However, by the end of the 19th century mechanisation had replaced the need for the Chilean horse and specialised breeds began to oust the native animals. By the turn of the 16th century, numbers of horses were being trained as war mounts against the Mapuche indians. By moving round and round the grain would be threshed from the stalks. The Chilean horse needs to drive a steer at full gallop then pin the animal (which may weigh as much or more than himself) and immobilise it against the wall of the medialuna.
Another tradition which arose was the use of select groups of mares to act as threshing teams. They needed to conserve energy to get through a long day’s herding. The croup is long and slightly sloping with a low set tail. Interestingly, the breed standard asks for a 1.64cm to 1.84cm girth circumference for a mare and only 1.62cm to 1.82cm for a stallion. The head should be of medium length with a wide, flat forehead. They do not shed their coats as readily as some breeds. Father Rodrigo Gonzalez Marmolejo is regarded as the first breeder of the Chilean Horse. Stock horses were expected to face and hold cantankerous cattle. Andalusians, Barbs, even the Camargue pony feature in the origins of the Chilean horse.
As with many breeds, the ideal Chilean horse will combine speed with strength. There is an alertness and nobility in his stance, a ‘look at me’ attitude. Tails were docked and maned hogged. The Chilean horse is South America’s oldest registered horse breed and the oldest registered native American breed. The thick mane, tail and forelock protects the animal from the cold and also from attack by insects.
The breed standard give the height range as from 13.1hh and 14.2hh. Only the upsurge in the popularity of the Chilean rodeo saved the Chilean horse from quietly disappearing.. The fanned protective tail set is still seen in breeds such as the Exmoor and Highland. The breed has a high pain threshold and great immunity to disease.
The geographical isolation of the country meant Chile was one of the last of the South American countries to receive imports of new breeds. Traditional breeders held faith with their selected animals and refused to succumb to cross-breeding.
Highly valued in a Chilean horse is what is known as ‘acampao’. The Chilean horse is calm and relaxed when at rest but full of spark and fire when going about his work.
Rodeo had become more organised and bigger than ever. The characteristic ‘ice tail’ is seen in Nordic breeds which themselves influenced horse types of the Iberian Peninsula. The horse hair was used for ropes, reins, halters, etc.
The Chilean cowboy (huaso) values speed rather than endurance in his mount although the breed has great stamina. The tail is thick and wide and may cover the hindquarters and the hind legs when viewed from behind. Many of the best rodeo horses were bred from these mares.
The Chilean horse is a late maturer. The first horses to come to South America accompanied the Spanish conquistadores. A taller horse would make contact too low on its body and would lack the stability necessary. These activities became the traditional events performed today in medialunas (half-moon arenas) at Chilean rodeos.
The 19th century saw Chile’s most influential breeders define and refine the traits of the Chilean horse. Any horse which stumbled or slipped was culled. The profile may be straight or slightly convex but certainly not concave. It has an extremely thick undercoat and a longer-haired top coat. With such short legs, the centre of gravity is low, allowing the horse to gallop laterally until the moment of pinning its beast.
All colours are acceptable apart from partial albinos, however solid colours are preferred. The legs are thick-boned and straight with an ideal circumference of 20cm. A decree passed in 1557 stated that each year, cattle would be rounded up and sorted, castrated, branded, etc. It is a hardy breed with a low metabolism and great powers of recuperation. Its ancestry is 100% Iberian in origin. This double coat makes them well suited to withstand extremes of both hot and cold weather. The back is short and strong flowing into a short, well-muscled loin. Most points are gained if the horse is able to thrust hard enough against the beast so as to lift it off its feet. The breed has a very docile temperament and a huge capacity for work.
Apart from war mounts, breeders were looking for horses with lateral dexterity, an even temperament and courage in abundance. In the colonial days, the extravagant mane and tail hair provided a supplemental income for the owners. Horses were used to push the cattle down long alleyways into classing pens. Chile became the first country to register their national breed. The neck should be of medium length with a wide base and a clean throat. The hindquarters are deep and well-muscled.
The breed began in Peru. Father Marmolejo began breeding for quality in 1544. Limitless energy and sure-footedness was needed. It is one of the country’s favourite sports. The ears are very mobile and the nostrils wide. The seemingly ‘short’ height of the horse is ideal to allow horses to pin cattle with their chest. The Chilean horse excels at the rodeo events thus breeders have no need to outcross.
The Chilean horse of South America is also known as ‘caballo chileno’. By the 18th century, 7,000 head of cattle would be herded down from the mountainous terrain. Stallions average 455kg and mares 442kg. The breed’s specialisation for rodeo events has assured its purity more than any other factor.
The rodeo event unique to Chile involves two riders and two horses driving a beast around the medialuna and pinning it against a padded cushion on the side of the arena. Between 50 and 100 mares were turned loose in a circular area, knee-deep in wheat. The skin should be thick, the mane and tail is very thick, very profuse but also coarse. By the 17th century Chile had a reputation as having the best horses in South America.
There should be some feathering on the heels. Some of the points are given according to where the calf is pushed ie head, shoulder, mid section or rump.
The ideal Chilean is short but very, very compact and sturdy. Match races over short distances became popular