The Chilean Horse is a brave and attractive horse with a compelling history. It is the oldest breed in South America and the first breed of stock horse to be on a registry in the Western Hemisphere. It is known in Chile as “Caballo Chileno.”
This horse can be traced to the Iberian Peninsula, as well as to early breeding establishments in Peru and Bolivia. It is likely that the first of this breed arrived in Chile with Diego Almagro around 1536.
A Spaniard by the name of Pedro Valdivia began raising these horses in the region of New Toledo. He is also credited with the evolution of the Chilean Horse. In 1544, Father Rodrigo Gonzalez de Marmolejo was the first known horse breeder with the intention of establishing and developing the perfect Chilean Horse.
Chile has a variety of arid and difficult climates, not the least of which is the Andes Mountains with its ice fields. Then, there is the desert climate east of the Andes to endure. This challenging terrain prompted the need for a durable and agile horse that could face these tough climates in order to fulfill agricultural and ranch needs. Further, this remote and often inaccessible landscape created a natural geographical isolation which encouraged strict Chilean Horse breeding requirements.
This selective breeding resulted in a concerted effort to create the perfect horse, suitable for the required ranch, cow, muster and round-up work needed in South America. Given that cattle raising remains Chile’s primary economic enterprise, there was and is a definite need for the appropriate mount. Also, the 300 years of war with the indigenous people necessitated a courageous steed.
In the 17th century, the Chilean Horse was used in a variety of areas including parade horses, pacers, trotters, ranch horses, thrashers and rodeo. They exhibited a distinct lateral agility, bravery and a docile temperament that made them easy to train. They evolved into the perfect endurance horses which worked well under any circumstance.
In 1858, a formal collaboration of breeders had its beginnings. It is said that the formal archetype stud was born at this time. In 1877, the ranches of El Principal and Catemu began formally documenting breed information, thus creating the first official registry. It was recognized as such in 1893.
Throughout the 20th century, the official registry has opened and closed due to the desire to keep the purity of the Chilean Horse. The registry only recorded Chilean Horses of unadulterated Iberian descent which could still be found in horses bred in remote regions of Chile.
Today there are over 7,000 Chilean Horses submitted for inclusion into the registry annually. This Criollo breed is selectively bred among small groups of breeders, fostering a traditional rather than commercialized method of propagation. Chileans are loathe to mix other breed with this horse as they believe there is no equine more appropriate for their country.
As in other developed and industrialized nations, the need for horses declined in the 20th century. A rising and continuing interest in rodeo among Chileans has given this breed new life. Its popularity is no longer on the wane. The breed is being refined even more now to succeed in the various rodeo events.
The Chilean Horse is a well-built, solid horse with great endurance and an excellent rapid recovery time after physical exertion. It also displays a unique immunity to disease.
The ideal height for the horse is between 13.3 hands and 14.2 hands and the average weight is approximately 1000 pounds for both stallion and mare. All coat colors, except for full and partial albinos, are acceptable for registry. There does exist a preference for solid coats.
The Chilean will have thick skin to protect it in harsh climates. The mane is thick, wavy, and plentiful. The Chilean has minimal feathering at the hocks. The head of the Chilean Horse is average with a wide and flat forehead. The profile will exhibit a minor curve. The horse will have wide nostrils for increased air intake, alert eyes, and average ears.
The Chilean Horse has a strong and solid back that is proportionate to its body. The croup is long and solid with extensive muscling. The hindquarters are deep and robust, with definition at the inner and hind legs. The hocks are squared. The legs are thick boned, straight, powerful and short. All totaled, this horse is sturdy and well-built. Bred for endurance and adaptation to harsh climates, it does not disappoint.