Without these two extraordinarily mentally and physically tough and resilient Criollo horses, Aimé Tschiffely would of course never have completed his journey.
Mancha, (The Spotted One), was a red and white piebald, 16 years old when they started, who delighted in attacking and kicking anyone foolish enough to come near him. His companion, Gato, (The Cat), a 15-year-old buckskin (dun), was only slightly less murderous. The two animals had recently been brought down from the wilds of the Argentine pampas to a local estancia after a road march of more than 1,000 miles, in the course of which they had lived on what little they could find. Neither horse had ever seen a city, houses, automobiles or a stable. They ignored the luscious alfalfa and oats put before them, instead devouring with relish the straw put down for bedding.
These wild equines were not physically attractive, having none of the finer points of conformation that appealed to the haughty hidalgos of Buenos Aires.
Tschiffely admits as much when he recalls, “Their sturdy legs, short thick necks and Roman noses are as far removed from the points of a first-class English hunter as the North Pole from the South. Handsome is as handsome does, however, and I am willing to state my opinion boldly that no other breed in the world has the capacity of the Criollo for continuous hard work.”
Firm comradeship and trust quickly developed between Tschiffely and his half-wild horses. Gato had tamed down quickly. When he found out that bucking and all his repertoire of nasty tricks to unload his rider failed, Gato became resigned to his fate and took things philosophically. Of the two horses, he was the more willing, being the type of horse, Tschiffely says, that if ridden by a brutal man would gallop until he dropped dead. His eyes had a childish, dreamy look. He also possessed a rare instinct for avoiding bogs, quicksand and deadly mud-holes, something his inexperienced rider soon learned to have complete faith in.
Mancha was always alert, an excellent watchdog, who distrusted strangers and would let no-one except Tschiffely saddle or ride him. He completely bossed Gato, who never retaliated. He had fiery eyes, which he used to scan the horizon constantly. Of the two, he never ate too much.
By this time both of the horses had grown so fond of Tschiffely that he never had to tie them again. Even if he slept in some lonely hut he simply turned them loose at night, well knowing they would never go more than a few yards away and that in the early morning they would be waiting to greet him with a friendly nicker.
In a rare insight into his horses’ personalities, Tschiffely wrote, “If my two Criollos had the faculty of human speech and understanding, I would go to Gato to tell him my troubles and secrets. But if I wanted to step out and do the rounds in style, I’d certainly go to Mancha. His personality was the stronger.”
As Long Rider Verne Albright, who rode two Peruvian Pasos from Peru to California in 1967, wrote, "Not only was I following in the footsteps of A. F. Tschiffely, but my mares were lodged in a corral where Mancha and Gato, two immortals of the equine race, had once spent a night."
They certainly haven't been
forgotten by a young Englishwoman, Georgie Gibbs. Georgie's hobby is
collecting model horses, and, after reading Tschiffely's Ride, she became
fascinated by the story. She wrote to say, "I collect horse tack from
various countries, and when I bought a Criollo halter, the same seller had the
book for sale, so I was interested and bought it too. I loved the tale of the
journey, the places, and especially the moving relationship between rider and
horses, and researched as much as I could afterwards.
Note: The photograph of Aimé with the horses below left is one we hadn't seen before. Click on any image to enlarge it.
Please visit Georgie's website for more information.
Click here to read a fascinating story about the history of the Criollo horse.
And here is Aimé's moving tribute to the horses published in the postscript to the 1952 edition of Tschiffely's Ride.