In Los Llanos, the Great Colombian Savanna, and prominently Colombia's cowboy land, the vaqueros use the Colombian Caballo Criollo for cattle work and as a way of transport. Further, mules are used which have proven to be strong and more robust in the often harsh conditions of the Llanos albeit slower and less agile than the local horses.
The caballo criollo is smaller than many European races and was originally introduced by the Spaniards as a mix of various races, which has over the course of time become perfectly resistant to heat and local parasites. Its exact origins and roots are not very well known.
Comfortable to ride and perfectly trained for cattle and farm work, these sturdy horses are wonderfully agile and smooth in pace and movements. For any horse lover it's an absolute joy to gallop them across the extensive prairies and even cross rivers, ponds and thick bushland.
As horses they vary in character and personality from quieter and calmer types to the more spirited and feisty, so that both novice and advanced riders find their perfect match.
The prep-work / pre-riding
Typically, on the Llanos farms horses roam on extensive fields and grasslands and to find and ultimately catch them may require crossing rivers and forests, at least it requires a walk out into the savannah to look for them and push them towards the farm. Once pushed into a paddock or smaller cattle holding area they are easier to manage and ready to be lassoed. With no further ado, the horse then gets geared up and saddled.
The terrain, sceneries and wildlife
Exploring the Llanos on horseback allows for a special adventure. Apart from the joy of riding a caballo criollo and sceneries that - unless you are a Llanero - you probably have never experienced when riding, being one with your horse (and recommendably quiet) will allow riders to spot much more wild and birdlife than when solely by foot. First, one covers larger areas on horse back than by foot and thus will see more animals, and second, one is not seen as a threat to animals when on horse back. The horse's smell arguably also covers the human smell that wildlife may sense and flee. Some of the wildlife to spot: Giant anteater, Southern tamandua, aracaris and toucans, macaws and parrots, various types of ibises, hawks, herons, eagles and kites, spoonbills, hoatzins, anacondas or smaller snakes, tortoises and turtles, iguanas, spectacled caimans, capybaras and other smaller water pigs and rodents, howler monkeys and tufted capuchins.
The sceneries range from abundant savannas, wet and dry savanna, to tropical palm forests, gallery forests, savanna forests, morichales, a certain type of palm forest, to river banks and beaches. A typical ride will be extremely diverse. More (also see photos above)
Typical experiences that can be part of a riding trip
Apart from spotting exotic animals, marveling at the pristine landscapes and bathing in their over-saturated colour palette, a night out in the vast savanna can be an unforgettable experience, sleeping in a hammock and looking at a trillion stars. Catching fish in the rivers and ponds is great for having a fresh fry for dinner. Picnics in the saddle or by the rich in wildlife waterholes are a great stop. The most typical snack for Llaneros is bastimento, a mix of fried plantain chips and salted fried meats, that traditionally kept fresh for days when traveling the prairies. Attaching the horse to proceed by foot deep into scrubby tropical forest to look for wildlife are a great opportunity to relax your legs and bottom from the ride. Meeting local farmers and learning about their work and crafts are also great stops that usually don't go without a fresh coffee or homemade lemonade. Calling the cattle and feeding them salt and minerals while out in the fields is a typical Llanero task to try. Crossing rivers and waterholes by horse is often a necessity, especially from May to November during and after wet season. And then there is always the option for a full gallop as Llanos means plains in Spanish - no ups and downs, no obstacles but just the horizon that meets big skies ahead!
A great adventure is to opt for a few days of horse trekking from farm to farm including sleeping out in the prairies and on the farms! (Find our contact details at the bottom of the page if this speaks to you)
After the ride...
The horses are geared off and the saddle is removed. After some time to cool down we bath them with a hose or a bucket of water. Popular treats post-riding are molasses and oat - for the horse. For the rider there's fresh lemonade, ice cold beer and a hearty meal of carne llanera...
...and musica llanera.
Grammy-winner and famous singer Cholo Valderrama from Los Llanos pays tribute to his "dark chestnut horse, who is not just his companion because he and him are one alone, alone like the endless Llano". Did we mention that the locals are great poets?
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