Argentina’s Gauchos

Some say there are no real gauchos in the traditional sense—rebels who never settled down, who defied authority, ignored the law, and were so attached to their horses that when they finally dismounted, they walked with permanent bowed legs. “A man on foot is half a gaucho,” the saying goes, “because the gaucho and his horse are one.” But in Argentina, many proudly consider themselves gauchos and carry on gaucho traditions.

Each year, in early November, the Argentine pampa town of San Antonio de Areco holds a Dia de la Tradicion (day of tradition), which is actually a week-long festival of all things gaucho. We had planned to be there for the festival’s ending—a parade of gauchos—hundreds of them—through town, followed by displays of gaucho horsemanship. To our dismay, the festivities were cancelled at the last minute in response to reports of a gathering storm.

Nobody was happy with that decision, including the gauchos, especially when we arrived at San Antonio de Areco and the weather was picture perfect. So instead of the parade (and the crush of thousands of people that we were doing well to avoid, our tour guide assured us) we would tour the sleepy town itself, with visits to a famous gaucho bar, and shops crafting leather goods, handmade ponchos and silver knives.

Gauchos differ from American cowboys in many respects, including their rejection of guns. Instead, gauchos carry knives—long and sharp, with elaborately carved handles—which they stow at the back of their leather belts and employ for everything: cutting firewood, fixing saddles and lariats, making adobe bricks, skinning cattle, carving off chunks of meat at mealtime, and in the early days, occasionally as a weapon.

After our tour (and the spotting of a few gauchos who flaunted the festival cancellation and rode their horses around the town square anyway), we headed to a nearby estancia (ranch) where the first order of business (after a short trail ride on the ranch’s horses) was lunch. In the cookhouse, a hearty meal was being prepared: meat, meat and more meat—steaks, chicken and sausages—as well as other delectable salad/vegetable dishes and Argentine Malbec wine.

Once satiated, we gathered on the lawn outside the stone portico where lunch had been served to watch a demonstration of the bonding between a gaucho and his horse. Trained with respect and affection, our guide explained, the horse trusts his gaucho completely, and vice versa. The photos tell the story.

At a nearby field, another gaucho demonstrated a technique in which unbridled horses have been trained to shadow a “follow horse” led by the gaucho. It was like watching a school of fish moving as one, twisting and turning whichever way the gaucho led them.

Too soon it was time to start the 90-minute drive back to Buenos Aires.

Note: Yes, we missed the gaucho parade, but that’s not the end of the story. Stay tuned to successive posts, and you’ll find out why.

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Categories: Argentina, culture, Photography, South America, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

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14 thoughts on “Argentina’s Gauchos

  1. What an interesting article! I didn’t know gaucho’s carried only knives and no guns. You look good on a horse! Very natural….Loved the photos!! Thank you…

    • Thank you so much—for all the lovely compliments. I’m so glad you enjoyed the article and photos. I’ve always had a fascination with horses and used to ride when I was younger. The only thing I missed—no saddle horn on an Argentinian saddle. And it was quite different from an English saddle, too: more blanket, less leather.

    • Me, too. Well, except for once when I slid off a huge palomino. It got spooked, took off running, and went under some low branches. My save was hanging onto the saddle horn with one hand as I slipped down the side, one foot stuck in a stirrup. Fortunately, they made me get back on. Otherwise, I might have been afraid to ride again. I think that’s why I miss the saddle horn when it’s not there. Have you had any horse mishaps?

      • Oh, of course! Bucked off, I was also galloping full force when my saddle slipped around underneath the horse. I fell to the ground but my horse ran off….tore the stirrups right off. Then I was taking my horse over a jump and her front feet tripped over the rail and I went flying like superman. Dazzed, but still alive! What times…

    • Good grief. You’re certainly hardier and more daring than I—and not a bone broken. I had a feeling you were a jumper. As late as my 40s, I enjoyed a flat-out run, but these days I’ll stick to easy trail rides, thank you. :)

      • Myself as well….it is amazing I didn’t break anything. I like to explore on horseback through and over the foothills. Yes, easy trail rides are my thing now…:)

    • It’s the best way ever to explore :)

  2. The things I didn’t know about Gauchos! I love the relationship of trust and mutual respect these men seem to have with their horses.

    • Me, too. That’s one of the great things about travel—learning about other cultures and appreciating them. I knew nothing about gauchos before I went to Argentina. I could have looked them up online, but there’s absolutely nothing like being there.

  3. What a great experience watching the trainer and the horse!

    • I was blown away, Amy. I think my mouth was catching flies b/c it was hanging open. Luckily nobody could see me behind the camera :) I could hear the gasps and appreciative murmurs from the other visitors around me, so know they were awed, too.

  4. What a great portfolio of photographs. This is a wonderful post full of information about the gauchos.

    • Thank you for the lovely compliments, and especially thank you for reading and enjoying the post. I blog about my travels so that readers can join me in the adventure. It’s such a pleasure to have you along for the journey.

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