Why are people scared of spiders? They are tiny, even the biggest spiders on earth are no bigger than your foot, which you can use to crush any spider you encounter. They are skittish in nature. When you walk up on one it doesn’t come at you like a bear, it runs away. If a spider were to bite you, most of them would cause only a little irritation. I don’t understand why so many people are scared of them and not scared of some of the bigger creatures.

Everyone has a laugh when I say I’m scared of horses, but to me that seems so much more rational than a smaller creature like a spider or snake. An adult horse weighs up to a ton, and all of that is pure muscle. They are faster than you. You can out run a group of stampeding spiders, not stampeding horses. I’m also told horses can sense your emotion which for me translates to them literally “smelling my fear.”

So I had never ridden a horse before day 3 in Patagonia. But if there’s anyplace to do it, I guess Patagonia is a good first location. So on this rainy day in Chile I gracefully mounted my horse, Zapato. By gracefully I mean two grown men pushed me onto the saddle. Meaning shoe for all of you with no Spanish training, Zapato is one of the largest horses in the group, but thankfully one of the laziest as well. With me positioned at the back of the group for most of the journey, we head off on our adventure.

Through the trees, over rocky streams, on the side of the mountains we climb the Patagonia landscape. I keep imagining those early scenes in Lord of the Rings looking out over Torres Del Paine. The rain travels with us as we go, another reminder to the unpredictability of weather in this area.

Two baqueanos accompany us on the trip. Baqueanos are the Chilean version of cowboys, skillful riders that can practically talk to horses. Our two guides help keep us in line and keep people like me from getting too far behind.

Dressing properly for rain in the states and dressing for rain in South America are two different things. After hours of downpour our group succumbs to the elements and turns back around. Our guide radios the camp to light the stoves in our domes in anticipation of our cold and wet arrival.

Sure enough though as soon as we turn around the sun comes out as the storm continues on without us. At this point Zapato has figured out that I am scared of him and will not rebuke anything he does. He takes his time heading back; stopping at every branch we pass to take a bite to eat. Eventually a baqueano has to take the reigns from me and lead Zapato back to the rest of the group.

As we get closer to camp a group of us turn off onto a different trail at the base of the mountains. A short ride later brings us to an open field, where the baqueanos of Patagonia give us galloping lessons under the towers of Torres Del Paine. It’s a once in a lifetime thing that a horse lover would be thrilled to do. I myself am amazed as I watch the rest of my group gallop across the field from the safety of my own two feet on the ground.

Eventually we return the horses to their stables and walk back to camp. The shortened journey has turned into an afternoon of rest and relaxation. Our domes are warm and cozy when we return to them and after a warm shower and maybe a short nap, we head over to the yoga dome. Even if you’re not a regular yoga practitioner I highly recommend trying it in a place like this. There’s something in the air here that really connects a person to their chi.

Once finished with our practice we head over to the community domes. With our daily exercise out of the way, it’s time for drinks and comradery. There’s something about alcohol and shared adventures that bring people together. We stay up late listening to music and stories with travelers from all over the world.

My first horseback ride with Zapato.
It looks like I’m ahead of the group, but I’m actually holding the people behind me up.
Over the creek.
A rare pygmy owl.
A Baqueano, a Chilean cowboy.
Whenever we started up, Zapato and I started in front because we were so slow.
Baqueanos striking a pose.
The skies clear on the journey home.
Galloping in an open meadow.
With some time to kill we find our chi in the yoga dome.
Dessert.
Behind the bar at the community dome. This place can get rowdy at night.