Chilean Stock Horse Tack Print E-mail



          By 1712, the rowels had already reached a four-inch (ten centimeters) diameter. Although this is larger than most spurs in other parts of the world, incredibly the rowel continued to increase in size. The need for this enlargement arose because traditionally the Chilean Horses used many layers of leather and rug padding under the saddle that distanced the legs of the rider from the sides of the horse. By the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, the Chilean spur peaked in a rowel size of 19 cm (7.4 in.) with total spur lengths of up to 35 cm (13.77 in.).           

           In the first half of the 18th century, the craftsmanship of German Jesuit blacksmiths was responsible for a much more elaborate spur of artistic baroque design. The large rounded “C” that is seen in the Corinthian columns of Athens was repeatedly carved out in the decorations on the shank of the spur.  Its presence is considered symbolic of the German baroque style of the Jesuit school and as it practically ceased to be used after the republican period began. After Chile’s independence, some other characteristic designs also came about. The shanks were typically made wider on the rowel end than at the base of the fork.  It was also typical to angle the shanks down to about 150 degrees in what was known as “cogotes de gallo”, or rooster necks.          

          The contemporary Chilean spur varies from 18 to 22 cm (7 to 8.66 inches) in total length. They can be made of iron, steel, nickel or bronze with insertions of white metals on the outside fork of the stirrup in a variety of designs. The shank is always carved out in various forms, like the Maltese cross, triangles, stars or a four-petal rosette. Small metal dots usually decorate the ends of the fork. In some manner, a representation of the old “clavillos” (small nails) is always included at the base of the shank. This is a carry-over from the time when nail-like protrusions actually came out of a round disk at the union of the shank and the fork. These metal pins had the function of snagging both ends of a small chain that went around the bridge of the boot to prevent the spur from dropping down from the desired position on the heel.          

           Nowadays, the large spurs are held in position by the use of a “talonera” (spur holder), which is a leather spur support that is buckled on to the boot. This hard sole leather piece has a groove in the back portion that acts as a guide when the spur is placed inside and buckled on over the top of the spur support. This “talonera” not only fixes the spur firmly in place, but it also extends the spur a bit farther back from the heel of the boot.         

          The shank of the Chilean spur now only drops slightly from the fork, at a 170-degree angle. The rowel is one solid piece of steel or blue iron that has been tempered in water so that it makes a characteristic jingle when in use on horseback or on foot. The rowels vary from 6 to 11 cm (2.36 to 4.33 in.) in diameter, but the Official Rule Book of the Chilean Rodeo Federation stipulates that spurs used in official rodeos must be at least 3.5 in. (8.89 cm) in diameter.  Most Chilean spurs have between 36 and 40 spokes or points. The numerous points help distribute the pressure of the spur over a larger area on the horse, thus making the design more humane for use if the points are kept dull.          

          The large diameter of the rowel does make it inconvenient to walk with the spurs on, and it is not uncommon for huasos with very large spurs to walk up on the balls of their foot to prevent dragging the spur on the ground.  It is especially inconvenient to drag the spur when walking on cement, as this can involuntarily sharpen the points, making the spur much harsher when used on the horse. 


          Initially, the rural Native American population of Chile rode bareback. The first stirrups they used were nothing but hanging wooden rings that were big enough to introduce the big toe of their bare feet, and natives as well as some mestizos continued to use them until the 19th century. The rural criollo workers, on the other hand, opted early on for the convenience of the more traditional stirrup. It is thought that to some degree, stirrups made of bone, stick, leather and iron were all used in the evolution of the rural sectors of Chile         

        From the onset of Chile’s history, the Viceroyalty of Peru strongly influenced the new territory, so it is not strange that eventually a Chilean stirrup was also made of solid wood.  However, it is thought the idea took firmer hold when the population was exposed to stirrups of Asturian (another Spanish province) origin. As early as the 18th century, these stirrups were brought in by foreigners who touted them as being the most suited for keeping the rider’s feet dry in river crossings.  Regardless of its beginnings, the evolution of the stirrup in Chile is mainly native.          

       Initially, the first solid wood stirrup was the “trunk (“baúl”) stirrup” that imitated a closed stirrup of Europe. They had the same broad, flat base I have mentioned in Moorish, Spanish and Portuguese stirrups that sustained the entire foot. These 17th and 18th century stirrups were practical for the horsemen of the time, who used low-heeled crafted soft leather boots or shoes, sandals, rustic colt hock boots with exposed toes, or no footwear at all.          

       By the 18th century, the trunk stirrup took on more of a Persian slipper shape, having a curled-back toe carved into the pattern.  Others point out that, when placed upside down, it looked very much like the altar supports in the Jesuit churches. This stirrup was intricately decorated with baroque designs that originated from the same Jesuit order that had so influenced the Chilean spur. It is interesting to note that to this day the “chagras” cowboys in the highlands of Ecuador use this same style of wooden stirrup only their carved decorations are not nearly as elaborate as the baroque designs made popular in Chile. Some of these Ecuadorian stirrups have animal heads carved into the front portion of the stirrup that substitute for the turned up Persian slipper shape.         

       The proof of the Jesuit brethren’s role in determining the woodworking patterns of the Chilean stirrup can be found in the designs that were prevalent in the Jesuit churches of the time. These ecclesiastical ornaments have the same rosettes, vegetative figures, convex buttons and eye-pleasing curlicue shapes that decorate most common stirrups.  These works of art were the result of an assortment of tools in the Jesuit woodworking shop in Calera de Tango that were unknown in the rest of the country at the time.          

       The more than 60 stores throughout the nation that sold the goods produced by the Jesuit organization, known as “La Compañía de Jesús” (means The Company of Jesus), facilitated the distribution of all their products and merchandise. So, in spite of the secrecy with which they manufactured their works of art, and the fact that they took in no apprentices to teach their trades to, the effective dissemination of their products assured their introduction into the Chilean culture.          

       As the stirrups became well known, logically the intent to copy them also flourished. This initiative commenced a rich tradition of wood carvers in Chile. The popularity of the trade readily passed itself along the narrow extensions of connecting valleys between the Andes and the Coastal Mountain range.  Eventually, the sheer numbers of craftsmen making intricate patterns that were fit for royalty made luxurious stirrups readily available to anyone. Progressively, they became a part of Chilean folklore.          

       Wherever the true origins of the Chilean stirrup lie, it is clear that the hollowed-out solid wooden stirrup had a practical significance in crossing the many rivers that this country provided. Over time, the shape of the wooden stirrup would change to a variety of styles. Originally a very heavy piece of equine tack, progressively they found lighter hardwoods that have made the stirrup less of a burden on the horse. After the departure of the Jesuits from Chile, an old “anchor style” that came in a variety of sizes was preferred. This was probably the most common stirrup depicted in paintings of the 18th and 19th century. Eventually, the points of the anchor were eliminated and a narrower teardrop shape evolved. When this stirrup was given a round bulge or angle on the posterior face to facilitate the placement of the point of the shoe, it was called a “capacho” stirrup.          

       In the mid 19th century, an ankle-high French-styled booty became the popular huaso footwear. Some laced up the front all the way to the ankle, while others had two straps with buckles on the outer side of the boot. The key feature of this boot was the tall, undercut heel that made its use in large platform stirrups impractical. The riding heel was better suited to rest on the edge of the stirrup, permitting the rider’s weight to concentrate on the ball of the foot.         

      As the attractiveness for shorter stirrup leathers took hold in the Chilean Rodeo, it became clear that the Chilean stirrup needed to harbor only the front half of the boot so that the heel could drop enough to prevent losing the stirrups. This gave rise to both a shallower “capacho” stirrup and the “trompa de chancho” (pig snout) stirrup that is in use to this day. The shape of the latter mirrors the arch and point of the boot, while ending in a small blunt point that is likened to a pig snout, thus explaining its name.          

      This “pig snout stirrup” is considered the contemporary stirrup of the huaso and has been the dominating style throughout most the 20th century when rodeo tack and apparel were formalized. Like all the Chilean stirrups of the past 300 years, they continue to be artistically decorated with beautiful hand-carved baroque patterns that have no equal in the equine tack world. Recently, there has been a new surge in using a plain smooth finish on the traditional pig snout stirrup. It has yet to be seen whether this will truly catch on or not, but my guess is that, sooner or later, the tendency will be to stay firmly with the baroque style that has been such a representative part of the huaso look.      


       Unlike the Spanish culture of California that developed a wide assortment of bits in general and spade bits in particular, the Chilean horsemen depended almost exclusively on their Chilean beaded O-ring bit as the tool for the advanced stock horse. The Chilean beaded O-ring bit offers a rather plain but unique spade bit design. The mouthpiece itself is a smooth bar that ideally should be no less than half an inch in diameter. Halfway across this mouthpiece there is flat three inch (7.62 cm) long port that is one-inch (2.54 cm) wide.  The far end of the port has a hole where the two ends of a pear-shaped ring are loosely fastened to permit a swivel action. The wider curvature on the bottom of the ring is to assure that it does not rub the sides of the jawbones. Around seven to 11 metal rollers are threaded loosely through the ring so that they can rest in the lowest part of the ring. These rotating rollers assure that whenever contact is made behind the chin it will not be too abrasive.          

       The traditional Chilean beaded O-ring bit has six points of contact. One is the contact that the bit and port have directly on the tongue. The Chilean huasos goes to great trouble to assure their horses don’t pick up the bad habit of putting their tongue over the bit, as this puts all the weight and bit pressure on the bars of the lower mandible. If need be, the horse is started off with a tongue tie. Many trainers use the tongue tie routinely with all green horses, since at that stage they will be using a tightly tied leather bit (“guatana”) that is very easy to get a tongue over.  With the Chilean beaded O-ring bit this is possible, but less likely, since the tongue normally goes through the curb ring and under the long port of the bit.          

       The second point of contact is the effect the mouthpiece has on the bars (gums in the space of the mouth between molars and incisors that have no teeth) of the mouth. This may be greater than in the traditional spade bits from the mother country, since the reins are attached so close to the corner of the bit. The conformation of a horse’s mouth may also influence the severity of this pressure.          

       The third point of contact is the pressure of the port against the palate of the mouth. In the Chilean bit, the possibility of being too severe on the palate is reduced since the port is limited as to how high it can be raised by the curb ring that is looped under the horse’s jaw. There are some Chilean bit designs that even go further by incorporating a stopper that limits the extension of the curb ring and, in turn, the pressure against the palate. These bits are referred to as “frena con la pata choca”.         

       A fourth point of contact occurs when the port swivels up towards the palate, since the attached curb ring will also make contact with the upper bars of the mouth. Once again, the “pata choca” designs will limit this type of pressure and assure a more passive contact in the horse’s mouth.          

        The fifth point of contact is made when the rollers of the beaded O-ring are pressed against the jawbones behind the chin. It is extremely important that the O-ring fit the individual horses adequately. When the ring is too narrow, or too short, the normal swivel motion the ring should have when the head is bobbing up and down can rub raw spots under or to the sides of the jawbone.          

       The sixth point of contact is the product of an abusive use of the Chilean bit. It’s an acute scissor grip between the combined forces of the bit and the curb ring. This puts an acute pressure on the tongue, the gums and the jaw, and produces an intolerable pain. Extreme care should be taken to not pull too harshly on the Chilean bit and, for this reason, much of the initial training is done using a leather “guatana”.         

       Typically, most bits have the attachment to the headstall a couple of inches above the mouthpiece. In the Chilean bit, the attachments to the headstall are small rings that are connected directly to the mouthpiece. This design limits the amount of movement of the spade bit in the mouth. A higher headstall attachment with a longer purchase (the “purchase” is the section between the mouthpiece and the attachment to the headstall) offers a greater axis of rotation, since the pull down and back on the shanks will tend to push the purchase up and forward. The lack of an elongated purchase in the Chilean bit is best understood by looking at their shanks (these are the metal extensions from the corner of the mouthpiece that are attached to the reins in order to give more leverage in applying pressure to the contact points of the bit)         

       The Chilean bit has no shanks to speak of, as these would promote undesired pressure on the corralero horse’s mouth when positioning the head over the top line of the steer. All Chilean bits have a ring at the end of the mouthpiece, which is attached directly to the reins. When this is the only option, they are called “de un solo tiro” (single pull), since this refers to having just one possible attachment for the reins. There are other bits that are referred to as “de dos tiros” (double pull), as they offer two possible placements for the reins. These have an additional one-inch pin that dangles from the ends of the mouthpiece with a small ring where the reins can also be attached. This minimal extension offers a little leverage that can be used on the port of the Chilean spade bit.          

       In harder-mouthed horses, both reins may be attached to these extensions. It is not uncommon that some horses are less flexible when turning their neck to one side or the other. In such cases, one rein may be attached to the end of the mouthpiece and the stiffer side of the neck would have the reins attached to the extension.          

       The absence, or minimal expression, of shanks is another unique feature of the Chilean O-ring bit. Most Spanish and Californian spade bits use long shanks. The precise advantage of the leverage provided in spade bits with long shanks is how little rein pressure is needed to be in contact with the horse’s mouth. However, in the Chilean Rodeo, the horses run “into the bit” and thus over-sensitive bits would be counterproductive to the style of horsemanship that has been long associated with the performing corraleros.         

       The previous paragraphs describe the great majority of Chilean bits that are used in their country of origin. In some instances (very rare today, although often in the past) an additional 21-link curb chain is connected from the corners of the bit down to the lowest point of the curb ring. This forms a rather unusual triangular curb chain that works on the sides of the jawbones, as opposed to directly on the bottom of them.          

       Another supplement that can be seen is called the “pontezuelo”. This is a one-inch (2.54 cm), flat arch that is fixed on both ends of the mouthpiece and curves around the front of the horse’s muzzle. In Chile, the bits that have pontezuelos are termed “frenos” (masculine) where as those that don’t use these appendages are known as “frenas” (feminine).  Perhaps this distinction is due to the fact that it is more common to see the pontezuelo on stallions, since nowadays its use is meant to prevent horses from biting.          

       It is worthy of note that in very old bits, the pontezuelo often had the option of having reins attached to it. This would offer a 7.5-10 cm (3-4 in.) shank for the Chilean O-ring bit in a more erect shank angle than is traditional in spade bits. Still, it is fascinating that there was a time when the potential sensitivity of the high port mouthpiece could be complemented with a shank length that permitted the rider to maximize the sensitive communication with the horse.  


       The original Spanish military saddles that arrived in Chile were typical of those that were used in the Iberian Peninsula at that time. The metal-framed tree unions had bars of tightly stuffed straw that were covered by a sheepskin or smooth leather. These saddles had erect forks and cantles that closely confined the rider in the seat.          

       As the stock saddle evolved in Chile, the high fork (front portion of the seat of the saddle) and cantle (back portion of the seat of the saddle) were maintained, as they helped prevent the rider from going over the front or the back of the saddle in unpredictable working conditions. In old Chilean stock saddles, the profile of the fork was straighter, as it sustained the thigh in a more vertical leg position. The high cantle was also straight in its setting. However, the contemporary Chilean corralero styles have developed a flared fork that slants back to help sustain the thighs of the rider who carries his stirrups well in front of him.          

       Conversely, the cantle has remained high, but now is more bowl-shaped in its configuration to offer the needed support to the rider’s lower back while obligating him to sit firmly in the seat of the saddle. Newer versions of the saddle now have cantles that curve around the sides of the rider’s buttocks, creating an even more contained position. These more modern extensions have included leather coils under the lip of the cantle that act as a type of suspension system for portions of the cantle that are not firmly attached to the foundation of the tree (the “tree” is the frame or chasse of the saddle and it can be made of other materials like fiberglass).          

       The maximum stability in the huaso seat comes from pushing the heels down against the extended stirrups, while pressing the lower back against the cantle. It must be remembered that the allocation of weight in huaso equitation is balancing pressures in front and behind the center of gravity, rather than concentrating all the weight distribution in a column over it. The modern Chilean saddles now offer more support for the body so that the rider can make these opposing pressures that secure his position in the unpredictable clashes with the pinned steer.          

       Unlike the saddles of North America, none of the traditional stock saddles of South America have saddle horns on the pommel. This is not to say that the lariat was not an important tool in handling cattle. Historically, it was essential when rounding up cattle in the brush or on the steep mountain slopes. Likewise, it was used to catch bovines that needed branding or those that got away from the teams of horsemen that were in charge of dropping the animals with their iron hock scythe.  Its usefulness in the past was revered enough that, along with a pair of leather hobbles, the twisted (most traditional) or braided (most popular presently) leather lariat is considered part of the required tack of all rodeo contestants.          

       The Chilean saddle has a simple wooden tree whose bars are made up of two elliptical leather-covered planks of wood that are united by metal or wooden unions (fork and cantle). The bars of the tree are untouched on the side that lie next to the horse, but are tapered on both the upper and lower portions of the outer side. Shaving the upper edge serves to make a flatter saddle seat, while shaving the lower edge provides a narrower gullet that will also promote more leg contact. With most woods, the width of the edge of the tree bar can be taken down to one inch, but when using harder woods they can even be thinner.          

        Ideally, the gullet of the seat of the saddle should be wide and flat in order to be close to the back of the horse. Since the Chilean Horse does not have protruding withers, this design is well suited to almost all horses of this breed. Some saddle makers have popularized a domed or convex seat. Nevertheless, some respected huasos consider this undesirable, since it distances the rider more from the feel of the horse. This raised seat can also be the result of improperly shaped saddletrees.         

       Traditionally, the seat of the saddle was covered by two closely shaven sheep hides, but nowadays a variety of hides are used. The skirts of the Chilean saddle are almost non-existent and a thin felt saddle pad slightly larger than the saddle is the only cushion between the saddle and the horse’s back. The leather cover of the seat of the saddle should be thin and narrow so that the leg can mobilize itself in the desired points of contact.  These are adjustments in Chilean saddle design that have come about because of the Chilean Rodeo, as the Chilean saddle was traditionally extremely wide in the colonial days and early days of the republic. This was not only the result of thick and long saddle skirts but, more so, from a pile of hides and rugs that were used as padding under and atop the saddle.         

       The other feature that distinguishes the Chilean saddle from the North American stock saddles is the fact that it uses a superimposed double three-quarters or seven-eighths rigging. A double rigging in the U.S.A. would imply one cinch in front and one behind (also known as the rear billet). In Chile, both cinches go in more or less the same position about three-quarters of the way between the cantle and the fork. One is a loose cinch that wraps around the tree of the saddle but goes under the leather seat cushions at more or less a three-quarter to seven-eighth rigging position.         

       The second cinch is akin to the “over girth” used in the horse racing industry. This is also an unattached cinch that is made up of a broad leather strap that is united to a traditional cotton or wool cord cinch. The leather strap is placed over the top of the seat of the saddle itself and the traditional cord girth loops below the underside of the horse. Usually, this second cinch overlaps the first cinch but lies slightly farther back. Many saddles have a seven-eighth rigging position with the second cinch tightened in a three-quarter rigging position. Traditionally, the cinch latigos are looped once over the tree ring from outside to inside coming out on the right side of the strap. Then they are taken forward across the latigo before being tucked under the strap without implementing a knot. The excess cinch latigo that extends perpendicularly towards the back of the horse is tucked under the seat of the saddle or under the leather suspension coils of the cantle.   

Stirrup Leathers         

       The stirrup leathers hang directly from metal rings attached to the fork of saddletree, where they are fastened by leather straps. This means the stirrup leathers are always a good 5-7.5 cm (2-3 in.) in front of the cinch. The stirrup leathers are made of thick double strands of approximately one-inch wide leather, and these thin, hard stirrup sustainers do not have fenders to protect the rider’s legs from their abrasive qualities.  For this reason, leggings have always been a standard piece of huaso attire.          

       Maintaining the traditional mentality of all-leather tack and only an indispensable amount of metal, there are no convenient buckles to handily alter the stirrup leather length. In fact, buying a personal saddle requires that the choice of stirrup leather be of the proper length for the user. Nowadays, the huaso guideline for that “appropriate” stirrup leather length is one that gives the rider approximately 20 cm (8 in.) of clearance from the saddle seat when standing in the stirrups.           

       I would like to emphasize that the stirrup leathers were not always as short as we see them used today. Many people that would like to think that this the case, and that the “chair sitting” position that the huasos have proudly touted in the last half of the 20th century is representative of how horsemen of the past have always ridden in Chile. If one studies the documented Chilean photographs and artwork from before the 19th century, there is a notable difference with today’s stirrup leather lengths. There is good reason for this, as before the sport of Chilean Rodeo was formalized, the huasos had a variety of objectives they carried out on horseback. At the same time, the Chilean Horse was a somewhat taller and leggier version of what is the standard today. As a result, the position in the saddle was much more in tune with other schools of equitation. The stirrup leathers hung long enough so that the slightly bent knee resulted in a stirrup position that was more or less under the hip, shoulders and head.          

      The change in stirrup leather length and subsequently the style of riding in rodeos has been attributed to four huasos from the area of Curicó. In the 60s, two paired teams from the same rodeo club that discovered that the shorter stirrup leather facilitated better performance in the half-moon arena. It was not long before the style caught on and almost all the huaso corraleros were setting their stirrups leathers in a like manner.          

       Until this day, it is the prevailing seat in the rodeos, although there are a few die hards who prefers to use the old style of the longer stirrup leather and straighter leg position and does so with much success. I am sure he would find many supporters from other equine disciplines, but then again none of them have ever run and pinned cattle in a Chilean Rodeo. How much of this change is fad and how much is a proven improved method is a topic for debate. Most likely this debate is similar to the differing styles used by jockeys in the Americas and Europe, where outstanding performers can be found representing each technique.  

Bridles and Reins

          In the Chilean Horse tradition headstalls, tying bosals or thin cavessons can be made from straps of rawhide but they are more commonly made of flat braided stands of leather. Brow bands and throatlatches are commonly used, but not required. Once again, the tendency is to tie them into place, rather than use a buckle for this purpose.          

        The reins are always long, thick, heavy and round. When riding, typically the excess is coiled in about a four-inch loop that is held in the left hand over the withers. The reins can either be twisted or braided with a varying of number of leather strands. In comparison to most reins used in other equine disciplines, the Chilean reins would be considered thick, weighty and stiff. At the union of the right and left rein, there is a small ring that serves as a point of attachment for a quirt that is made of the same material and craftsmanship as the reins. Most commonly, this has a flat leather popper on its end.          

       This is a rather distinguishing feature of Chilean tack, as the quirt is a fixed part of the horse’s equipment much like the Californian romal reins. This differs from the equine cultures in other areas that continue to make the quirk or crop available to the horseman once he is on the ground. Undoubtedly, this characteristic of Chilean tack has to do with the fact that the huaso rides most of the time with both hands on the reins. Others might conjecture that the huaso is rarely off his horse and does about everything on horseback. Undeniably, this custom always makes the quirt available, as it becomes a permanent fixture when riding. Oddly enough, the quirk is very rarely seen used in Chilean Rodeo competitions. As a result, forward impulse is largely determined by spur pressure and rider bodyweight distribution.  

Miscellaneous Tack         

       It should be pointed out that although breast plates or collars and cruppers were part of the commonly used colonial gear, both disappeared from the traditional paraphernalia as the Chilean Horse became more specialized as a corralero horse. The crupper is part of the Spanish stock horse tradition, and in Peru and Ecuador it is still part of the national tack. In the past, when the ridden horse was the main means of transportation over Chile’s precipitous topography, both were much more important in maintaining the saddle properly positioned while confronting the sharp gradients. When the lariat was a much more widely used tool, the breast collar served a very useful function in giving an additional bracing point for the pulling efforts of the horse.          

       There is a revitalized interest in trail riding as backcountry horsemen clubs are popping up throughout the nation. Not only is Chile an exciting country to explore on horseback, due to the large areas of beautiful and varied terrain that are not accessible by motorized vehicles, but the Chilean Horse is incredibly well-suited to manage the demands of the mountainous wilderness. The use of breast collars and cruppers will surely be making a comeback outside the medialunas as these pastimes grow.         

       The Chilean obsession with having horses with quiet mouths and tongues in place usually make the use of the cavesson commonplace in early training. As can be predicted, these are made of leather and they are usually fixed to a given size rather than adjustable in nature. The cavesson is known in Chile as a  “bosalillo”, “piquera”, “jociquera” or “muserola”, and it is a piece of equipment that cannot be used in reining competition but is commonly seen in the corralero horses.         

       The only other piece of equipment that I should mention is the martingale. Its use is not permitted in rodeos, but it is a very common tool during the training sessions. All the martingales I have seen used in Chile are standing martingales that go from the cavesson through a slit in a leather collar, down the chest, in between the forelegs and then loop through the cinch of the saddle. For some reason, it is typical that all the material for the standing martingale is made of rawhide with the hair in place.

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