Traveling with a Brazilian farrier in Patagonia

While spending some days volunteering with Estancias Patagonia, we got to meet Rodrigo, a Brazilian farrier who now lives and works in the south of Chile. We got chatting over the days and when he asked us to accompany him on some work trips, we ditched our flight plans and decided this was a great opportunity to learn about shoeing horses and the culture in Patagonia.

These blogs about volunteering in South America are written by Stine Andersen, for questions you can contact her on Instagram, or

Rodrigo was born in the state of Santa Catarina, Brazil. He grew up in the countryside, surrounded by animals. Both of his grandfathers had mules and horses, including Percherons, a breed of draft horses that was introduced by the Europeans during colonisation and used to move heavy goods, such as wool, to the ships.

Rodrigo was introduced to the world of shoeing horses through his grandpa, who trimmed the hooves of his animals himself.

Farrier working on horse hooves

Since Rodrigo rode horses a lot, it came to his attention that instead of always having to call a farrier, it would be much easier if he knew how to do it himself. So, at the age of around 15 years old, he started taking courses in shoeing. In Brazil, there are many free courses offered by the government, among other courses on how to shoe a horse, make fences, etc.

After his first course he spent a lot of time shoeing, working alongside farriers and continuing to learn and improve. During this time, not only was he shoeing horses, but he also started training horses.

Another thing Rodrigo fell in love with was competing in lassoing and ‘jineteadas’ - a South American version of rodeo. This also allowed him to travel - while we were with him he told us many stories about how he competed internationally.

The first time he left his country was at the age of about 16 years old, was when he traveled to Uruguay with a friend of his who was looking to buy a competition horse. As he described to us, there are many horses for sale at the border regions between Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, as a result of great horse culture and high demand for horses.

Gaucho cutting the mane of a brown Criollo horse

So, he spent his childhood and youth with horses, until at the age of 25, he decided out of interest and curiosity to study to become a vet. It took him 3 ½ years to realise that he actually didn’t like studying that much, so he dropped out of university to continue with what he’s passionate about - shoeing and training horses - oh! - and mules. As mentioned before, Rodrigo’s grandpa was very fond of mules, and he passed on this ‘genetic disease’ - as Rodrigo referred to it. Mules, or ‘mountain goats’ as he called them, are very resistant, especially for long distance treks. They have a very smooth walk and don’t dehydrate as quickly as horses.

When it comes to taming mules, Rodrigo explained that they are a little more difficult and that generally, the process of taming mules takes longer compared to horses (of course, it always depends on the circumstances). He described mules to have quicker reflexes as well as to be more intelligent! Fun fact - when we were riding in Salta with Gaucho Argentino, I spent my days on a lovely mule who turned out to be 46 years old! That’s when we found out that they also live considerably longer than horses. While living in Brazil, Rodrigo at one point owned an astonishing amount of more or less 50 mules! Now, 2 of them are still living at his friend’s place.

Farrier working on horse hooves
As the gauchos don’t have hoof oil at their stables, Rodrigo used cooking oil for one of the horses with very dry and broken hooves

The first time Rodrigo came to Patagonia was around 2016, when he traveled here for a competition. After the competition, he went back to Brazil, but Patagonia made a lasting impression on him, to the point that after one year in Brazil and traveling around competing, he decided to move to Patagonia.

Since people had already heard of him at the competitions, he already had a network, was respected and quickly made friends. Spending a couple of days with him, we can definitely confirm that! Not a day passed without him randomly meeting someone he knew, even though we were in the middle of nowhere.

When we asked him about the difference of the gaucho culture in Brazil and Patagonia, he talked about how, in his point of view, Brazil was a little more advanced in comparison to Chile. He explained that there is a lot more money in the horse industry in Brazil as there are many important competitions like Freno de Oro, Polo matches and Rodeos, that usually have a high prize. Another interesting point he mentioned was that in Brazil, there are a lot more purebred horses than in Patagonia. In Patagonia, purebred horses aren’t necessarily valued as high and most of the horses are a mix between English and Chilean blood. Chilean purebred Criollo horses are usually only used for Chilean rodeos, ridden by Huasos.

Gauchos sharing mate in front of a black cabin
The gauchos catching up while sharing mate

Chilean Gauchos, from Rodrigo’s experience, aren’t always prepared to invest a lot of money in their horses. For him, this shows especially in his work as a farrier. Oftentimes people ask him to only shoe the front feet of the horses, when in reality, shoeing all four feet would be much more ideal. While traveling around with him, we saw many horses with very bad hooves - hoof care simply is not on the list of priorities for most people! People wait up to three months, or more, to call the farrier.

Gaucho farrier working on horse hooves

What makes Rodrigo so good at what he does? Rodrigo is a very knowledgeable farrier who is always happy to share his thoughts and opinions with everyone around him. We saw this ourselves. He has a lot of experience not only shoeing horses, but also training horses, and 3 ½ years of studying to become a vet. At one of the places we went to shoe, there was a horse suffering a colic. He helped give the right injection and showed the gaucho how to inject correctly. While we were there, the gaucho also explained that he had issues saddling his horse as it would throw itself in the air when he tried to tighten the cinch. Rodrigo touched the horse's back and the horse instantly shied away. He explained that the horse obviously had a sore back and this was why the horse didn’t respond well to the saddle and the cinch.

He understands the horse as a whole and doesn’t get scared if a horse tries to kick him. He responds with patience and only wants what's best for the animal. And even after many years of doing what he does, he is always willing to learn more and eager to improve!

Typically, he shoes hot - another thing that is hard to encounter in Patagonia! While we were with him, he didn’t have all of his equipment. Because of that, he is shoeing cold at the moment, but once he gets all the right tools, he will be back to shoeing hot!

Rodeo horse with cattle in arena
From Fiesta a la Chilena. The gauchos work together in teams of 3 and have to separate 3 cows from the rest of the herd

Due to the concentration of horses, along with plenty of places that offer horseback rides in a small area, there is plenty of work for Rodrigo in the South of Chile and on top of that, there aren’t many skilled and passionate farriers in the area. After six years in South America, Rodrigo was the first Gaucho we met who advised people to pick the hooves and put grease on them! He is very honest in his work. If he sees that a shoe won’t fit the horse, instead of putting on anyways and saving time, he will let the owner know and offer to come back another day.

The days we spent with Rodrigo were educational and he involved us in everything - we even got to trim the feet of some horses ourselves! (Under his supervision, of course) Whenever he encountered horses with bad hooves, he would explain the issue, the cause and the solution. Our week was filled with laughter, free rides, camping, drinks (Fernet and Coca Cola), and to top it off, we ended our time with him at a Fiesta a la Chilena!

Make sure to check out Stines Instagram to see videos of the work from Rodrigo and Fiesta a la Chilena.

Traditional Chilean rodeo horse with tack on
Horse parked behind the tribune at the Fiesta a la Chilena
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