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Use and characteristics of the Criollo
A vast plain stretches between Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. This is the Pampas, and it is the homeland of the robust Criollo horse. The average height of a Criollo is 14.3 hands high (59 inches/150 cm). Herding cattle is one of their traditional jobs and it’s one of the important skills that may be promoted by equestrians who sell a Criollo. The horses are strong, muscular and compact, with a very distinctive facial profile that is more convex than straight, and their eyes are rather wide-set. Among people who buy a Criollo, the foundation colour, which is dun with a dorsal stripe, is very popular. The horses have a wide range of other coat colours.
Origin and history of breeding Criollos
The word Criollo is Spanish. It was used historically to describe both people and animals with Spanish ancestry that were born in the Americas. The Portuguese equivalent is Crioulo and both terms are the same as the French word Créole, although this was applied somewhat differently. Although horses had first evolved in the Americas, they became extinct around 10,000 years ago. When Columbus brought horses to Hispaniola on his second voyage in 1493 and some of them were taken to the mainland, it was technically a reintroduction. Horses brought to South America were probably a mixture of Barbs and Andalusians, as well as Sorraia and Garrano horses. In 1535, a shipment of Spanish horses was brought to Buenos Aires by the colony’s founder, Pedro de Mendoza. However, the local Querandi people attacked Buenos Aires in 1540 and the settlers fled, leaving some of their horses to run off. The animals were soon living a wild existence on the Pampas, coping with extremes of heat, cold and drought, as well as grass fires and probable predation from pumas. This undoubtedly made the survivors very wily and built their powers of endurance, and these horses are believed to be some of the foundation stock of the Criollo. Buenos Aires was not resettled for another forty years, and by that time the feral population of horses on the Pampas was reckoned to be in the thousands. Both native people and colonists began to use the animals for riding, hunting and pack work. Other types of horse were introduced to the Pampas stock in the 19th century, including Thoroughbreds, which bred to Criollo horses, producing Argentina’s incomparable polo ponies. Amidst great controversy, Dr Emilio Solanet laid down strict breed standards in the early 20th century and the enduring qualities of Criollo horses were finally accepted.
Criollos in equestrianism
Criollo horses are famed for their endurance, and two of the best known are Mancha and Gato, given to Professor Aimé Félix Tschiffely by Dr Solanet to prove his faith in Criollos. Tschiffely rode the horses for 10,000 miles, following up his journey with a famous book, “Southern Cross to Pole Star”. They were aged 16 and 15 when they set out and these two outstanding horses lived for many years in retirement. Their preserved remains are now in a museum.