Breeds Native to South America
South America has a number of indigenous breeds and one of these is the Criollo, the native horse of Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. The breed has different names and slightly different traits according to its region. The Peruvian Paso, Paso Fino, Falabella and Mangalarga are other horse breeds endemic to South America.
The Argentinian Criollo is highly renowned for its stamina and hardiness. It is arguably the best endurance horse in the world after the Arabian and may even be a better mount over long distances and long time periods due to its low basal metabolism. In prolonged events over a week in length with no supplementary feeding, it is likely that the Criollo would prevail. The breed is very popular in its home countries.
The origins of the breed go back to Christopher Columbus and the conquistadores who brought Barb, Arabian and Andalusian horses to South America. Some were stolen, others escaped and eventually there were great numbers of feral horses roaming wild on the pampas. The sandy wastes of the inhospitable grasslands and natural selection resulted in a predominance of dun-coloured horses very resistant to disease and to environmental extremes. The criollo became very frugal, able to travel for days without reserves of food and water. It was, and still is, tough, resistant to great discomfort and a fast and hard worker.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the introduction of stallions from Europe and the United States saw the breed deteriorate. It lost its hardiness and resistance to disease and came close to extinction.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, it has again been subjected to rigid selection. One selection test, the 'La Marcha', requires the horse to cover 750km in 75 hours split into 14 days. No reserves of food and water are allowed. The horses can only eat grass along the way. They are required to carry 108kg for the duration of the trip.
The Stud Book was established in 1918. Other South American countries have their own versions of the Argentinian Criollo which may vary slightly in certain characteristics.
The overall impression is of a stocky, tough, primitive horse. It stands between 14hh and 15hh and may be any colour. The head is quite long and narrow with a straight or slightly convex profile. The muzzle is small and tight. The forehead is broad and the ears longish and close-set. The expression is alert. The neck is long and muscular and the chest broad and deep. The ribs are well-sprung. The mane and tail are full and the withers prominent. The back is short and straight. The croup is sloping as is the shoulder. The legs are solid with good bone and muscle structure. The joints and tendons are strong, the pasterns long. The hooves are well formed and robust.
The main colours are a primitive dun or mouse-brown, often with a dark cross-stripe over the withers and an eel stripe down the centre of the back. There may even be zebra stripes on the legs. Colours may include bay, brown, black, grey, palomino, roan, skewbald and piebald. White markings on the face and legs are allowed.
It is used extensively as a cattle horse. It is also considered a pleasure and trail horse. The Argentinian polo pony has an enviable reputation and is the result of crossing English thoroughbreds with Criollos.
One of the most famous exploits undertaken by Criollos was the journey of Aime Felix Tschiffley who rode from Buenos Aires to Washington DC. The journey of 10,000 miles took him three years. He passed through some of the continent's most difficult terrain. The horses were 15 and 16 years old before Tschiffley set out. The terrain included snow-capped mountains, the driest of deserts and thick tropical mountains. At the end of their journey, the horses were shipped back to Argentinia to the El Cardal Ranch, the breeding farm of the man most credited with developing the breed, Dr Emilio Solanet. The horses, Gato and Mancha, lived to 36 and 40 years old respectively.
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Tschiffely and his two hardy criollos faced incredible
dangers on his epic ride.