The gaucho is the cowboy of South America. Much like their North American counterparts, the gauchos have a long tradition of cattle-raising and horsemanship. It was in the pampas, tending to the cattle from horseback, that these horse whisperers appeared.
Argentine Horse Whisperers: A Look Into Doma India
Óscar Scarpati was only happy when he was near horses. He started training them at the tender age of eight and hasn’t stopped since. When he was twelve, he was diagnosed with autism — a condition greatly improved by contact with horses. Over 45 years later, Óscar has not only trained several horses through his life but has introduced his children to the concepts he uses as well. These are the doma india (Indian taming), a style of horse training inherited from the native inhabitants of Argentina, the Ranquel tribe.
Horses aren’t native to the Americas, but in the pampas, they thrive. So much, that with time, some native tribes began to adopt horses into their customs. It is from these natives that Óscar learned his technique, from his native grandfather, Don Cristóbal. It was Don Cristobál (who wasn’t really Óscar’s grandfather, by blood) who taught the then-young boy about the special method for training horses.
Barefoot, Óscar walks into the paddock and interacts with the horse he wants to tame. According to Scarpati himself, the technique draws on respect, admiration, and love for the animal. You can read more about doma india in the Scarpati’s family official website, here (in Spanish).
Practitioners of doma india consider this a lifestyle more than a technique. Like many other methods, it involves drawing on the horse’s instincts, without violence. The horse learns how to deal with the human by body language. The trainer, on his turn, tries to mimic a horse’s body language, even with seemingly harsh gestures. It aims to not cause pain or fear in the horses being tamed, and instead find a relationship with the horse. This relationship is so close, some call it horse yoga, as some trainers perform tricks with their horses that even resemble yoga poses.
The tricks aren’t the objective of the technique, though. The idea is to remove fear and spooking reactions from the horse, so it knows it can trust the human is not a predator. This takes a lot of care: one must learn to read the gestures, feelings, and expressions of the horse and react accordingly. Óscar prides himself in saying this technique doesn’t require a strong and fit trainer, as it’s not based on brute strength, but finesse and understanding.
The horse whisperers
The concept of horse whispering isn’t new. It comes from England, where some believed there was a magic word to make horses compliant to their wish. When the person would whisper that word, the horse would immediately become tame and sweet.
If there is such a word, we do not know it; but some trainers do seem to have near magical abilities in horse-taming. These, of course, come from understanding, not magic. Understanding and feeling the horse is a far better way to tame a horse than any magic spell. Different techniques by different people, such as Monty Roberts and Óscar Scarpati, earned the name of ‘horse whispering’. The name itself came to popular knowledge through the book The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans and the film starring Robert Redford.
Today, Óscar and his family aren’t the only horse whisperers in Argentina. Several other people throughout the pampas, which spread from the Andean foothills in Argentina to the Atlantic, and even partially the south of Brazil, have learned this technique.
Sometimes even by themselves. Martin Tatta learned as a child, completely by himself. To him, the act of training the horses into incredible feats of trust (such as rolling onto their backs and having him sit on their bellies) is something natural. His horse training, he says, is a soft thing. Tatta came to the world’s attention when a video of him performing with his horses went viral. You can watch it here:
It’s clear both Martin Tatta and Óscar (who has trained horses all around the world) have something going on there. Some may agree with their methods, some may disagree. What do you think of these Argentine horse whisperers? Let us know in the comments!