Criollo Horse Article and Photos Copyrighted - see credits below
The Criollo horse became only really known beyond its homeland through the famous ride by Swiss Aim Tschiffely with two Criollos from Buenos Aires to New York City. The two horses, Mancha and Gato, were 15 and 16 years of age, respectively, when he set out. He was received by the U.S. president in Washington when he arrived there three years later, after approx. 13,500 miles that took him, among other hardships, over the over 18,000 feet high Condor Pass in Bolivia. That both, Mancha and Gato, afterwards lived to be over 40 years of age is further testimony to the extraordinary toughness and vitality of the Criollo horse.
Emilio Solanet founded the studbook for Criollo horses in 1918 which was officially recognized by the Rural Argentine Society in 1922. Solanet’s horses have the status of foundation horses, marked in pedigrees with a B (for basis)
Other South American countries followed by founding studbooks for their Criollos, like Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, and Brazil, where the breed is called by its Portuguese name, Crioulo. They are unified by the umbrella organization Asociaci n de Criadores de Caballos Criollos (ACCC) and recognize each others registries. Interbreeding is allowed, and practiced to some degree. Some Brazilian and Uruguayan breeders have, for instance, obtained horses in Chile, where the Criollo horse is bigger and heavier than in Brazil and Uruguay. The Argentine Criollo is also one of the heavier ones. Size and heaviness usually betrays a certain draft influence.
Many Criollos look no different than Spanish mustangs and why would they, having a similar heritage, although on average the Criollo is somewhat bigger than the Spanish mustang. A lot depends of course on the environment and available feed.
The Kiger mustang of southeastern Oregon, for instance, is comparable in size to the Criollo horse, because its Herd Management Area usually provides good conditions, while Sulphur Springs mustangs make a living in a harsher environment and mature to their full potential only in domestication.
It is not uncommon to find Criollos that resemble the primitive Sorraia horse, which undoubtedly was one of the Criollo’s ancestors.
The rules and breed standards in the various Criollo horse registries vary a little -
The ideal height is defined somewhat differently, and the tobiano spotting pattern is not allowed in all of them but they agreed to a common breed standard which includes:
- Size around 14,1-14,2 hands, but horses between 13,3 hands and 14,3 hands are acceptable. - The conformation should be harmonious. - The head should be powerful and short, with a straight or subconvex profile, a broad forehead, medium-long ears that are not hooked, a small muzzle that should not look square. - Compact build with good muscle, but not as heavy and defined as in the Quarter Horse. - Broad chest and sloping shoulder. - Medium-long, strong, arched neck, set well on the shoulders. - Pronounced, but not high, withers, reaching well into the broad back, which should have a wide, strong loin and be well-coupled with the strong, sloping, round croup. - Tail to hang loosely and even when excited not carried high. - Barrel wide and deep. - Well-developed joints, short and strong cannon bones, legs not fleshy, with little or no fetlock hair. - Hooves of medium size, hard, fairly steep, preferably black. - Disposition lively and brave. - Movements are agile and elastic, lateral gaits normally not present. - Lots of mane and tail hair.
These standards already show that some non-Iberian characteristics have found their way into the Criollo horse as a breed. The typical Iberian horse has a rather narrow head, a short back (and Criollos often are a little long in the back), is not wide in the chest, but deep, and has long cannon bones. It is interesting to see how other Iberian characteristics remained popular with the Criollos, which were lost in other breeds of Iberian descent, like medium-long, fairly straight (not “hooked) ears, the arched neck, the round croup, the tail that shouldn’t be carried elevated. Regarding the head profile, the standard at least allows for a subconvex profile, without putting the emphasis on a convex profile as is befitting for an Iberian breed, or one of Iberian ancestry.
The hardiness of the Criollo horse is the pride of its breeders. In Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil, endurance competitions are organized over a distance of 750 km (465 miles), covered in fourteen days, and called Marcha Functional . The horses carry a good load of 110 kilos (245 lbs) of rider and saddle and feed only on the grass found in the region covered. The horses for these competitions are gathered 30 days in advance and all put onto the same pasture, must not be trained, or supplemented in any way, so that all have an equal chance.
The horse who finishes the competition without being eliminated by the judges or the veterinarians will have lost weight, but appears just as energetic as on the first day of the contest. Interesting also: 90 per cent of the competing horses are mares, and stallions never win first place
The Criollo horse is still the choice of the South American cowboys, the best-known of which is Argentina’s gaucho. On cattle drives or gathers, the Criollos are usually ridden for a week, then returned to pasture and substituted by new ones. All along, the native grass is their only feed. Horses on the ranches are not necessarily registered Criollos, in fact, they seldomly are.
THE CRIOLLO TODAY
The registered Criollo horse has become too valuable to be exposed to the dangers and hardships of many ranches, but those horses used for ranch work are still criollos in the original sense of the word.
It is a bit confusing that the breed carries the name of a horse that, traditionally, was not a breed, but a wild or semi-wild horse without a pedigree. Now the pedigreed horses carry that same name: Criollo. In that respect, too, the situation is similar to that of the mustangs of North America, where mustang also described a wild-living horse without a pedigree, but registries exist that use the term to describe their registered animals.
Crioulos (Criollos from Brazil) have been trained as reining horses and a few have impressively and successfully performed in U.S. reining competitions.
It is difficult to imagine a horse with more endurance than the famous Argentine Criollo breed
Just like from the work of the North American cowboy, several contests have derived from the South American herdsmen’s work, some are similar to those in North America, some are quite unique. The Criollo horse excels in all of them.
Criollos of Central and South America have been the basis for several specialized breeds, such as the different Paso breeds, or the Mangalargas of Brazil.
Photos from left to right. 1) Young Brazilian dun roan Crioulo stallion. 2) In spite of the breed standard, the Iberian genes come through strong enough so that this Crioulo mare’s head is still fairly narrow. 3) Criollos are excellent mounts to go cross country with. This grullo gelding shows a classic Iberian head profile. 4) A well-trained Brazilian Criollo reining stallion, performing in the U.S. 5) Red dun Criollo gelding.
6) Several million Criollo horses reportedly live in South America, which would include the unregistered ones and cruzados as well. Here, some are rounded up. 7) Criollo mare and foal. Criollos come in a great variety of colors, but the primitive dun and grulla colors are still not hard to find. Photo at the top of the page shows a Chilean Criollo.