Where do we begin?
Origin Stories of CuraKuda
It all began with an idea, what if we rode horseback across Patagonia?
Just a guy and a girl, two dogs, three horses, and 1000 kilometers traversing the wild Patagonian backcountry...
Abriendo Caminos: A journey across Patagonia
What began as a crazy idea to ride horseback across Patagonia, became an experience that would change the course of our lives. When we first hatched our idea, a million and one plans unfolded- from strict timelines to buy and train the horses, to logistical planning to find fixers and map a route. As the time for our ride drew closer, we realized this was a journey that was meant to unfold outside the boundaries of a strict plan; so, we decided we’d be better off being prepared for anything, rather than trying to prepare for everything.
In January 2016, we packed up our house in Pucón and headed south with our two dogs. Our plan? Hitchhike the entire length of the Chilean Patagonia to Villa O’Higgins, the “terminus” of the Carretera Austral. Once we made it there, we would begin the process of finding three horses to buy, and then ride as far north as we could. We hoped to ride all the way home to Pucón, but the health of our horses and the unpredictability of what could occur deep in the wilderness of Patagonia, would ultimately dictate how far we would ride. One way or another, we would get the entire team back to Pucón.
The first month was spent camping in Villa O’Higgins, getting to know the local families who had lived in the region for generations. How does one go about buying horses in Patagonia? With a whole lot of patience. Building trust in the local community was an essential part of this ride. As locals got to know us and our intentions, we pulled together our equine team of strong, brave Chilean Criollos and ventured into the wilderness on our own.
Although there is currently no uninterrupted wilderness trail running through the region, we pieced together a unique route based on the terrain we encountered and access we were granted as we traveled north. We took our time to meet and listen to locals and connect with land owners and caretakers as we passed through the region. We followed rivers for days until we arrived at the mouths of the glaciers from where they were born; we traversed mountain ridges and countless old growth forests of southern Patagonia using old pioneer routes that have nearly been forgotten. We followed unmarked trails guided by the stories of the few local gauchos who still used them to move animals into the backcountry. When necessary we followed old logging roads and, when absolutely necessary, rode along the infamous Carretera Austral.
We spent three months riding steadily north, fully embracing the elements of Patagonia and feeling fully embraced by its people. As we approached Puerto Cisnes, we decided it was in the best interest of our horses for us to get home to give them a rest. Enduring the weeks of icy rain that blew in with autumn, was also wearing on us as we awoke each morning to frosty tents and frozen equipment. Once we arrived at the port, we loaded our loyal horses and pups on a boat and sailed through the fjords of the Patagonian coast, onward to Chiloe. From Chiloé we finished the last leg of our journey via truck- the first time we’d used a vehicle since we bought our horses in Villa O’Higgins.
Long Riders Unite: A herd destined to find one another
Our adventure didn’t end in Patagonia. Shortly after arriving in Pucón and settling our Patagonian Criollos in volcano country, a twist of fate brought four more courageous and beautiful long rider horses into the herd and into our hearts.
Just before we set off for Patagonia, we were contacted by The Long Riders' Guild and encouraged to connect with Matty Hannon, who was also about to start a long distance horse trek with his girlfriend Heather Hillier. Matty and Heather had embarked on a multi-year surf expedition, traveling from Alaska to Pichilemu, Chile, by motorbike. In Pichilemu they decided to trade in their bikes for some real horse power, and continued their journey south on horseback.
Through random exchanges over email, we found an easy virtual friendship forming across the distance. As Heather and Matty traveled south along the coast of Chile with their four horses, and we journeyed north across the Patagonian mountains with our three. When we arrived back in Pucón, Matty and Heather had reached Concepcíon and were contemplating the end of the horse-powered part of their trip.
As they quickly found, it can be challenging to sell horses to a good home just before winter. It's expensive to feed a horse through the harsh, long winters here, and because there is a thriving horse meat industry in Chile, and it is regularly consumed, butchers are willing to pay a particularly high price. Matty and Heather were haunted by the prospect of selling their horses to someone who would only turn around and sell them for meat.
When they asked if we'd be willing to add four more horses to our herd, we were a bit struck by the synchronicity of it all, and a little overwhelmed. At the time we had no idea what we would do with seven horses, or how we would manage to feed them through the long winter, but in our gut it just felt meant to be, we had to say yes. They rode them south and eventually our two herds of long distance trekkers became one, and our little band of three became seven.
CuraKuda is born
How can we build a business that can be of service to the wellbeing of the horses, to the wellbeing of the environment, to the wellbeing of our communities, and ensure our own wellbeing is supported?
This is the question that started it all.
The arrival of these horses in our lives felt like a clear invitation to build something meaningful here in Chile. The horses would be a key part of that, but they would participate as partners, not as financial assets on a balance sheet.
Above all, we committed to ensure these horses would be treated with love and respect in all moments, for the rest of their lives.
We both grew up with horses and are seasoned equestrians. We have a diverse background in a variety of disciplines working with horses. Having just finished a long ride of our own, we felt well-equipped to start a horse trekking company, and were excited to share with others the magical experience of camping and slow travel by horse. However, we didn't want to follow the usual horse trekking model that often sacrifices the wellbeing of the horse for the profit of the business; we also wanted to have a positive impact on the wilderness areas where we worked- not just reduce our negative impact- so we had to get creative and take our idea further.
We knew that our work had to ensure we were honoring the wisdom and wellbeing of the horses, of our clients, and of these pristine environments we adventure in. That's what ultimately inspired us to build a company offering authentic learning journeys that integrate equine facilitated learning and coaching, wilderness education, personal and leadership development, and adventure.
Every service we offer begins with practices of mindfulness and self-awareness that connects our clients to the horse that they partner with and the environment around us.
Every experience we facilitate builds understanding of horse language and body language so that our clients are empowered to listen to, and understand, what their horse and their body is communicating to them.
We believe that through this work we are able to build bridges of connection between the human heart, the hearts of our horses, and the environments we work to protect.
Curious how? Head over to Our Vision to learn more about the commitments we've made as a mission-driven company.