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It is difficult to imagine a horse with more endurance than the famous Argentine Criollo breed. This native horse of Argentina descends from the horses of the Iberian conquest.
When parties went to explore and conquer South America, horses were shipped to the river Plate from Iberia, and as in all the Spanish and Portuguese conquests, they brought the toughest, hardiest horses they could. Conditions were tough on such voyages with insufficient food and water. Many horses died or were unable to regain health. Whether it was the primitive characteristics that cropped out under the wild conditions in the New World, or whether some of the shipments were of rather primitive Iberian horses in the first place, fact is that until fairly recently, the Argentine Criollo and the Criollo in general, bore a considerable resemblance to the ancient Sorraia wild horse of Portugal and Spain.
During long campaigns with Indians, many horses escaped or were turned loose. Also after destruction of Buenos Aires by Indians, many horses were driven into the wild. Natural selection resulted in physical hardiness and the survivors became the progenitors of the Argentine Criollo breed.
In Argentina summers are very hot but winters are severely cold. During seasonal migrations or drought, the wild horses were forced to travel hundreds of miles. Several explorers who ventured far out into the Pampas left records of the tremendous herds of wild horses, seen some two centuries after their ancestors had gained their freedom. The wild horses were known as Baguals, and some herds numbered into the thousands.
Many long rides of astonishing distances have been taken on Argentine Criollo horses, that only the hardiest horse could withstand. One of the most famous rides was that of A. F. Tschiffley, who alternately riding and packing two Criollo geldings, Mancha and Gato, rode from Buenos Aries, Argentina, to Washington, D. C, a distance of approx. 13,500 miles that took him, among other hardships, over the over 18,000 feet high Condor Pass in Bolivia. He was received by the U.S. president in Washington when he arrived there three years later. The two horses were 15 and 16 years of age, respectively, when Tschiffely set out, and both lived to be over 40 years of age after the journey. This is testimony to the extraordinary toughness and vitality of the Argentine Criollo horse.
When earlier in history the Jesuits were expelled from the Americas, the governor in Buenos Aires selected a man to take written news to the viceroy in Lima, Peru, a distance of at least 3,000 miles. The distance was covered on Criollo horses over extreme terrain, from waterless regions, salt beds, cactus forests, rocky desolate valleys, roaring mountain torrents, high regions near the snow line, braving icy blasts so strong the horses staggered, 16,000 feet and more above sea level, into steaming tropical jungles, delivering the message in 40 days.
Another outstanding ride was made on a single Argentine Criollo in 1810, leaving Buenos Aires and five days later arriving at the town of Mendoza, situated at the foot of the Andes, averaging 133 miles per day. There are many such stories, all authenticated, of the amazing endurance of the Criollo horse.
ARGENTINE CRIOLLO TODAY
Today the Criollo is mainly a working cow horse, but is also used for pleasure and rodeo and other competitive events, because it is easy to handle, agile and quite fast.
Endurance rides are organized by the Criollo Breeders Association to prove and even increase the remarkable endurance of the Criollo horse. The Argentine Criollo organization is one of several in South America to put on these test rides, which are open only to purebred Criollo horses
The participating horses are gathered 30 days prior to the ride, and pastured together to ensure that no special treatment is given to any horses. It’s the best horse that is supposed to win, not the best trained one, or the best fed one, or one that has received medical treatment. The distance of the ride is about 465 miles (750 km) and the maximum time allowed is 75 hours, although the minimum is 56 hours. The ride is completed in 14 daily sessions, with the distance per day being shorter the first few days to assist horses that have been idle . The shorter distance is 80 km and is covered in 4 hours.
The only feed the horses are allowed during the 14 days is the grass they snatch along the roadside. Horses are checked by a vet at the end of each day and any doubt of fitness causes elimination. The primary purpose of the rides is to select animals for breeding purposes, ones that will pass on their unusual stamina to their offspring.
The Argentine Criollo is a hardworking horse that thrives on the grass it can find, without supplemental feeding. Even under hard work, this horse seems to bloom and grow healthier. The bone structure is said to be made like steel and problems in the legs and feet are extremely uncommon. The Criollo is probably as tough and sound as any other horse in the world, is unsurpassed in many ways, has plenty of bone, very strong joints and wonderful hooves. It is rarely unsound on any of these counts. It is the cow pony of the legendary gauchos.
Argentina’s legendary polo ponies are the result of Criollo mares crossed with the Thoroughbreds.
The Argentine Criollo is found in a great variety of colors. Many breeders favor the dun, or grulla colors, which are said to be the color of the very toughest horses. A good number of Criollo horses are either dun or grullo (lobuno). This is a sturdy, stocky horse. The neck is of medium length and strong, the croup is sloped and round and the tail is carried close to the buttocks whether at work or rest. The mane and tail are thick. The head has either a straight or a slightly convex profile, whereas years ago this horse was always found to have the typical Iberian convex-shaped head.
Of the various criollo breeding countries in South America, the Argentine Criollo was the first to achieve official status as a breed, due to the efforts of Emilio Solanet, who founded the studbook in 1918, after he observed the degeneration of criollo horses in his country. Official recognition by the Rural Argentine Society followed in 1922. In the studbook, Solanet’s horses have the status of foundation horses, and are marked in pedigrees with a B (for basis).
Article copyright HorseShowCentral.com Submitted by Hardy Oelke and Photos copyright Oelke or Oelke Archive.
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