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The humble horse has long been held close to the heart of South America, and in many more rural areas of the continent they are still the preferred mode of transport. The heroic figure of the gaucho, a symbol of masculinity, strength and survival in the tough pampas of the Southern Hemisphere still lives on strong today. They lived a nomadic existence for centuries, driving cattle across the lands and moving onto the next ranch once their job was done. The equivalent of the American cowboy, the gaucho conjures up a romantic image for many although in reality the job was anything but, passed from father to son the tradition has remained strong and throughout South America and today there are festivals to celebrate the role of the horse and the gaucho. Here Dehouche herds up our favourite horse related festivities.

Peruvian Paso Horse Competition

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The dressage competition from last year’s Olympics were a surprise favourite amongst viewers and it was described by many as watching horses dance, but this is nothing compared to the Peruvian Paso Competition, often known as the ‘Dance of the Stallions’. The Paso horse is a breed unique to Peru and has even been declared a Cultural Heritage of the Nation. The horse can trace its ancestry to the Arabian stallion and it is life in the desert that caused the horse to develop its unusual gait. The Peruvian Paso horse has a lateral gait that is much smoother than your usual horse and this unusual rhythm allows the horse to be used in dances where the man is on horseback and the woman on foot. The most important event of the year is National El Paso Horse Competition held in April where both the owners and horses dress up in their finest to compete to be named the best.

Fiesta de la Tradición – San Antonio de Areco

Men ride untamed horses out into a field during the Patria Gaucha Festival in Tacuarembo

Located 70 miles away from Buenos Aires, San Antonio de Areco is a small town that would slip under the radar if it weren’t for the annual Dia de la Tradicion Festival which is held each November. For over 70 years gauchos from all across Argentina have been descending on the town to celebrate the history of the gaucho and compete against each other in nail-biting events. The jineteada gaucha is the main event which is similar in some ways to the American rodeo, the horse is tethered to a post and blindfolded at which point a gaucho jumps on and his strength is tested by how long he can last before being thrown off. Another highlight of the festival is of course the food, each night you can smell the parrilla long before you see it or if not the long line of gauchos lining up for their meat fix will soon give it away.

La Patria Gaucha – Uruguay

A gaucho rides an untamed horse during the Patria Gaucha Festival in Tacuarembo

Gauchos from Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay all come together and put aside their country’s political differences to unite together as one big gaucho family for the Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha. This is the largest festival of its kind with over 60,000 people flooding the small Uruguayan town of Tacuarembo, the heart of Gaucho land. The main event is again the jineteada gaucha but this time the stakes are raised as the most hardened Gauchos from three countries fight it out to stay on their horse for the longest and be named the champion. After the dust from the jineteada guacha subsides everyone comes together for the parade through the town which sees over 3,000 horses and their riders take part, and as with all South American festivals there has to be a beauty queen leading the pack, known in gaucho tradition as ‘La flor del pago’.

Polo International – Buenos Aires

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Right at the other end of the spectrum for horse related activities is the Polo Internacional taking place in Buenos Aires this weekend. Polo takes its roots from the Persians where it known as the ‘Sport of Kings’ and although it was the British who popularised the sport as we know it today the modern game was in fact derived in India and the first polo club was established in Assam in 1834. Since then however, the Argentines have fully adopted it as their own and have some of the finest polo players in the world. This weekend sees old rivalries revoked as Argentina, South Africa and England battle it out to be declared the winner of the Polo International. Although there are polo matches throughout the year, the Big Daddy of polo events takes place at the end of November when the Argentine Polo Open Championship comes to town, this is one of the biggest polo events in the world and attracts some of the greatest players.

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