I watched the paintings hanging in the common kitchen of the camping place in Los Antiguos (Argentinean town near the border with Chile) with mixed feelings. All three presented more or less the same scene but from a different perspective. On two of them a horse tied to a stake tried to free himself pulling the line and firmly resisting. On the other two men sitting on horseback and whipping an animal they were seating on. Whatever these images were presenting they were full of violence and made it difficult for me to swallow the breakfast.
I forgot about them quickly focusing on entering Carretera Austral ‘al dedo’ (which in Spanish means ‘hitchhiking’), the Chilean national road No. 7 broken in some parts by lakes and leading from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins. It was the time of an adventure on my own with a tent and with whatever the day brings or whom God would send me along the way. Three days and a few adventures later I arrived to Villa Cerro Castillo. Small village situated at the foot of the mountain of the same name. The sky without even a single cloud on even more emphasized the saw-like top of the mountains hiding between the peaks a turquoise lagoon. It was a dream day for riding a horse.
Waiting for the horses from the stud I started to ask gaucho (local cowboys) sitting next to me if around is any rodeo. My book guide ‘told’ me I need necessarily find any during their stay in Chile, so being here I thought I was asking at the source. It turned out that the Chilean rodeo is completely different from the American. Its ‘local edition’ are two gauchos on horsebacks trying to corral the cow into a corner. But trying to explain me the difference they told me also that in the neighboring village a day later is held jineteada. I had no idea what jineteada is and I did not fully understand its description but the enthusiasm of the boys told me I cannot miss it and should show up there and see it with my own eyes.
It turned out that the stud owners were also going there the next day and offered me a ride do Ibanez where the whole fiesta took place.
And here I was, standing there, among the crowd of onlookers glued to the wooden railing surrounding a circular arena. Most of them were in berets, as all gauchos do (and they are called here boina gaucho) and with eyes fixed on the arena watched with growing tension what was about to happen.
And what happened in the arena brought back my memories from Los Antiguos.
Next to two different stakes two groups of men were preparing horses. Wild horses that were ‘difficult to break them down’. Firstly, they bounded them to the stake, in some cases covering their eyes to prevent from seeing what was happening, and then putting on them saddles for the next ‘rider’. However jineteada derived from the traditions of preparation of wild horses to work for a man it is nowadays nothing but a ‘ sport ‘. A strange sport that without the knowledge of the Chilean tradition could not be understood. Sport, in which man dominates over the animal trying to keep on his back and whipping him hardly. If the horse could not ‘cope’ with a rider (meaning shake him off) before the specified period of time (depended on category, from 6 to 15 seconds ) two helping riders were removing him from crazy kicking horse while enthusiastic crowd were giving him storm of applause. Apparently there are different combinations of the sport, I do not know the details, but this scene together with preparation did not take more than 20 minutes and was repeated by different horses and riders over the hours and days.
I stood pressed against the railing with mixed feelings. It was hard not to admire the agility and strength of the riders (well not of all though) who were the personification of what South America understands under the word ‘ macho ‘. It was hard not to admire the wild and untamed forces of horses. At this stage a man was a boss trying to ‘ break down ‘ a horse. On the other hand, it was visible violence. One has to know that the horses taking part in jineteadas are mostly classified as very difficult ones or even ‘unbreakable’. This ‘ sport ‘ has in itself something abusing.
And while I was shrinking inside while watching this power game a local woman next to me laughed loudly giving some riders more than enthusiastic applause supported by whistling.
what I saw still worked in my on the way back to stud. Why so? What is it? What for?
one cannot take it otherwise than through the prism of the culture. Once it was a way to subordinate wild horses and although the hard version of it is represented by jineteada such practices to train the horses still apply. Although there are also ‘ horse whisperers ‘ who train them in a natural way. Such training includes communication with the horse through calm and clear body language coach to gain the confidence of the animal. It is a process that works with the horse , not against it using the behavior that the horse knows from its herd. Although known for centuries this kind of training has only recently been re-discovered in various parts of the world. It leaves the horses more confident, secure and trustworthy towards people. It turned also out that my host is one of the most famous horse trainers this method in Chile.
My thoughts returned to Mongolia , where half year earlier on my first horse trekking I tried to learn ‘what horse is about’. Horses in Mongolia are half-wild and can be obedient if one on their back is the right rider but they very quickly begin to reign themselves if they feel that they do not have a ‘ master ‘. However, whenever I watched galloping Nomads I had no doubt that the horse is a partner and not a servant. Nomad culture is deeply based on respect toward nature and horses have in their hearts a special place. I remember that nomadic stud owner riding next to me looked more if I upset the horse and not the other way around.
Can you ‘posses’ a horse?
Probably only the thought you might…