Getting ready to go on a night horse ride in the AndesHorses can see in the dark, so moonlight rides or full moon horseback trips in the mountains are a possible adventure

We were recently asked to provide a horseback ride into the pre-cordillera of the Andes,close to Santiago, at night. It turned out to be full moon, although that was coincidental as it was a birthday party of a special kind. As it happened, it was a cloudy night and pretty dark. We had lights at the barbecue site but the guests had to ride up, and later down, in the dark, from their ‘Day Ride’ held at night.

A good fire for cooking barbecue and for riders to warm themselvesThe arrieros made a good fire and cooked the barbecue for the ridersThe birthday girl with the arrieros after the feast in the mountains

Luckily horses can see at night, so there was no problem apart from a little nervous anxiety. Our head guide told me that horses can not only see, they have a powerful sense of smell and can follow another horse this way, ‘olfateando’.  Once on a 12 day ride where I was a client, not provider, the main ride got separated from the mule train which had all our warm clothes, food and camping equipment. We waited by a lake at about 3000 metres for the mules to arrive. Darkness fell and we began to despair. The journey that day had been steep and difficult even for our comparatively lightly- laden horses, but the mules were slowed down by their immense burdens.

Arrieros and client for a moonlight birthday party

Finally, in darkness, the arrieros with the mules came to a boggy area and it was now pitch dark. My arriero friend told me that the head guide that day made a potentially fatal error. He got off his horse. I asked why this was so terrible. My friend answered that once you get off you confuse the horse who expects you to lead him; therefore he doesn’t use his own instincts properly. I asked, ‘So what happened?’ He replied, ” I kicked my horse forward and he took the lead”; smelling where our horses had trodden in daylight, and took the correct path through the bog. They arrived, so all was well, at about 11 pm having climbed, laden, right up a mountain and then down, down through bog and darkness to the lake where we were waiting in the cold for them.

ADjusting the reins and stirrups before riding off

Arriero checks that all is well for his client before she sets off into the night