horse people – chile’s baqueano

Backward Glance

The man’s face is worn and tanned like a well-loved leather boot. He sits deep in his rustic sheep-skinned saddle, his feet pushed out to the sides, his stirrups positioned near his heels. Spare spurs attached to the saddle chink in rhythm with the clip of the horses’ shoes on the rocks. A raw-hide lasso is strapped to the other side of his saddle; he holds a revenque in one hand; his boyner (Chilean style of hat) sits snug on his head. His eyes squint against the icy, blustering wind as he musters the herd of woolly-jumpered sheep back to the yards.

He is a baqueano (bac-e-ano) or pathfinder. These men are brought up in Chile’s Patagonia — a terrain filled with long and narrow fjords, irregular mountain chains, huge ice fields, infinite lakes and rivers. Baqueano have navigated their way through dense beech forests in knee-deep mud; mustered cattle through glaciers, traversed steep, rocky mountain passes and crossed icy fast-flowing rivers for generations. The men have a spiritual connection to the land they traverse and the animals they care for.

globetrotting offers a ten -day estancia ride through Torres del Paine, Chile’s most prized national park. Its 180,000 hectares of diverse scenery and wild landscape on the edge of the southern ice fields and is one of the largest sources of temperate-zone glaciers in the world. The park was created in 1959 and was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1978. Before that, it was part of a huge sheep estancia. GT clients ride shoulder-to-shoulder with the baqueano’s while traversing through enchanted beech tree forests and wild flower prairies.

photos by kate pilcher

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