What Makes a Horse a “Great Horse?”

In the film, National Velvet, the leading lady, Elizabeth Taylor was convinced her horse, “The Pie” had “greatness in him.” No one else believed her, but her love for The Pie eventually took them to the Grand National… and well, we all know how that movie goes! This week at EQA HQ we decided to search amongst our adventuresses to find out what makes a horse, a great horse! Fellow Adventuress Manuela from Chile shared with us her take on “The Pie’s” of the world.

Author: Manuela Muñoz González

What Makes a Great Horse, Great?

Well, it’s a tricky question, there are many horses that for some are the best horses in their stable and for someone else not one of those horses are worth a penny.

In Patagonia Life is Rough

Here in Patagonia, people work constantly moving herds of sheep or cows from one ranch to another, or moving herds from summer pastures to winter forests. These paths are never easy. We always have to be alert and react fast… and so our horses need to be the same.

We need extremely quick horses, brave as lions, and of course gentle with their riders.

Depending on the season and the job that has to be done we spend from 2 to 7 hours a day in the saddle. Our work consists mostly of herding cows from one pasture to another. In winter time we herd the cows to the mountains. In spring we have to search for every single cow in the mountain and herd them down, through mud and dense vegetation.

After 3 months of living in the wild these cows start becoming little rebels, if I may say so. And some of them become really short tempered and have no problem in charging us and our horses.

In Patagonia Horses are tough.

In winter time we sometimes need to go across freezing rivers. These rivers are so fast and deep that the horses need to swim like sharks. If they would hesitate even for a minute the current could take both rider and horses’ lives.

They have to be able to walk in deep mud, mud to their stomachs for long periods of time. They can’t despair, otherwise they’ll never get out, they could break a leg or get stuck. In this case that mud would become their tomb.

Our Lives in their Hands

For us horses are not pets, they are life companions. Therefore we take care of each other in every single ride. We trust our horses and dogs even with our own life.

And so I’ve had great horses.

Trueno, My Prince

“Trueno”, my childhood horse… every time I bring him to my memory my eyes get wet. He was the best horse a child could have. I was so madly in love with him I would have my lunch on him and even my naps! He would just eat his grass across the pasture with me lying on him, sleeping on his back and relaxing on his movements. This one time I was probably 10 years old and trying to gallop bareback on my own. I fell badly and lost consciousness. When I woke up Trueno was trying to wake me up with his muzzle. To this day, I am not sure how much time passed. All I know is that my sweet baby was next to me when I woke up.

My childhood friend Trueno was a truly exceptional and great horse
In the middle: A probably 11 year old me and Trueno. Photo Credits: Manuela Muñoz González

He was a sweetheart and a prince with me. Trueno, my good steed I will never forget you, you are the best horse a child could have had.

Caricia, Fast as Thunder

“Caricia”, my black mare. She was impossible to catch for everyone except me, I somehow knew how to reach to her. For me she was brave as no horse I’ve ever met. She would just jump into rivers, mud, logs, fallen trees or anything I asked. Furthermore she swam like a fish and she was as fast as thunder. Another great mare for a child, my sweet mare, you will never be forgotten in this humble heart.

In Patagonia Horses have to be brave and trustworthy
The ears from Caricia, my trusty brave mare. Photo Credits: Manuela Muñoz González

Sikandar, The Perfect Horse for Me

I have to mention my white beast, “Sikandar,” my cremello gelding. He is the son of a great jumping mare I own. He is also the first horse I ever saddle broke with my own hands. And he is just the most comfortable horse I’ve ridden, sure footed, brave and always trying to impress. He is made for jumping. I’ve jumped fallen trees, ditches and small bushes, and he never hesitates of what I ask him to do. Cows? Not so great… he is a little scared of those funny looking creatures, still maybe he is not the “perfect” horse for work, but he is the perfect horse for me.

In Patagonia Horses and their riders have to overcome many obstacles.
Sikandar and I jumping a burned tree. Photo Credits: Manuela Muñoz González

Malandrin, The Brave

“Malandrín”, my bay gelding fears no calf, cow or bull. He would just face a bull if I ask him to, no hesitation or fear showing in ears or eyes. Determined to win any race with any fast cow across the pastures, and quick in his feet to chase that cow around until the job is done.

In full working outfit for daily chores in Patagonia. My great horse Malandrin, me and my dog Drako.
Malandrín and I, and Drako my dog. Photo Credits: Manuela Muñoz González

One of the bravest moments I can recall from “Malandrin” is this: One time when we had to face a wild bull. Here there are many wild herds of cows and bulls with no owner which we call “Baguales.” Sometimes they go out of their territory and get together with our own domesticated herds of cows, and we have to go and separate them.

It’s a Wild One!

It was winter, a freezing morning. The grass and the soil was frozen, so walking on it felt like stepping on pavement. My whole body ached just imagining falling on that hard ground! My partner and I were checking on the bulls when we saw an Overo bull that didn’t belong to us. We started getting close to check on branding or any identification that could tell us who the owner was. As we rode closer I saw the bull lifting his head, sniffing the air… he smelling us.

“Es un bagual,” said my partner (it’s a wild one). My heart started beating fast. I had only heard stories about baguales. Never had I imagined to be facing one right in our territory. Once we got a little bit closer I was able to see his face. He had the most wild eyes I’ve ever seen, scars all over his face and body. One long pointy horn was ready to gut his opponent open. The other one broken in half, signal that he had fought many opponents before.

“We have to get him out, otherwise he’ll fight our bulls and hurt them.” Our bulls are Angus and have no horns to defend themselves.

The Chase begins

As I was saying that the bull gave us no time. He started running away immediately, and so began the chase. My gelding, as if he had read my mind, started chasing him. With the sound of the beating hooves on the frozen solid ground and the barking of the dogs I began to get closer.

My partner right next to me, determined to catch him, encouraged the dogs while galloping. I had faced angry bulls or cows before, but never a bagual. I was scared to death of that pointy horn, but I couldn’t show any hesitation. We stopped in a nearby stream where the dogs had stopped him. I stroke my gelding’s neck and I asked him to take care of me. My partner was already getting his lasso ready. I didn’t stand a chance against that bull. So I got prepared to help opening doors or encouraging the bull to go forward once caught. Unfortunately the bull didn’t give us the chance. The moment he saw that we were the only ones obstructing his way between him and liberty he made his decision. He started running toward us.

To be able work with our bulls, you need a great horse like Malandrin
Malandrín pulling one of our bulls, we had to trim his hooves. This is the way we can do it since we don’t have fancy equipment. Photo Credits: Manuela Muñoz González

Scared to Death

I was scared to death. But I had to slow him down so my partner could catch him with the lasso. I asked my bay to go forward, to face that 1000 kg bull coming straight toward us. He didn’t even hesitate, ears pinned back, he started galloping towards the bull. We managed to get to the side where he had the broken horn. Malandrin pushed him on the neck with all the strength he had. Furthermore he was biting him, trying to tell him “I’m not scared of you!” The bull lost momentum and he slowed down. Then he stopped running and now with a loud snort he faced at us, ready to charge.

We were trapped in the stream and had nowhere to run. My steed kept looking at him, ears pinned back as if he was trying to intimidate the huge wild bull. Just as he was about to charge at us my quick trusty partner threw his lasso and caught him. I felt a moment of relief, but now the mare he was riding had to have the strength to pull him. I prayed the lasso wouldn’t break. Just when I saw that he was caught I encouraged my steed to get away as fast as possible. He obeyed and we ran as our lives depended on it. In a second, we managed to get by my partner’s side. “You ok?” He asked loudly. “Yes, now what?” I said. “Now, we get him out!”

Life in Patagonia is hard, so we seek trusty companions in horses and dogs
Malandrín and Drako, my trusty dog. Photo Credits: Manuela Muñoz González

Getting the Bull out

He started pulling the bull with his mare. Even though she is very small she is one of the strongest mares I know. She started pulling her heart out on that hard ground, dogs helping in the back. The bull got tired of pulling back and finally decided to go forward. As he began to run forward we run full speed trying not to lose him. After about 15 minutes or so we had that bull out of our pastures, and everything went back to normal. Everything happened so fast, and felt so slow, it felt like we spend all morning fighting with the bull. Horses sweating, dogs panting and us catching our breath we finished our job. I’ll never forget how my sweet bay faced this wild bull with such bravery and courage.

A Tribute to the Great Horses

I hope my past horses can read this from the sky. So this is a small tribute to all the horses I’ve owned. The ones mentioned are in company with all the other great ones, namely Gitano, Kiara, Almendra, Madreselva, Damian, Monona, Patrón, Tornado and Caprichosa.

One of Patagonia's great horses: Malandrin
Malandrín in the sunrise. Photo Credits: Manuela Muñoz González

To all the horses in my life: They might not have seemed great to anyone else but they were certainly great for me!


Do you like Manuela’s story about her life with horses in Patagonia? Explore her amazing home country and its equestrian culture by reading more interesting stories and information about Chile on our website. You can follow her Adventures on her Instagram, too.

And if you can’t wait to see Chile and Patagonia with your own eyes, then check out our free catalog. In “Horse Riding in Every Country,” you can find horse riding stables and tours in Chile. Get travel inspiration with over 400 riding opportunities in more than 180 countries.

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