The Criollo is an extremely hardy animal. It originated in Argentina in the 16th century. They are a tough, stocky and enduring horse, widely prized for their ability to withstand great amounts of riding and work. They have found a large following outside of their native country and are now present in many different countries around the world. These horses are most popular in Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay where they are known as a Crioulo (Portuguese for Criollo).
The Criollo ancestors were first brought to Argentina by the founder of Buenos Aires, Pedro de Mendoza in the 16th century. He had 100 Spanish mares shipped to Rio de Plata. Many of these mares died in transit, but the ones that managed to survive became the foundation stock for the Criollo.
It is speculated that the mares were a mix of Sorria, Garrano, and Andalusian blood, with some Arabian horses and Barb srossbreeds. In 1540, the city of Buenos Aires was attacked by indigenous people who freed many of these horses. They went on to breed in the wild and the Criollo was the result.
The environmental challenges they faced caused them to become one of the toughest horse breeds in the world. These horses can adjust to extremely hot or extremely cold temperatures can survive long periods of time without food or water.
In 1918, the Criollo horse breed society was formed for the preservation and promotion of the breed. The society has extremely tough endurance tests which the horses must pass in order to be bred. The test courses are 465 miles long and must be completed in under seventy-five hours over a fourteen day period. During the trial, the horses must carry very heavy loads and may eat only the grass they forage by the side of the road. They can’t receive supplements of any kind.
Participating horses must be inspected by a veterinarian at the end of each day to ensure they are still healthy and can carry on to the next day.
These horses are also very disease resistant and have a willing temperament. Up until 1934, there was significant disagreement among breeders as to what the Criollo should look like. After many years of crossbreeding with Thoroughbred blood and other European stock, some of the Criollos
were taking on a leggier, slender appearance, with thinner manes and tails. It was in 1934that Dr. Emilio Solanet took over the breeders’ association and decided that the Criollo should be closer in appearance to the shorter, stouter “Chilean Stock Horse.” The Argentine Criollo breed registry closed in 1957 to all non-native horses.
The Criollo is a strong and athletic little horse. They usually don’t stand taller than 15 hands but are well muscled and stocky in appearance. They resemble the American Quarter horse in conformation but do have evidence of Spanish blood in their appearance.
They have a slightly convex profile with an intelligent facial look overall. Their bones are strong and they are clean jointed with nice hard hooves. The most common color is the linebacked dun but they can be found in any color. They are intelligent and willing in temperament making them very popular gauchos mount as well as a popular polo pony.
They are used in many different events and disciplines. These horses can stop, slide, spin and cut cattle with the best of them. They are used in all competitions which showcase these abilities. The Argentine gauchos use them as cow and ranch horses and rodeo mounts.
Brazilian cowboys have reining and cutting competitions which are very similar to American reining and cutting events. They are also used for polo, pata (a game similar to polo), pleasure riding and as hunter-jumpers.
They are highly adaptable and will do almost anything asked of them. An example of this versatility and willingness is found in the true story of Mancha and Gato. These two Criollo horses are cult heroes among horse lovers. They belonged to Professor Aim Felix Tschiffely who rode them across the Americas from 1925 to 1928. Professor Tschiffely started his trek in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina and finished in New York City, New York. Along the way, they were received by then United States President Calvin Coolidge. The trip of 13,350 miles was undertaken when Mancha was fifteen and Gato sixteen years old. After this trek, they were retired to the ranch of Dr. Emilio Solanet and lived to be 36 and 40 years old; further proof of their hardiness.