Hi guys! My name is Stine and I have written about Brazil and Ecuador for Hooves around the World before. Today I'll tell you all about Uruguay!
Have you heard about Uruguay? It’s a small country on the east side of South America. It is not the first country you think about when South America is mentioned, I bet. Which honestly is a shame. Uruguay has a lot of potential and it is great for horseback riding. Being the small country that it is, you can get to see a lot without having to travel far. On the same day, you can go riding in the highlands surrounded by palm trees and finish with a sunset ride at the beach. Uruguay has got some amazing beaches for horse riding. I have been living in the countryside of Uruguay for about three months now and time has been flying by.
Also read: horse riding in Brazil
We have a friend here who needed some help on her farm and invited us to stay. I live here with my best friend as we decided to take a break from traveling. We wanted to get to know the life on the campo. Which we certainly have! Living with the gauchos is a lot of fun. We have nine horses and a lot of cows and sheep. Work is done by horse. Every other day you need to count the cows. We ride the horses out with the gauchos and herd all the cows together. We herd them to a lake so we make sure all the cows get to the water during the day. When all the cows are gathered you start counting. In the first field this is manageable. Here we have 32 cows to count. You only count the cows! Not the calves. So, with 32 cows there might be another 25 calves walking around. You have to be quick and count them as soon as they get to the lake, otherwise the first cows wander off to graze. Counting cows while they are moving around and between each other is a whole other skill. One of the older gauchos can count his 64 cows while they are walking around the field. We don’t know if he is just showing off or if he actually counted that exact number. We couldn’t do it that fast. As the beginners that we were it took us a few tries to get the right number. Some days you are lucky and you get all the cows in the first try but if there are cows missing you have to ride back out in the field and look for them. Cows are always walking in a herd so if one is missing, it mostly is a bad sign. One morning we were missing a cow. After spending 40 minutes herding the cows down to the lake we rode out again to find the missing member of the herd. At this time of year, it is calving season, so you have to pay close attention. We rode around looking for her for around 30 minutes with no luck. The gaucho sent his dog into the bushes to see if he could pick up her scent. Nothing. After almost giving up the gaucho spotted something in a bush. It was a newborn calf. He pulled it out of the bush and checked it. Still wet and stumbling on its legs, the calf looked healthy and nothing seemed to be wrong with it. Now the worry was the mother. The calf was calling for its mother but she didn’t reply. We feared that the mother hadn’t made it. The girls that we were, our hearts were broken. The calf started running away and we rode around the area to look for the mother. The gaucho was imitating the calf’s call. The dog was running in and out of the bushes to search for her. Suddenly the dog started barking and out came running a healthy cow! We guided her in the direction of the calf and they started calling for each other. They were reunited and we gave ourselves a pat on the back for reuniting mother and baby.
Besides herding the cattle there is a lot of maintenance work. There are always trees and bushes that need cutting, jobs around the house that need doing and fences that need fixing. Being two girls living with gauchos you really have to prove yourselves. You need to tell and show them that you can work or else you will be left back at the house. But we wanted to go chop wood, fix sheds and help with all the fun assignments. After demonstrating that we knew how to swing a hammer and paint wood, we were a part of the team. Giving the gauchos reason for a good laugh once in a while also helped the situation.
Also read: horse riding in Ecuador
Eating with gauchos is... exciting. Here on the farm we have sheep, so that’s usually what ends up on the asado (barbecue). Every gaucho loves a good asado with lots of meat, rice and potatoes. Being the very picky (basically vegetarian) meat eater that I am, this was a challenge. The gaucho herds his sheep into the pen and he selects the one that looks the best. By grabbing the hind leg, he pulls it out of the herd and hangs it upside down in a tree. What happens next you can imagine yourself. Watching this was an experience to say the least. I don’t think I have ever had meat this fresh served for dinner before, and I must admit it was well prepared. We made a deal with the gauchos to try their asado if they would try our vegetables. And a deal is a deal. I am not sure who suffered the most. The vegetarians eating meat or the meat lovers eating vegetables.
The life on the campo is something special. Everyone is very friendly and always ready to help. You are not disturbed by city noises out here but you might hear the cows mooing or the horses neighing. Occasionally the dogs bark when a wild boar, armadillo, skunk or even a nandu decides to cross our fields. Sometimes the dogs think it’s a fun game to play with the skunks. The skunks don’t have the same desire to play, so the dogs come back smelling absolutely terrible. Unfortunately the dogs don’t realise this, so they still expect to be petted like always.
When we are not busy herding cattle and acting like gauchos, we have the freedom to go out to the field and get two horses to go for a ride. Riding here is absolutely beautiful! On one side of the property, we have green open lands with palm trees in the fields. On the other side we have a eucalyptus forest. There is a lot of biodiversity. The horses are very well behaved and are used to a lot. For us the best way to end the day is by going for a bareback canter in the fields while we watch the sunset. The horses are pretty independent. They are very happy with the grass in the fields so there is no need for extra feeding. The gauchos take care of the shooing and hoof care themselves. Out on the campo, you need to know how to do most things by yourself. It is very expensive to have a vet or farrier come all the way out here. For us as Europeans they do things very different. Sometimes we can learn from them and other times we can help them and give advice on how to do things a little different. The more humane way rather than the gaucho way.
The tack in Uruguay is absolutely beautiful. All over South America you can find incredible tack. Some people fix or even make their own tack. Watching the gauchos do their handcrafts is amazing to see. The saddles are more sheepskin than actual saddle. It is very comfortable and you can sit in the saddle for hours! The bridle itself is pretty simple. They use pelhams with a curb chain. The reins are open in the end. So, you have to remember that you can’t just let go of the reins! Speaking out of experience... If you’re looking for a several day horse ride with diversity, Uruguay is the place to go.
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