Whatever your opinion about dancing horses is, hear me out! This is not like the dancing horses in Pakistan. This blog post will be something that people can have very different reactions to and I am aware of that. This blog post is written from a neutral perspective. I am posting about this because it is such a big and cultural thing in Colombia, that if you visit or already have been, you are very likely to come across it. The Colombian Dancing Horses.
This blog post is written by Stine Andersen
Local cultures are my favourite part of traveling. It always amazes me how many different ways there are to essentially do the same thing. This is also the case in the horse world. Dancing horses are different all over the world. During our stay at Steel Horse, we got the opportunity to visit a finca with the typical Colombian “Dancing horses”. We had seen the finca from a distance on our trail ride the previous day and were already quite impressed, but we certainly didn’t expect what we were about to experience! We rode to the finca on our horses, past the broodmare stables and green fields. Everything looked impeccable and the second we turned toward the “riding arena”, our jaws dropped. It doesn’t happen a lot that you come across stables and places like this.
A little unsure of ourselves, we were welcomed into the beautiful arena where a professional horse trainer was riding his horse. The arena is different to the typical arenas we know. There is a “path” made of wooden planks in the middle of the arena. In addition, there are a few poles and barrels that are part of a typical competition setup for the dancing horses.
The horse trainer kindly demonstrated a typical test you will come across at a competition. At the competition it is a combination of “dancing” around the poles (not pole dancing...), going backwards and of course the most important thing, showing your horse on the “wooden pathway”.
The horse trainer explained that they start training the horses as early as 25 months of age. The process starts bitless, simply with a headcollar that puts slight pressure on the horse’s nose. While we were in the arena, the second man who trains the horses came in on a young horse, so we got a glimpse of how they start schooling their horses. Horses are being trained about 30 min a day for 5 days a week. Their genetics combined with special training allows the horses to lift their feet at an incredible speed. Once a horse is 40 months old, it is introduced to the bit. At four years of age, a horse is generally considered fully trained. Many horses are sold, some are used for competition. There are four different types of gaits: Paso Fino Colombiano, Trocha, Trocha y Galope and Trote. Basically, they all have individual characteristics, are started, ridden and trained differently.
When the horse trainer asked us about horses in Europe and learnt that they are traditionally broken in with a snaffle or some sort of bit, his face changed slightly. Animal cruelty can have many different faces. For us it might be seen as cruel to have a horse lift their feet faster than they would normally do in nature, but for them it might be cruel having a horse canter in pirouettes. Which they weren’t bred to do… If you go for horseback rides, no matter where, we encourage you to only support places where animals are well-cared for and healthy, despite the cultural differences.
A lot of the horses at this finca are stallions. To train the stallions they ride them past the other stallions and mares in the stables as well as in the arena. It is impressive to watch as they all get along with one another. This was interesting for me to watch. Growing up on a farm where we breed horses and have two stallions under the same roof, you need to make sure to keep them in each end of the stables, else there will be no mercy. This I’ve always found fascinating in South America: Stallions can walk side by side and even alongside mares and they, mostly, don’t show any interest.
As we were watching the trainer school his horse, he stopped and offered me to ride his horse. I was sceptical at first but ended up saying yes. I had this idea his 3-year-old stallion would buck me off as soon as he realised I had no idea what I was doing. Surprisingly enough, the trainer put me on a lunge line and then he gave me the instructions. “Keep your hands high at all times and don’t use your legs” Easy enough. I lifted my hands and made a gentle kissing sound with my mouth and the horse started “dancing”. There was no pressure on the mouth, no tight reins and no kicking with the legs. The horse would just walk around. I did not do anything! I will admit I didn’t master turning around the poles in the first try but after a few rounds I started to get the hang of it. It was an experience. A good one! After finding out this wasn’t my biggest talent, I handed the trainer back his horse and he got back up and kept impressing us with his horsemanship.
Afterward we were allowed to take a look inside the beautiful stables they keep their horses in. Bigger than the average ones you see, with chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and arguably cleaner than my own house. It was simply breathtaking to get to see a place like this, with well-treated animals, cared for by skilled horsemen. They have about 200 horses at this finca. The trainer exercises 18 horses a day. That is a lot of time in the saddle every day. It doesn’t happen very often, but as I was interviewing the trainer, he kept asking me “Qué mas quieres saber?” Which means “What more would you like to know?” He was so enthusiastic about his work and our interest in their culture that I ran out of questions. Usually, I question people until they start feeling a bit uncomfortable, in the best way possible, of course. We started telling him about dressage and bits and spurs and whatnot. The more we told him, the bigger his eyes got!
By the time we left the Finca, we could still hear the hooves of the dancing horses clanking on the wood. Honestly, I imagined something different. Of course it depends on the place and people training them and I can only tell you about what I saw. On Instagram you can unfortunately find some very different examples to the way of training and riding the dancing horses. They are simply to show off as it is impressive to watch them dance. I can only agree to the latter. It was fascinating to see the horses dance smoothly around the arena and I am glad to leave Colombia having gained this experience and the insight into the local culture.
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