“How many people, when they think about Patagonia, imagine the Gaucho on horseback, exploring vast expanses of wild, untamed nature! I believe many do,” ponders Luigi Solís, our trail program coordinator, and a true Gaucho at heart.
From transporting goods and gear across impassable terrain, to carrying wonder-struck visitors across the wild grasslands, horses are just as essential to our daily life today as they were to the Gaucho. Recently, we brought in some experts in “rational horse training” to educate CP staff members about effective, humane horse training techniques. Luigi offers up his thoughts on the course, and explores the deep connection between the Gaucho and his dear friend el caballo. Here’s his story.
Horse training in Patagonia
“Since time immemorial, the true Patagonian Gaucho has been inseparable from his two faithful friends: his dog, and his horse. While the traditional Gaucho viewed his horse as a tool well suited to his physically demanding life, he also viewed his horse with great affection, as his dear companion.
There are certain aspects of the traditional manner of “breaking in” a new horse, however, that should be questioned. Gaucho culture is steeped in tradition: unfortunately, our traditions of horse training have sometimes led us to do wrong to our great friend.
Horse training—old ways and new
Having no other model to follow, we didn’t realize that the methods of our forefathers were hurting these noble horses. Not only that, but these methods were also far less effective than more humane approaches, as we have since learned.
A short time ago, we had the good fortune to participate in a course on “rational horse training.” The philosophy and techniques we witnessed made a big impression on all of us. We were surprised that these horse trainers were able to break in a young horse without striking it once—this is something we’ve never seen before. We learned that a little “give and take” can help to build the confidence and trust of a young horse, and that a gentle approach will result in a more loyal and docile companion.
Maybe what we had been missing all this time was simply the recognition that our dear companion has feelings and deep intelligence, just like us.
This past week, we started using the new techniques we learned with our horses at Valle Chacabuco. After just a week, we have already witnessed the amazing power of this new approach. We were able to break in a young horse under saddle in just three hours—a process that used to take months! The joy that I felt as I worked with this trusting young horse was boundless.
Horses at the future Patagonia National Park
Since the transition from estancia to national park, many people have advocated for removing horses from the picture altogether. Over the years, however, most of the staff has realized that horses are still essential to life on the Patagonian steppe, whether herding sheep, or tending to wildlands and wildlife. Today, horses serve several critical functions here at the future Patagonia National Park:
- Packing goods and tools across difficult terrain. Our team has relied on horses to transport essential tools, food, and other equipment to distant field sites. Most of the park is inaccessible by car, and we’d like to keep it that way! Using horses allows us to keep our automotive footprint to a minimum. Horses can even act “bridges” or “rafts” for river crossings in areas without bridge infrastructure.
- Transporting staff to distant reaches of the park. Park guards regularly patrol the park on horseback, again the most reliable and least-impactful form of transportation across tough terrain. Our wildlife team also rides horseback while tracking and collaring huemuls and pumas.
- Recreating the “Gaucho” experience for visitors. Many of our visitors wish to see the future Patagonia National Park as the traditional Guacho would have seen it—on horseback! Horse-back tours allow visitors to travel further into the wilderness, gear stored comfortably on accompanying pack horses.
There is no question that horses make life at the future Patagonia National Park much easier and more fun for all. One day, I dream of having a whole cavalcade of horses at the park, for staff to work with, and for visitors to enjoy. In the meanwhile, I will be happy that our dear friend and companion the horse is still firmly rooted in the functions of daily life in Valle Chacabuco.”