Mariano Fernandez has a ranch in Argentina. He raises cattle and sheep and has about twenty ranch horses – real working horses that help to move the livestock. But this story is not about Mariano. It’s about his ranch hand, Tito.
Tito has been working on Mariano’s ranch for the last twenty-eight years. He is seventy-two years old, fit and lean and weighs in at 120 pounds soaking wet. Mariano describes Tito as a true representative of an Argentine gaucho.
Historically the gaucho of Argentina was known to be a skilled horseman who worked cattle. The gauchos of the Buenos Aires pampas, or grasslands, have been recorded as saying, “A man without a horse is a man without legs.” The Argentinean Criollo horse comes from the Andalusian and Arabian horses imported by the Spanish conquerors centuries ago. These wild horses adapted to the harsh conditions of the pampas and are tough and known for their endurance.
Mariano shared this story about Tito. “Eighteen years ago Tito was riding on horseback, probably chasing some animal. His horse put one of the front feet in an armadillo hole and rolled over. This resulted in a broken hip for Tito, the horse didn’t get hurt. Apparently Tito’s hip bones didn’t heal the same way they were so from that point on, he sort of rides slanted to the right side. The funny thing is that you tell him that and he doesn’t acknowledge it. I’m saying this because if you look at the saddle, you can see that it has been definitely ridden off balance. A very non-advisable thing to do with a treeless saddle in particular.
“Typical Argentine saddles in this area are called recado,” Mariano explains. “It is a succession of layers without any hard structure. You basically have a sweat pad, one or two wool pads, a leather pad, the “saddle” and on top of that a sheepskin. This recado saddle is very comfortable for the rider but it is usually not very good for the horse. The most common problems are pressure points and galling of the withers. Most people don’t wash the sweat pad so that results in even bigger problems.”
Traditionally the gaucho’s recado, a multi-layer design, was built with local available materials – leather and wool. When the gauchos are out on the pampas, the recado saddles can be disassembled and used as a sleeping bag when needed.
Mariano continues, “Tito rides different horses. There are about fifteen to twenty ranch horses and we rotate them in groups of four every shoeing cycle. We wanted to give Tito a saddle that was comfortable for him and the horse, but also adaptable to every horse that we have.
“Tito is seventy-two years old and has been working with us since we bought the ranch in 1990. He uses the horses to move cattle, sheep and muster deer as well. During the hunting season he also guides hunters on horseback. He is a true representative of a gaucho but now modernized with a Barefoot Atlanta Treeless Saddle. Everybody that meets him believes that he was born one century too late.”