Studies have shown that altitude affects horses much as it does us humans………the low oxygen availability makes work more difficult, acidity of the blood decreases and pressures within the pulmonary vessels increases. In people we know that Altitude Sickness culminates in a plethoria of symptoms such as headaches, nausea, general malaise…..do horses also get Altitude Sickness? The answer is we do not know.
Horses do however acclimatise to high altitude. Compared to us humans, horses have a tremendous athletic capability and don’t appear to suffer as much in the acclimatisation process.
Following high altitude acclimatisation, horses experience an enhanced oxygen delivering capacity during training and racing and thus “high altitude training” has become quite trendy in the racing world through a program of “live high, train low” where the horses can benefit from the physiological effects of altitude acclimatisation without suffering untoward effects of chronic altitude exposure.
Once again horses and their abilities never ceases to amaze me. The horses I rode in Ecuador live, work and play in high altitude conditions and are incredibly fit and athletic, I could only imagine the scope of their sporting prowess at lower altitudes. Our highest point was 4,100m above sea levels, and these horses cantered along as if it were nothing to them! Climbing higher and higher through the Ecuadorian Andes, exertion was evident, but once the hard work was done they recovered almost instantaneously with heart rates and respiratory rates normalising rapidly. Despite their impeccable fitness, we did rest the horses often and changed our mounts throughout our 7 days in the mountains and volcanoes of Ecuador to ensure they each had adequate rest periods.
I rode 4 different horses during my Ecuadorian Adventure and as always each was unique, wonderful and special.
My first horse was the fabulously handsome El Hiero. We spent the first two days riding enclosed amongst the peaks of the Illinizas, Corazon, Cotopaxi and Ruminahui just south of Quito. We reached a high point of 3,600m above sea-level and El Hiero worked faultlessly meandering higher and higher.
As always, I love a horse with an interesting personality, El Hiero certainly had his own mind and opinions and was a little coiled spring of fun enjoying nice long canters along the sandy tracks of the highlands.
I rode this little Anglo-Arab just for a day whilst we raced through the paramo in the foothills of Antisana and climbed through the clouds to avoid the thunderstorm brewing below! Although an older boy, he was a little pocket rocket of fun and just got the job done……must be the Arab in him!
Sally bought Capuli as a 3 year old……..her intention was just to buy Tostado but little Capuli was stuck to his best friend like glue so she acquired both! I only rode him for a day but fell in love with his cheeky persona! He is such a dinky little horse, extremely well balanced and a lot of fun to ride enjoying multiple nice long canters as we trailed through the Hacienda’s avoiding fighting bulls and wild horses!!
Capuli’s best friend and youngest of the herd, his mother is a full Appaloosa!
I rode Tostado for our final 3 days of riding when we entered Cotopaxi national Park and adored him! This horse is such a gent, so laid back and chilled and unbelievably fit!! He would canter for miles, climb and climb and climb in high altitude conditions without even breaking a sweat. We faced some scary narrow paths with sheer, sheer drops but nothing fazed this genuine boy…..not even the mighty Cotopaxi!
Andean Adventure Ecuador with Ride Andes (www.rideandes.com) September 2012.
Author : Janine Whyte (Indiana Neeners Globetrottingcowgirl.)