Recently, we followed Lady Florence Dixie to Torres del Paine, and had a heart-stopping encounter with the wild horses, or baguales, of Patagonia. The baguales are not very well-known compared to the celebrated “Big Five” of Torres del Paine, but more and more travellers are discovering their mesmerizing elegance and beauty, just like Lady Florence Dixie did more than a hundred years ago, and are even contributing actively to the collection of scientific data in order to understand these wonderful creatures better.
Carolina Palma and Daniela Gamboa, from our Cascada team, went on a Wild Horse Tracking adventure in Torres del Paine. We sat down with them to hear what it felt like to be a modern-day Lady Dixie in the heart of the wilderness.
Carolina and Daniela are ready for an adventure.
Carolina, you’re an expert in horses, having written a book on Chilean horses, Caballo chileno: Patrimonio vivo. Could you give us a basic understanding of Chilean and Criollo horses?
C: It’s important to distinguish between Chilean and Criollo horses, as they are not the same. The Chilean Horse (written in capitals) is better associated with the corralero horse of central Chile (the area of the huasos, Chilean cowboys), used in general for the rodeo, a sport in which huasos try to stop a calf in an arena. The Chilean Horse is completely purebred, that is to say, after being brought to Chile by the Spanish, it has not mixed with any other race and thus maintained the purity of its own blood. This was helped by the geography of Chile, which has kept the Chilean Horse isolated from other races by the natural barriers of mountains, the sea and the desert. The Chilean Horse has the oldest genealogy in South America and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN declared it a unique race due to these characteristics. Therefore the Chilean Horse is not a kind of Criollo horse, which is present in Argentina, Brasil, Uruguay, etc.
What is the relationship between the baguales and other kinds of horses?
C: One of the things that I learnt on the excursion is that the word ‘bagual’ refers to any animal domesticable by man but lives in the wild, and thus not actually domesticated. So a cat or a dog, for example, can be baguales too.
How many baguales are there now in Torres del Paine?
C: There are now 97 specimens of baguales in Torres del Paine. They live in the sector of Sierra Masle, in the northeast of the park, specifically around Laguna Stockes.
The beautiful and elusive baguales
How do they survive in the wild? Do they face any threats?
C: Since they are wild animals, they survive in a natural way, feeding on grass. The main threat they face is pumas, which prey on the baguales, and this has caused the bagual population to decline.
Any interesting fact you’d like to add?
C: One of their characteristics is that they always go together in herds. It’s very rare to see any of them alone.
Wild Horse Tracking in the spectacular setting of Torres del Paine
Daniela, could you tell us about your experience on the Wild Horse Tracking adventure?
D: It was very interesting to learn to appreciate the scenery, to stay quiet in order to hear the sounds of nature and to be attentive to any sign that may indicate that we could be near the baguales, such as fresh prints made by passing horses.
Looking constantly with binoculars to see if we could spot them from afar made me feel as if I were a child once again playing a game of exploration. Also, I could imagine what those first explorers, such as Lady Florence Dixie, felt on arriving at Torres del Paine and seeing this gorgeous place, where the beauty and peace of the landscape takes your breath away. I should also add that on this excursion, you go to places where there are no other tourists, which heightens the sense that you are alone with nature.
When we found a group of baguales, we were made to do scientific fieldwork, which involved observing the characteristics of each one of the horses, such as their colour, if they had some distinctive mark on their skin, if they were male or female, if there was a foal in the group etc.
What did you like most about going on Wild Horse Tracking?
D: What I liked most was that I had a lot of fun observing with a telescope and feeling that I was contributing what little I could to the conservation of these horses.
Have you spotted something?
As we learnt from Carolina and Daniela, human connection with nature's wild animals requires listening and looking attentively to one's environment. It has been an immensely rewarding experience for both of them. Now you can also follow in the baguales' tracks and explore a little-known area of Torres del Paine National Park on the EcoCamp Wild Horse Tracking extension. Look out for more about baguales on our blog, as next time we interview Victor, an expert in Patagonian baguales.