Breeds Native to South America
The Chilean horse of South America is also known as 'caballo chileno'. It is a hardy breed with a low metabolism and great powers of recuperation. The Chilean horse is South America's oldest registered horse breed and the oldest registered native American breed. Its ancestry is 100% Iberian in origin. The first horses to come to South America accompanied the Spanish conquistadores. Andalusians, Barbs, even the Camargue pony feature in the origins of the Chilean horse.
The breed began in Peru. Father Rodrigo Gonzalez Marmolejo is regarded as the first breeder of the Chilean Horse. Father Marmolejo began breeding for quality in 1544. By the turn of the 16th century, numbers of horses were being trained as war mounts against the Mapuche indians. By the 17th century Chile had a reputation as having the best horses in South America.
Apart from war mounts, breeders were looking for horses with lateral dexterity, an even temperament and courage in abundance. Stock horses were expected to face and hold cantankerous cattle. They needed to conserve energy to get through a long day's herding. A decree passed in 1557 stated that each year, cattle would be rounded up and sorted, castrated, branded, etc. By the 18th century, 7,000 head of cattle would be herded down from the mountainous terrain. Horses were used to push the cattle down long alleyways into classing pens. These activities became the traditional events performed today in medialunas (half-moon arenas) at Chilean rodeos.
Another tradition which arose was the use of select groups of mares to act as threshing teams. Between 50 and 100 mares were turned loose in a circular area, knee-deep in wheat. By moving round and round the grain would be threshed from the stalks. Limitless energy and sure-footedness was needed. Any horse which stumbled or slipped was culled. Many of the best rodeo horses were bred from these mares.
The 19th century saw Chile's most influential breeders define and refine the traits of the Chilean horse. Match races over short distances became popular. However, by the end of the 19th century mechanisation had replaced the need for the Chilean horse and specialised breeds began to oust the native animals. Only the upsurge in the popularity of the Chilean rodeo saved the Chilean horse from quietly disappearing.
The geographical isolation of the country meant Chile was one of the last of the South American countries to receive imports of new breeds. Chile became the first country to register their national breed. Traditional breeders held faith with their selected animals and refused to succumb to cross-breeding.
Rodeo had become more organised and bigger than ever. It is one of the country's favourite sports. The Chilean horse excels at the rodeo events thus breeders have no need to outcross. The breed's specialisation for rodeo events has assured its purity more than any other factor.
The Chilean cowboy (huaso) values speed rather than endurance in his mount although the breed has great stamina. The breed has a very docile temperament and a huge capacity for work.
The rodeo event unique to Chile involves two riders and two horses driving a beast around the medialuna and pinning it against a padded cushion on the side of the arena. Most points are gained if the horse is able to thrust hard enough against the beast so as to lift it off its feet. Some of the points are given according to where the calf is pushed ie head, shoulder, mid section or rump.
The breed standard give the height range as from 13.1hh and 14.2hh. The seemingly 'short' height of the horse is ideal to allow horses to pin cattle with their chest. A taller horse would make contact too low on its body and would lack the stability necessary. With such short legs, the centre of gravity is low, allowing the horse to gallop laterally until the moment of pinning its beast.
The Chilean horse is a late maturer. Stallions average 455kg and mares 442kg. Interestingly, the breed standard asks for a 1.64cm to 1.84cm girth circumference for a mare and only 1.62cm to 1.82cm for a stallion. The breed has a high pain threshold and great immunity to disease.
As with many breeds, the ideal Chilean horse will combine speed with strength. The Chilean horse needs to drive a steer at full gallop then pin the animal (which may weigh as much or more than himself) and immobilise it against the wall of the medialuna.
The ideal Chilean is short but very, very compact and sturdy. The head should be of medium length with a wide, flat forehead. The profile may be straight or slightly convex but certainly not concave. The ears are very mobile and the nostrils wide. The neck should be of medium length with a wide base and a clean throat. The back is short and strong flowing into a short, well-muscled loin. The croup is long and slightly sloping with a low set tail. The legs are thick-boned and straight with an ideal circumference of 20cm. The hindquarters are deep and well-muscled.
All colours are acceptable apart from partial albinos, however solid colours are preferred. The skin should be thick, the mane and tail is very thick, very profuse but also coarse. In the colonial days, the extravagant mane and tail hair provided a supplemental income for the owners. Tails were docked and maned hogged. The horse hair was used for ropes, reins, halters, etc.
There should be some feathering on the heels. It has an extremely thick undercoat and a longer-haired top coat. This double coat makes them well suited to withstand extremes of both hot and cold weather. They do not shed their coats as readily as some breeds. The tail is thick and wide and may cover the hindquarters and the hind legs when viewed from behind. The characteristic 'ice tail' is seen in Nordic breeds which themselves influenced horse types of the Iberian Peninsula. The fanned protective tail set is still seen in breeds such as the Exmoor and Highland. The thick mane, tail and forelock protects the animal from the cold and also from attack by insects.
Highly valued in a Chilean horse is what is known as 'acampao'. There is an alertness and nobility in his stance, a 'look at me' attitude. The Chilean horse is calm and relaxed when at rest but full of spark and fire when going about his work.