Chilean Horse (for International Horse Museum) Print E-mail

 The Chilean Horse is the oldest breed of horse from South America and the oldest registered stock horse of all the Western Hemisphere. However its pure genealogy precedes the date of its formal registry as a breed. The first horses arrived in Chile with Diego Almagro in 1536, but it really wasn’t until Pedro Valdivia settled in the region of New Toledo (Chile) that horses were introduced with the intent of starting a breeding establishment. In 1544 the clergyman Rodrigo Gonzalez de Marmolejo was declared territory’s first horse breeder and his emphasis in producing quality was to set a precedent for Chilean horse breeding from then on.  

For nearly 350 years the Spaniards faced the challenging circumstances of the strong and persistent opposition of the Mapuche tribes south of the Bío Bío River. No doubt their unconquered status was aided by the fact these were most likely the first Native Americans to actively incorporate the horse into their resources for combat. As a result, for many years the royalty of Spain assigned excellent military tacticians with renowned reputations as skilled horsemen, to act as governors of the Kingdom of Chile. The result was frequent parades, exhibitions of high schooled horsemanship and war games that led to elite horse breeders of specialized varieties. By the 19th century Chile was considered the producer of the best quality horses in Latin America and their best specimens were exported to the courts of many parts of the Americas and even across the ocean to the noblemen of Europe. 

The geographic isolation of this country that had the world’s driest desert to the north, the Andes Mountains to the east, the eternal ice fields to the south and a wide expanse of Pacific Ocean to the west, assured the pure genealogy of the prototype of the Chilean Horse. Even when equine imports first trickled into the country after 1850 the central and transversal valleys assured the continuation of pockets of purebred Chilean Horse types. In 1858, the perfect specimen of the breed was born and christened “Bayo León”.  He propagated his genes until the ripe old age of 33 much like many longevid, Chilean Horses. In 1877, the famed ranches of La Principal and Catemu had already started meticulous records of Chilean Horse lineages that would form part of the solid foundation for the breed registry that would take form in 1893. This registry would continue to accept new horses that met the well established breed type that was formally stipulated in the Breed Standard of 1921, if testimony could be given to their origins three generations back. Never were horses of any other breed knowingly included in the stud books and by 1934 these were considered definitively closed until this day.  

Although a strong selection was initially made for warhorse and wheat thrashing aptitudes early on in their development, the one common factor throughout the breed’s existence has been the aptitudes to work cattle. When the advent of the railroad, the automobile, the smaller farm sizes and the surge of wheat production with motor driven thrashers all threatened the future of the Chilean Horse breed, it was the cowhorse skills that came to their rescue. For the past 160 years the sport of Chilean Rodeo evolved from the skills used in the sorting corrals during the annual roundups. By staging a spectator sport in a round arena known as a half moon (medialuna), the driving and pinning skills of paired teamed riders slowly started to captivate a growing Chilean fan base. The fact that no other breed has been selected so long and so specifically for this sport served not only to justify their existence in the Chilean culture, but it also provided the perfect reason to uphold the breed’s purity as no other breed compared when put to the demanding physical and psychological task of the Chilean Rodeo. As a result the Chilean Rodeo has grown to be Chile’s second most popular spectator sport and the Chilean Horse the most numerous purebred breed of the country.  

Unlike any other stock horse breed of the world, the Chilean Horse forms part of the “huaso” traditions whose gentlemanly demeanor can only be compared to the “charros” of Mexico. Their elaborate hand-tooled, solid wood, enclosed stirrup; their 4 inch rowel spurs; their black leather, fringed, over-the-knee-high leggings; their flat brimmed hats and andalusian style waist jackets covered by colorful short embroidered ponchos give the “huaso” a distinction that rivals the Chilean horsemanship and the Chilean Horse itself. There is no confusing the Chilean Horse with any other breed, as its traits, its courageous personality, its incredible lateral dexterity and its specialized function to work cattle, are not a product of recently established objectives. Quite to the contrary, the Chilean Horse breeds true because it has 460 years of selection and genetic purity as the world’s premier cowhorse and the honor of being able to say it is a TRUE breed in the classic sense of the word.  

Breed Description 

The Chilean horse is a small horse that varies between 13.1 and 14.2 hands that has an average weight of around 1,000 pounds. It has one of the thickest manes, tails and forelocks in the world and the “huasos” pride showcasing these traits along with its semi-convex facial profile every time they take a “corralero” (this is a term that describes the function of a horse that competes in the Chilean Rodeo-much like saying a horse is a “cutter” or a “reiner”) to the half moon arena. The breed is known to be between 2”- 4” longer than it is tall, with good but not exaggerated muscle definition, very strong loins, small, oval and hard hooves and short cannon bones of excellent bone integrity even when on the most meager of diets.  

The Chilean horse has tough skin covered by a very thick hair coat that comes in all colors except a true white (Ww genealogy) or the off white brought about by a double dose of a diluting gene (CcrCcr) found in the cremellos or perlinas. Nevertheless, dark colors, true duns and grullas are preferred and less than 0.5% incidence of overos make up the Chilean Horse inventory.  

The breed is incredibly hardy and not only is an easy keeper but also amazingly resistant to diseases. They have an admirable ability to recover from sickness, injuries or hardships, in large part because it has such a high threshold for pain. Always desirous to work and willing to please, this breed will require riders that learn to say “enough” for the horse’s sake.  Its history tells of exports to Australia, South Africa, Burma, Brazil and Argentina with only a handful of imports into the United States and the first serious US breeder starting in 2005. This privileged cowhorse merits more interest the world over where it could rewrite the history books with uncommon, but time-tested attributes that will turn heads in the stock horse industry.  

Randall Ray Arms, PAS

Breed Specialist

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