Experience a lesser seen side to gaucho life by meeting the horse whisperer of Estancia La Bamba.
The Pampas, a vast steppe of grassland plains, are an authentic reflection of rural Argentina’s gaucho culture – the barren land inhabited by early European settlers who utilised the plains for agriculture, and a time when Argentine cowboys, or gauchos, could be seen herding their cattle on horseback. There has since been a romance attached to the gaucho way of life, becoming a symbol of freedom as they live off the land.
Asado – or Argentine barbecue – of succulent beef, the nation’s own red wine and the bitter maté that’s drunk from a gourd are all well known gaucho idiosyncrasies, as much as riding across the plains on horseback and the distinctly Argentine game of polo are. But there’s another, less understood but especially intriguing tradition that the gauchos adopted long ago from the land’s native Indians; the art of horse whispering.
In the north of Buenos Aires Province and close to one of Argentina’s oldest towns, San Antonio de Areco, the authentic Estancia La Bamba is an ideal base for luxury Argentina tours with its stylish interior, pool and first-rate cuisine. Plus, the estancia is home to horse whisperer Martin Tatta. “What makes La Bamba special for me is the setting, with its atmosphere and tranquility,” Martin tells us, “You can really enjoy nature here. The Pampas is a flat land that you come to enjoy, then leave as a gaucho.”
“The Pampas is a flat land that you come to enjoy, then leave as a gaucho.”
The accomplished horse whisperer grew up amidst the great plains in the nearby city. “I found it the nicest place to grow up,” he enthuses, “I love to watch the stars at night, wake up at sunrise listening to the birds sing, look after the cows and dogs, and to wet my feet with the dew. And I am still here now because I love it. San Antonio de Areco is a place where the gaucho tradition is still alive and very strong. I myself conserve traditions like using a lasso, jineteada [riding a bucking horse] and using boleadoras [weights attached to cord, used to capture a horse’s legs].”
It was Martin’s upbringing that gave him such a strong connection with the land’s horses. “As I grew up they were my toys,” he says, “and now they are my friends, my passion and my work too. Horses are everything to me.”
As an integral part of life on the Pampas, each estancia has its own horses for people to ride or play polo on. “At La Bamba the horses are mestizos – for polo – and criollos for riding,” Martin explains, “And they are all noble and gentle, as well as good working horses.”
“The native Indians were the first people to have contact with the horses here on these plains,” he continues, “riding barefoot or wearing Potro boots without toecaps. Horse whispering is a technique they used because at a time when there were no weapons, they only had their own skills and the horses to survive. The indians taught the horses to lie upside down to pretend to be dead, and the indians would hide behind the horses’ bodies. The gauchos then copied the Indians.”
Martin gives demonstrations of his horse whispering skills to guests at La Bamba. “Some people call it doma india [having adopted the skill from the native Indians], others call it mansedumbre [translating to meekness, but meaning to control without violence], and others call it horse whispering or even horse yoga.” Martin didn’t learn the art of horse whispering through a teacher, but instead taught himself through intuition. “I didn’t watch people doing it or learn from a teacher; I just did what I felt was right, in my own way.”
“As I talk to the horses,” he continues, “I am demonstrating the relationship you can have between man and horse. You can have a very close relationship with them; they really trust me and I trust them. They realize when I don’t have a good day – they can feel it – and I can feel the same about them.”
“You can have a very close relationship with them; they really trust me and I trust them.”
With each performance, Martin aims to demonstrate the close interaction people can have with horses, especially in terms of the acrobatics that could only be possible through this skill. “I am very lucky because I have the chance to do what I love, which I know can be difficult nowadays,” he says, “Horse whispering is what I do each day, and my way of having contact with the horses and nature. It’s my passion.”
Despite audiences being most impressed by the acrobatic moves of ‘horse yoga’, Martin gets the most satisfaction from showing people one of the everyday uses of horse whispering. “What I like the most is showing people that we can ride without using reigns,” he explains, “when I only use the contact of my hands and legs.” To become fully acquainted with the gaucho way of life in rural Argentina, don’t miss out on this lesser understood side to life on the plains.