The Delights of Growing Up and Riding In Ecuador
by Pat Kitchen
In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s we lived in Quito, Ecuador. The area where we lived faced Pichincha, an active, ever smoking, volcano. One of my best friends was an Ecuadorian girl, Patricia. Patricia and her family lived a block away from our house, and we spent a lot of time together. In fact, Patricia and her sisters taught me Spanish, and one of the first things they taught me was how to curse in Spanish! I spent many weekends with her and her family at their hacienda, high up in the Andes Mountains.
Her family was well respected, and I believe her father held a position with the Ecuadorian Government. I know that they were very well off by Ecuadorian standards. They had a nice house in Quito and two haciendas, but I was only ever invited to the one, where their fathers family, Abuela, Abuelo and Tia lived (I never knew their names I just referred to them as Abuela, Abuelo and Tia). The daughters spoke some English, but the parents and elders did not, so they taught me Spanish, using lots and lots of sign language to translate. Before living in Ecuador, we had lived in Algeria, where I learned to speak French. Patricia and her sisters helped me lose my French accent and pick up a Spanish (Castellanos dialect) accent in its place.
The hacienda was only a couple of hours away from my home, just off one of many dirt roads. It was very rural, there was no television or telephone. After we got to the gates of their hacienda, we would stop and Patricia’s father would put the tail gate of the pick-up down and let us kids ride on the tail gate of pick up. I have to admit, I was a chicken and never rode on the tail gate. On one trip Patricia fell off the tail gate and scraped the side of her face, so we spent most of that weekend in the hospital with Patricia so perhaps I was right to be cautious. On most weekends, after everyone was somewhat settled in and if it was early enough, Patricia and I would grab a horse from her barn, which was constructed like a pole barn and get ready to ride.
The saddles they had were simple. Some looked like pieces of wood with heavy woven cloth surrounding the wood, no stirrups. They also had a type of western saddle, made of leather and that had stirrups, but it was different from the western saddle we have here in the US not nearly has heavy. Both styles had cinches. I have to admit that I never could and still cannot figure out how to properly secure a cinch. We could put woven cloth or sheepskin on the saddle to cushion our behinds.
There was no bridle per se. We used rope, drapping it around the horses head, using part of the same rope as a bit (if we wanted one) and reins. We would ride through the corn fields, grabbing ears of corn or corn stalks as we went. Patricia would show me which ears of corn to pick and how to shuck the cob and get rid of the silk. We would eat the corn while walking around, and to this day I still eat my corn raw. She also showed me what could be done with the sweet meat of corn stalks. We would peel the bark with our teeth and suck out the sweet juice, then spit out the meat. Peeling and chewing on the corn stalks was much the same thing I learned to do with sugar cane.
We would walk the horses around vegetable garden, stopping and picking up what we wanted to eat, sometimes sharing it with our horses, especially the carrots, peas and beans. To this day I eat very few cooked vegetables. Raw food diets are nothing new to me! The horses were always happy to stop and wait while we sought food. When the reins were dropped, the horses were trained to stay there, they never wandered anywhere. They knew we would bring them treats when we came back. Our biggest obstacle was keeping the horses heads picked up long enough to get out of the corn field. Many times we would kick them soundly on their sides, with a really loud cluck we would race to get out of the fields because if we dawdled we were doomed.
Once out of the corn field, we would run and gallop all over their pastures and through some small creeks. We would even run the horses around their cows, until we made them mad enough to chase us. Patricia’s family would get angry at us for upsetting the cows, so that was about the time we would head to the tienda.The 'tienda' was a small store that only sold necessities. It was off their property but on the same dirt road that took us to their hacienda. Here we would delight in stopping for a Fanta (an orange soda), and ice cream.
Us girls stayed so busy that sleeping was never a problem. We were up early in the mornings, usually before Patricia’s parents were up. Patricia’s parents let us do pretty much whatever we wanted, it's not like there was anything we could really mess up. We would throw corn out, sometimes stale bread too, for the chickens and ducks. But, if we decided that we wanted to ride that day we would have to milk a cow in the morning! Some of that milk would be poured onto a piece of cloth to strain it and into another container. It was then put on the table and some used for Café Ole, thick dark coffee with a lot of hot/boiled milk. The milk would come to a full rolling boil and be poured into a big thick clay mug with the coffee and lots of sugar. I might have been a guest, but if I wanted to ride I had to learn to milk a cow. The cow area was very stinky and there was cow and horse manure everywhere. After a lot of waste and many laughs at my expense as I learned this craft, I finally figured it out. I wasn’t thrilled, but I did it. After all I love to ride. What a good time we had!