They walk around free and they are protected by law. You can get pretty close to them before they go into hiding in their shell. 

Backpacker and a giant tortoise on the Galapagos islands
Stine and a giant tortoise!

One morning when we were walking to work, we met a giant tortoise. It was eating the grass next to the road but its leg was stuck in a barbed wire. It tried to get away from it couldn’t get out of the wire. We went up to help it and luckily, tortoises aren’t aggressive. It went back into its shell, but we could loosen the barbed wire with the help of a stick. We couldn’t set it free completely because that would mean touching the tortoise, but when we walked back later it was free from the barbed wire and we could pick the barbed wire up and put it in the trash where it belonged.

The Galapaguenos are very responsible people. From a very young age, they are taught not to throw trash. The locals who showed us around took it very seriously and didn’t throw any litter where it didn’t belong. Not even a small piece of plastic. They are very proud of their islands and they take good care of them.

A sea lion near the beach on the Galapagos islands

The beaches on the Galapagos Islands are truly amazing. You can go to the beach right next to the town or you can take a taxi and see the more remote beaches. There are a lot of opportunities to do different activities. They are several day cruises where you sail around and visit all the islands. They offer hiking trips, scuba diving, snorkelling and much more. We went on a snorkelling tour. Every tourist office suggests a different place and has their personal opinion about which place is better to go to. We had gotten a recommendation from a local to go to Pinzon Island, so we found a trip going to this island and another one. We started the trip in Puerto Ayora and sailed for about 1,5 hours. We did a test swim to see if everyone could swim and was happy with their equipment. Personally, I don’t like water, swimming, or any of the sea life, but this experience was special! You could get so close to all the big colourful fish and play with the sea lions. The views under the water were incredible. As we got to the next destination, the water was deeper and colder. Here I didn’t feel quite as comfortable. Anyway, I jumped in and followed the group. Holding on to my friend’s hand, we swam in between the shoal of fish. Then we swam with the sea turtles and sharks. The sea turtles are in deeper and colder water. You can swim right next to them without them doing anything else but look at you. The sharks are laying in the shallow water where it's warm. The guide took us by the hand one by one and swam with us over the sharks. When he first came and took my hand, I didn’t know what was happening, so when we swam over the sharks, I panicked. The water was not more than one meter deep, so we were swimming so close to the sharks you could feel them touching your stomach. As I realised nothing would happen and that the guide wouldn’t have brought us if it was dangerous, I could relax. It was a fascinating experience to swim so close to the sharks. 

Backpacker on the beach on the Galapagos islands
Stine on one of the dreamy beaches she visited.

We were almost back at the boat as a young sea lion was following us. The guide swam to the young sea lion and started swimming in loops. The sea lion imitated him and they were both swimming in loops next to each other. It was fun to see just how playful these animals are. 

If you go to the Galapagos, I would recommend you do a snorkelling tour. Everything on the Galapagos is expensive, so be prepared you won’t be able to do all the activities. At least if you’re a backpacker like myself.

Enough about the travel recommendations. Now to what this blog is all about. Horses. If you are thinking “Horseback riding on the Galapagos. That sounds cool” then yes it does! But it won’t happen. The horses on the Galapagos Islands are working horses for the people on the islands. They are not used for tourism. Something to take into account is the fact that there are no certified horse vets on the islands. There’s not the right medicine and not enough knowledge in case something happens to your horse. There are no farriers, so the owners have to do the hoof care themselves. Horses are introduced to the Galapagos Islands and they are not there through natural circumstances. And unfortunately, the locals don’t have the same view on horses and horse welfare as most of us. 

Backpacker cuddling a horse at a rescue on the Galapagos islands
Stine's friend Hannah with one of the Galapagos Horse Friends horses.

This is where Galapagos Horse Friends comes in. My friend and I wanted to volunteer to save money but also help out and contribute to a good cause. Galapagos Horse Friends is a nonprofit organisation. The owner Claudia Moreno is a German woman with a strong desire to help the horses. She rescues horses from Santa Cruz. The horses she rescued have either been abandoned by their owner or were found by locals in bad condition. When we were there in December 2021, she lived with a herd of 16 horses. That is a lot of horses that need care and attention every day. This is why she invites volunteers to stay with her and appreciates it when someone new comes to share their knowledge. Galapagos Horse Friends survives off of donations and horse retreats. The organisation works together with Christina Marz who is the founder of Horse Guided Empowerment® and MarzMethod®. This is all part of the retreats that are offered. If you want to know more about this, feel free to check out their website.

Through a horse's ears: rescued horses napping in the field
The rescues having a nap in the field!

We started work every day at around 8am. We went out to the horses in the field, which was right next to our house, and started grooming them. We picked their hooves every day and brushed them. This could take around an hour. Afterward, we began working with them separately. We did horsemanship with around 5 horses a day. This meant that they would have 2 days off before we would work with them again. Most of them didn’t need that much work before they were too tired. For the rest of the day, the horses had all the freedom they wanted to graze and enjoy their life. We worked around 3-4 hours, 5 days a week. After work, we had time to go out and explore the island. This work was a great opportunity for us. 

All the horses were nice; however, some needed a bit more work than others. They all have very different personalities and you have to remember they are all here because someone didn’t treat them right. Some love humans and won’t give you your personal space while others have no trust in humans. During the training with the horses, there are many different things you need to consider with each horse. It was a great experience and we felt lucky to be able to contribute to this project.

You can donate to Galapagos Horse Friends here.

If you are going to the Galapagos and are looking for a place to volunteer, this is a great place! It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If you have any questions, feel free to send me a DM on Instagram at @stineandersen98.

You can read all of Stine's guest posts below.

Horse riding in Ecuador

Horse riding in Brazil

Horse riding in Uruguay

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