The Argentina criollo gaucho horse breed was originated from the old Andalusian horse brought by the Spanish conquerors. A breed of great strength and hardiness, they quickly adapted to the harsh conditions of the new geography and to the needs of the native and gauchos, specially those from the current province of Buenos Aires.
The ancient Andalusian horse didn’t have Arabic origins. The studs that existed in the days of the conquest, in Cordoba, Sevilla and Jerez de la Frontera, had its origins in the Barb (or Berber) horses from northern Africa, brought centuries earlier by Moorish invaders.
These horses, mixed with the native ones originated the famed Spanish horse, then known as ‘horse rider’ referring to the warriors of the Moorish tribe, who were eminent breeders and warriors.
They expanded in the Castilian kingdoms and implemented, sports and practices known as the ‘school of the rider’, which gave way to the traditions, styles, methods for breaking and riding that still pervade among gauchos in Estancias.
The Criollo Breed is born
The horses of the conquerors gave rise to different types of South American horses.
“From those stallions and mares, exposed to different weathers, fed with different pastures, employed on different tasks, the descendent horses got adapted to the geographies, treacherous diseases and risks of the environment. In turn, somatic morphologies and physiological gifts managed by the crosses and selections imposed by men appeared, either within the wild herds or the cavalries.
During Colonial times, the Criollo horse became part of the history of those lands, it contributed to the construction of the new countries. The Criollo horse generated a culture around himself, a new venue for human expression. It helped indigenous groups to become riders too -Araucanos, Pampas and Tehuelches- to prolong their freedom with help of these animals, which joined their collective life, becoming their weapon, vehicle, food and passion.
Some of the animals used for warfare, brought in 1535 by Don Pedro de Mendoza, were set free after Buenos Aires was destroyed. Thanks to the conditions of the pampas, that little lot of horses adapted and reproduced portentously. The descendants formed herds of hundreds of thousands of wild horses –known as baguales- which were regarded in amazement by the Spanish conquistador Garay when he arrived to those territories in 1580.
The colonial life and stormy history of the nascent Argentina revolved around cattle and horses. Sales of leather, beef and tallow sustained the country. The cattle ranches were handled using horses until the introduction of barbed wire. The gauchos emerged as the most complete expression of man on horseback.
Decline and new rise of the Argentina Criollo gaucho horse
Argentina was a country populated by native horses descendent from the Andalusian breed. However, from the mid-Nineteenth Century, British and Percherons horses were introduced to the country. The indiscriminate crossbreeding spread in search of higher horses. However they were not very functional for war, livestock or travelling. By the early Twentieth Century in some areas of the province of Buenos Aires it stopped being usual to find pure Criollos.
Some ranchers, including the Argentine zootechnist Don Emilio Solanet, noticed such a serious situation and undertook the task of restoring the purity of the breed. Solanet found pure Criollos in the distant lands of Chubut. He bought a number of mares and stallions from an indigenous leader and led them on a historical journey of 1800 miles to his farm ‘El Cardal’ in the province of Buenos Aires. From that batch of horses, carefully preserved by isolation and the zeal of the indigenous tribes, the pure Criollos resurfaced. From such an effort the breed registry was born and its traits asserted.
Among the Criollo horses acquired by Solanet in Chubut, there were two mature ones ‘Gato’ and ‘Mancha’. They did, between 1925 and 1928 the historic raid Buenos Aires -New York that covered 22,500 kilometers by mountains, desert and jungle. This is one of the most demanding functional testing distance that positioned the Criollo breed as the best on longest routes. Both horses returned to ‘El Cardal’ by boat, and died at thirty years of age.
The breed standard adopted by associations of Criollo breeders in Argentina is: mesomorph, average height between 1.40 and 1.50 m hands. Chest 1.70 to 1.86, near land. Broad-based head and fine vertex. Medium lenght, robust neck, muscular and slightly prominent cross. Wide and square rump, good bones, remarkably broad chest, big muscular structure. Usually trot and gallop, although some pace, durable and adaptable to very stringent conditions.
Predominant colors are chestnuts, dun, auburn, roan and tobiano layers. Features are the dark stripe along the spine, also known as ‘mule stripe’, and the cebraduras or zebra stripes on the legs.
History of the Criollo breed written by Fabian Corral Burbano de Lara
In the Estancia there are near 80 criollo horses for horseback, simply pet them or admire in freedom in the pampa: just book this tour for this experience: Full Day Tour Estancia departing from Buenos Aires