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For the love of a horse...

Johanna and her super star

Every now and then you meet a young person in life and in your travels who you warm to immediately. You know instantly they are old souls beyond their tender years and they bring to life the saying that education is not always academic and that knowledge is power.

Meeting Johanna was like that for me. From the very first time she spoke to me at the Estanscia, I had this real desire to find out what made her tick. She was riding as tail end Charlie on one of the horse treks we were doing with a group of folk at the ranch. She wore her long auburn ponytail tied loosely with a simple band under the maroon beret she wore as part of her traditional gaucho uniform. She sat easily in the saddle going about her own business and it was about half an hour into the ride I realised she understood English well. I was impressing people on the ride with my with and charm, and I heard her chuckling at one of my jokes. Actually because she is a female gaucho , technically she is a gaucha, but I don’t expect she is the feminist type to take offence at being referred to by the wrong gender.

She adores Argentina and her eyes glaze over when she talks about the last four summers that she has spent here, working at El Ombu over the tourist season before returning home to Austria in the winter. She is the only child of parents who sound like they have made it their business to educate their daughter to the ways of the world in as many ways possible. She has traveled a lot since a very young age and is fluent in German, Spanish and English. Coincidentally, she visited New Zealand as a 5 year old child, and I couldn’t help but laugh when she reminisced about having her photo taken hanging on for dear life to the signpost that is in Bluff, the most southern point of NZ, because it was blowing its tits off! She said she remembers that moment vividly. Other parts of the trip are have remain etched in her memory when she looks at the photos taken there and she hopes to return one day. I hope so too, but in the meantime she dreams of a life in Argentina with her beloved horses. She loves the life there, the work with the horses and the people she works with. I expect if she didn’t have a special steed back in Austria that came from Argentina originally, she would be looking at ways to make to make it work as more than a seasonal arrangement .

When I watched her do the afternoon show with a young 3-year-old gelding that she had only been training for a few weeks, it was clear that she has a gift. She calls it “the hand”. We might call it horse whispering or one hell of a talented horsewoman. She had trained the little gelding using the traditional “Doma India” method. The Argentine horse, or Criollo is the native horse of the pampas. I have come to learn that this is the natural region between Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, in South America. The horses have a reputation for long-distance endurance linked to a low basal metabolism and are known for its hardiness and stamina, are compact and sensible.

Johanna called the breed of the horses at the Estanscia Mestizo – not really a breed but a mix. My interpretation of that is they are a crossbred type similar to the station and run stock that is bred at home with mixed blood lines. She is inspired by, and practices the age-old method of horse training developed by the natives of South America to recreate a bond of trust and harmony with their horses. She performed her show in front of the lunch time diners on the lawn, and despite the fact this tiny gelding was just a baby himself, he was rock solid in his performance under her guidance and hand. He wasn’t very big, he barely would have made 14.0 hh, but the horses here aren’t typically big as we know them back in NZ. Probably about Park Hack size for most of them.

She climbed all over this baby, between his legs and all over him before gently lowering him to the ground. She inspected his feet, lay on him and then lay beside him. The trust between this partnership is very special and even an untrained eye could see that. He was being bothered by biting flies at the time and so wanted to kick to get them off his leg but Johanna and him were totally engaged, and he never once jeopardised the bond of trust that has obviously grown between them . It was wonderful to watch, and while I know she will have this gift with any horse she is working with, the little chestnut dude has a special place in her heart she confessed. She wishes he was bigger, and I expect she would be trying to send him back to her native Austria to join her other special horse there if he was. I think the horse in her homeland is the biggest drawcard for her return back there at the end of the month. She loves the gaucho life in Argentina and would love to stay but the wages here are poor by comparison.

She talked about opportunities that may open up for her in Austria that might allow her to replicate some of the lifestyle she loves here. She is investigating working in the mountains minding cattle with her horse and living in a small cottage on her return. Its lonely work but pays well and similar I expect to the goat and cattle drovers that we know from folklore. She loves the cattle work and sometimes early in the morning I could see her from the homestead out on the farm cutting out cows and calves that needed to be weaned, and doing other stock work with fellow gauchos before the heat of the day got up.

I don’t know if she will get there because I expect she will be snapped up by someone who recognised the exceptional talent this tiny horsewoman has with a bit of luck. She had just been filmed doing her stuff for a TV documentary at the beginning of February, and when we were there a few days later, the Youtube clip at the bottom of the page had been viewed over 30000 times and the doco hasn’t even aired yet!

When she is performing this she told me she would like to think the display tells a story similar to this:

“Its dark and the native indio as a fugitive, creeps into the stable to inspect a horse. He checks it out from head to toe marvelling at its feet and inspecting how well it is put together before he hears the Spanish coming. He hides behind the horse, trusting him to keep him safe before creeping out of the barn into the night again.”

She loves the Gaucho life and the legends and folklore that go with it. She listens to Spanish music that tells tales of romance and bravely and imagines life way back then. She has immense respect for the Gaucho and clearly adores Ramon the long standing gaucho of 22 years on the ranch who has the “hand” as well. She feels privileged to be able to learn off him and spoke about his talented son with the same gift who has now left Argentina building a career and life in another country using his skills.

She’s well read, infact I don’t think I have ever seen anyone so passionate about reading and we would say she is a book nut who has a real passion to learn about anything that will enhance her life. How she finds time for that I don’t know? Her sense of humour is classic, and her kindness was overwhelming but she doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

She must have thought we were OK. Rain was forecast for our last day on the ranch and so she requested a day off from the long hours and stints she does over the tourist season. Once she had enjoyed a sleep in, she accompanied us to a sleepy little town called San Antonio to enjoy a wander around the shops and some real Argentinian authenticity. We loved our time there with her and the help of a fluent Spanish speaker when negotiating a couple of special purchases and getting directions was so good.

We have been in touch regularly as we have traveled about over the last couple of weeks and I hope it is the beginning of a very special friendship. Johanna, you are indeed one very special young lady and I wish you all the very best for an exciting life ahead and the opportunities that I know without a doubt will come your way.

I for one will be so proud to put my hand up and say, I saw her first!

“Entra en el mundo, hermosa amiga y te deseo mucho amor y mucho éxito.”

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