The Criollo Horse, mount of the gauchos, famous for its role in Tschiffely’s 21,500Km trek from Buenos Aires to New York and cornerstone for the modern polo pony. A tough, hardy, sound breed of horse, intelligent, long-lived, frugal and loyal. So how did one end up in Scotland?
Our stallion, Arrayan Numa, came to us through chance, perhaps fate. We had looked for a Criollo stallion for some time with no luck when there was a passing comment on a forum, “My instructor’s Argentine husband has a fabulous Criollo stallion.” I pricked my ears immediately and emailed to see if we could use him on two of our broodmares. The reply came back, “Of course but we are planning on selling him” with an attached photo of him being hugged by a tiny child. Done deal! We went to Wales with the wagon and the cash, and brought him home to Chamfron Stud near Gretna on the Scottish Border.
Bred in Uruguay at Las Moras Stud, where they have been producing Criollos since 1934, he was put forward, as a three year old, for ‘La Marcha’ and placed second. This is a 750Km endurance race to be completed over 14 days at a minimum speed of 10Km an hour. Stallions are required to carry 17.5 stone and live off the land, receiving no supplementary feeding for the duration of the race. The horses are all gathered together and pastured for thirty days before the race to make sure that they have an equal chance; the best horse should win, not the best trained or best fed.
Las Moras stud aims to produce blue roans and Arrayan is red based so he was sold and flown to the UK via a stop over in a lovely dressage yard in Germany.
Despite having only played farm chukkas in Uruguay and Wales, Arrayan took to polo like a duck to water. In his first three tournaments in 2008, he was on the winning side of the Scottish vs. English Hunts match, the winning low goal team at Edinburgh’s Spring tournament and then, despite being in the runners up team, at Perth’s Spring tournament he was awarded “Best Playing Pony” - a fabulous achievement for a four year old stallion at the start of his first season.
His job here is first and foremost to be Mark’s polo pony and as a result we only take a few visiting mares for natural covering. He regularly covers a mare in the morning, goes on the wagon with a mare, plays polo, stands tied up all day (obviously with regular visits from his public – he’s a big favorite with little girls as, after all, he is pink!) and covers another mare when he comes home.
His first three foals were born in 2009 and we could not be happier with them. They were all born early – seven, eighteen and thirty days but, despite this, they were exceptionally quick on their feet and to the milk bar. They are all very correct, very athletic, sound and tough. Oh, and so far, they are all roan.
We have become passionate about this breed and its engaging history. Descended from the horses of the Spanish Conquistadors, originally selected to be tough and hardy, numbers were further thinned out on a long journey with insufficient food and water. Some of these horses escaped during campaigns against the Indians and formed large herds on the pampas. Natural selection then resulted in horses that were able to withstand the hot summers and the exceptionally cold winters.
The breed standard was established by Emilio Solanet in 1928 and he culled a huge percentage of the breed that did not meet the requirements. While this seems draconian by modern standards, it no doubt strengthened the qualities of the breed and stopped breeding from inferior animals.
There have been amazing feats of endurance from the Criollo horse. Most famously was the 13,500 mile ride from Buenos Aires to New York City undertaken by Swiss adventurer Aimé Tschiffely with Mancha and Gato. These horses were 15 and 16 years old when the ride started. It finished three years later and they both survived well into their forties. Another Criollo is reported to have travelled from Buenos Aires to Mendoza arriving five days later having averaged 133 miles a day. There are many, many more stories like this.
These stories convinced us that the Criollo horse possessed the qualities we want in our breeding program and we look forward to the future with our tough little horse from the pampas!