Channelling my inner gaucho

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I am channelling my inner gaucho – sitting relaxed, and slightly slouched on the back of a dark brown criollo gelding. The reins are held in just one hand, there is a sheepskin on the saddle for a comfier ride and the morning sun is blazing overhead.

This is rural Argentina as you’ve always imagined it; gauchos on horseback, cattle, a dog at your heels, and a few hours riding ahead of you.

We’re in the Sierra Chicas, north of Cordoba, at Estancia Los Potreros;  6000 acres of closely packed hills, large grey rocky outcrops, scrubby grass, tiny streams and brightly coloured wild flowers.  This is home to around 600 head of Aberdeen Angus cattle and about 150 Criollo and Paso horses.

Los Potreros offers guests the opportunity to witness an authentic Estancia (farm) experience – without actually having to do any of the hard slog. Instead your days are spent riding out with a gaucho and a guide, drinking in the views across the hills and down into the flat valley below.

As my lovely horse Salchicha, his brown ears twitching and long dark tail swishing behind, picks his way through the grass crickets leap away on either side like water parting as we move, the waft of crushed sage rises in the air, and all I can hear is the clopping of hooves and the faint rustle of the wind through the grass.

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You don’t need to be a good rider – there are horses for every level and guides to help you and offer advice if wanted. Each day the rides are different; for example, one day we slowly climbed the hills to a look-out point called, Loma Grande where dozens of giant black and yellow butterflies danced in the air around us as we gazed out across the valley towards the town of Cordoba, the horizon disappearing in the hazy distance. Another ride saw us helping to herd some stray cattle off the polo field and back where they should be – on the other side of the wall.

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It’s not just about the riding (although that certainly is the main attraction) – you can also learn to lasso, and play polo (even if you’re a novice rider).

Kevin, our host at Los Potreros, gave us a brief introduction to the game and the simplified version of the rules we’d be playing under. Then there was about five minutes to practice hitting the ball with your stick while on the back of the horse, a team photo – and we were off! Well, when I say ‘off’ that implies some speed…something we didn’t achieve. This was walking polo (or trotting polo if you were up to it) – but that didn’t detract from the fun. We ‘chased’ the ball, we ‘tackled’ our opponents, we laughed as we all got in a horsey tangle, and we cheered when we scored. By the end of it no one had any idea which team had won – but we’d all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

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As someone whose basic riding skills are based on the English style, it’s fun to learn the gaucho style of riding; your sitting position is slightly different, and the horse is ‘steered’ using just one hand and pulling the reins across the neck. This is also an opportunity to ride two different breeds of horse; the Criollo with their easy temperaments and short cropped manes, and the pretty Peruvian Pasos with their long, free flowing manes and comfortable gait. Pasos are what is known as a gaited horse. This means they have an extra gait. Most horses have walk, trot, canter, gallop. The Paso has a fifth gait, known as the paso, which is between a walk and a trot; it is faster than a walk and much less bumpy that a trot – and looks very elegant.

If you want to experience rural Argentina, horseback is the way to do it. For a start its ‘very Argentinian’ (after all horses and Argentina are almost synonymous) but it also enables you to travel further than you could on foot, to see the landscape from a higher vantage point, and to get a great view of the nature – the birds, lizards, and toads (and the odd hare) seem far less bothered by horses passing than they do by humans on their own. Crested caracaras watched us from nearby rocks, a dozen burrowing owls lined up on the fence posts as we ambled passed, and a large lizard seemed wholly unperturbed by the hooves passing just inches away.

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And, of course, very importantly there is good home cooked food (Los Potreros caters well for vegetarians too), local wines, a silence broken only by the birds, and a hot bath to soak your aching muscles.

I may not have earned my spurs as a gaucho yet – but I had a lot of fun trying.

 

FACT BOX

 Estancia Los Potreros

 British Airways flies direct to Buenos Aires. From there you’ll need to pick up a domestic flight or an overnight bus.

To arrange your tour to Argentina contact Argentina Travel Partners

 About the Author: Chantal Cooke is an award winning journalist and broadcaster with a passion for the planet. In 2002 she co-founded the award winning radio station PASSION for the PLANET and in 2009 Chantal was awarded London Leader in Sustainability status. Chantal also runs a successful communications agency – Panpathic Communications.

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