We spent this past weekend going to a local exposition. We have stayed in this part of town now on two separate occasions, for at least 3 months each time. A block from our present apartment there is a building that we knew was there .. but paid little attention to. We have always thought it was nothing more than a place for rock concerts or the like. Turns out that this place is truly amazing.
The complex (and it is a complex) is called "La Rural" .. you can see the name on the side of some of the buses that pass by, it's part of their usual routes. The front of the building is rather non-descript and the sidewalk in front is usually the hangout for some of the cities more indigent residents. Lots of trash in the gutters and cigarette butts and paper on the street. Around the corner is another main street that was the parking place for the Dakar rally vehicles from last years race as well as what turned out to be ... the main entrance to the complex. The entire place backs onto a shared fence line with the American embassy, so you have to believe that at least some part of the complex is as safe as Fort Knox.
La Rural hosted the annual horse and dog show this weekend. Hundreds of displays, horses and dogs and of course people, coming and going. It was amazing to watch ... and very reasonable to get into. Cost all of 20 pesos ($5.00 CDN) for the days admission. They had two show rings that were twice the size of Olympic hockey rinks, one that was about the size of an North American hockey rink and an outdoor ring that was like half a soccer field. The stalls were all laid out in such a way that each breed of horse was in the same area. They had everything from polo ponies and Palaminos to my two favourites - the Peruvean Walking horse (Peruano de Paso) and the Argentine Criollo (the local version of the North American western saddle horse). The horses on show here are not your typical "dressage" type horses. They don't do high stands or kicks, they don't run little obstacle courses and they don't look like they'll fall over from fright. All of these horses are "working" horses that are trained to work on ranches or service the local farming communities in one way or another. No prissy little things here, these are the tough guys of "Equus Caballus"... and I love them a lot.
The actual showing in the ring is always in reference to what they are called upon to do on the ranch. The exercises are reflective of the cattle herding, the transporting of humans, the game of polo, all the usual activities each breed takes part in or does for a living. The horses are graded by a group of judges that stand out in the middle of the ring and ask the riders to perform various manoeuvers. The judges know all the horses and the riders so don't always ask for the same exercises from every horse ... although the basic format may be the same, what they ask can vary a great deal. While all the judging is going on inside, in the outdoor ring they have demonstrations by every breed of horse attending the show. They had everything from English saddle riding to polo players whacking a ball to actual working gauchos riding herd on some cattle (cutting horses come to mind) and then a few of the Peruvean walking horses, all going through their paces.
The Argentine Criollo is the working horse here, equivalent to the American saddle horse in the U.S. and Canada. They are somewhat more stocky than the American breed, with legs that look slightly short for the body size .. but these little guys are strong as steel and can work all day without batting an eye. The Peruvean Walking horse I particularly like. I have a bias for it, having lived in Peru for a couple of years and seen it way back when .. plus I have a bad lower back. The Peruano de Paso has a characteristic walk that is almost like a strut and, as a result, its back remains perfectly flat when it walks. No jarring of the riders spine, no odd movements, in short .. it's a flat ride. It is truly an elegant horse to watch or to ride.
The riders and wranglers here also intrigued me. Many are ranch owners who are indulging their hobbies and fancy themselves "breeders" but in actual fact they are just "horse enthusiasts". Some are legitimate breeders. They have more money than god. You can also tell them apart because they have absolutely no pretences (they don't dress up in costume to show the horses) and they take a great deal of interest in the other horses in the competition. Then there are the actual gauchos. They have this certain non-chalance about themselves that makes you believe they are only there because the owners/ranchers asked them to come to handle the horses, so here they are ... and they're bored. They've been there and done that ... for real. These guys I love !! You always know a "pro" when you see one.
This was Easter weekend and the crowds were getting larger and larger as the weekend wore on, so we didn't go for the last day, but for the days we went, it was well worth the visits and not only did I see some great horse-flesh, I learned a lot too. I'm still looking for an English book on the Argentine Criollo. If you know of one, please let me know.
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