The Chilean riding style
Whoever believes a Chilean horse can be reined with both hands and prompted to perform complicated figures, as in the English parading style, is quite mistaken! Neither the parades nor the leg aids exist.
The Chilean riding style
If you’re not experimented with horses, keep in mind you must always saddle a horse from the left side. You should mount, dismount and lead your horse on the left-hand side too, unless of course you’ve got an abyss on the left side of the horse. On long journeys, make sure stirrups are neither too long nor too short – sitting comfortably is very important. If you notice during the trip that the stirrups do not have the right length, you better ask the arriero or tour guide to make sure they’re properly adjusted, as you may experience knee problems on the first evening.
The reins are made from round, thick leather straps and should always be held with one hand; make sure you switch hands on long journeys. Reins shouldn’t be held too loose, ideally shorter, letting your hand go forwards with the horse’s movements. This action provides enough elbowroom between your hand and your body to bring the horse to a halt or to tie it down. Pulling the reins in a brief swoop backwards performs both commands.
The Chilean riding style works by impulses, and so do the leg aids. Your legs should not be constantly pressing on the sides, just stretch them out forwards in a relaxed position. If you want to prompt the horse to step forwards or to begin a faster pace, just press both legs briefly against the horse’s body (or two or three times in case of a dull horse).
In contrast to the English riding style, a light trot is not common practice in Chile, and you will surely never see a real arriero gallop in a gentle position. However, if you prefer a gentle trot, it is perfectly fine, as Chilean saddles do not have a knob as western saddles do.
It’s easy to learn how to ride the Chilean style, and by learning a few basic principles, beginners will soon be able to enjoy horse trekking with their quiet and sturdy Criollo companion.
At different paces
As with all horses, Chilean horses know the three basic paces – walking, trotting and galloping. The fundamental pace while horse-trekking, is walking. Horses need a lot of energy to perform well during a lengthy journey. Take caution that your horse doesn’t begin to doze off while on a walking trek. This may be especially dangerous on unfamiliar terrain; therefore, you should remain alert and make sure you are pushing your horse forward every so often.
To the inexperienced rider, trotting becomes the most uncomfortable pace and lighttrotting, which is uncommon in Chile, might be a better alternative: Using the thrust on the horse’s back, move upwards so that you’re lifted off the saddle with every second trotting beat, stand briefly and let yourself fall gently back to the saddle with every beat. It’s a good idea to fix a foreleg as your support (on longer distances, change the support leg every five minutes, making sure the horse bears the weight on both sides). Every time the support leg steps forward, you stand up shortly, then immediately sit again, just to stand up again with the next beat.
It is far easier to stay seated during the gallop; the pace allows the rider to swing along. However, galloping is drastically faster than trotting, thus beginners are generally a bit afraid to begin galloping. If you would like to gallop in a light position (less exhausting for the rider and relieving for the horse), simply lean forwards a little and stand on the stirrups until your backside is not touching the saddle. It is important that your knees remain tight against the saddle, so that you won’t lose your balance.
If you are lucky, you might get a horse capable of performing a particular pace called Marcha (a combination between walking and trotting). This pace is extremely comfortable for riders and a great deal less exhausting for the horse than trotting or galloping and while still a faster pace, it is ideal for horse-trekking.
Problems and obstacles
Trekking the open backcountry cannot be compared to flat landscapes, particularly when horse-trekking the Chilean Andes Mountain Range. Therefore, always keep in mind some basic rules:
On an uphill ride, your horse will experience exhaustion faster than on normal flat areas, therefore, help it by bending forwards on the landscape inclination and relax the reins a bit further (avoid letting them hang loose!). If the climb is steep and you begin slipping back on the saddle, hold on to the mane, never pull the reins.
Riding downhill demands a great deal of concentration from your horse; it has to avoid stumbling or slipping. Relax the reins a bit allowing your horse some steadiness. If your horse is descending too fast, slow it down by pulling the reins slightly, lean back following the approximate degrees of the mountain slope, stretch your legs forward a little holding the stirrups better. Do not attempt to trot or gallop while going downhill, unless you are on good ground surface.
If the downhill ride is much too dangerous, get off your horse and do one of the following: If the path is broad enough, it is best to lead the horse with a certain amount of distance to your right side (i.e. walk on the left side of your horse within its line of sight). If the path is too narrow, walk in front of the horse letting the reins relatively loose. This option however, puts the rider at risk should the horse fall.
Chilean horses are used to going downhill on their own, and remaining close to their herd. The arriero or your tour guide will usually remain on his horse even at complicated areas, driving the entire herd downhill whistling and shouting. If this occurs, simply fix the reins on the saddle (i.e. put them beneath the stirrups) and let your horse descend on its own. You should follow at a distance.
Other possible obstacles you may find on your path will be low hanging tree branches, overhanging rocks or boulders. Be attentive and bend down in time, watch for your knees and saddlebags. If tree trunks are blocking the way, you should go around them, avoid jumping as you don’t know the horse’s capacity to jump or the ground that lays ahead of the trunk well enough.
Bridges may also bare certain risks, particularly old wooden bridges, which tend to be water-soaked and slippery after rainfall. Cross these carefully. If you face very instable or rope bridges, make sure you cross one horse at a time. Generally speaking, try to remain aware and recognize threats early, before your horse gets startled!
A group is generally made up by people with various riding levels, and various ideas of what a tour should be like, thus compromising is very important. Certain basic topics such as order and speed are relevant issues to agree to. On broad paths without incoming traffic (whether they be cars, cows, goats, or other riders, trekkers or hikers) positions may be changed, however, you must always remain aware of possible approaching vehicles and be able to form a line quickly, stop on a short notice or ride on the side of the path.
Keeping your distance is important, and there should usually be a horse’s length between you and the next horse. On flat surfaces, you should be able to see the hoofs on the horse walking in front ofyou when looking between the ears of your own horse. When riding down or uphill, keep 2 or 3 horse’s distance from the person in front of you. Being cautious this way, avoids risks from being hurt by slipping or falling horses and riders.