Latin America & Caribbean

The horse whisperers of Argentina

Oscar in the farmyard with a wild foal Image copyright Erica Canepa

The Scarpati family lives in the Pampa, the lowlands extending westward across central Argentina.

This vast grassland has traditionally been used to graze cattle, watched over by men on horseback.

Horses are key to the culture here, and the local indigenous group, the Ranquel, are famous for their skill in taming wild horses.

Oscar in the farmyard with a wild horse. Image copyright Erica Canepa

The Scarpatis have learned this art from the Ranquel and called it "doma india", Indian horse training.

They tame horses without any violence or coercion, using only patience and a deep understanding of the animal's temperament and instincts.

On their ranch, horses roam everywhere.

Horse Image copyright Erica Canepa

As Óscar Scarpati, 70, enters the corral, he takes off his shoes, his eyes shining.

His approach to taming a young horse is to turn into one himself, moving like one, playing like one, bites and all.

Oscar in the farmyard with a wild horse Image copyright Erica Canepa

After a few minutes, he hugs the horse.

"From now on we will be partners, the horse has learned that I'm not a predator and that I won't hurt him," he says.

Oscar in the farmyard with a wild horse Image copyright Erica Canepa

Óscar's connection with horses goes back to his childhood. Aged 12, he had not yet spoken a word. He was diagnosed with autism.

His mother did not know how to deal with Óscar's autism until she noticed that whenever the boy was close to a horse he would stop crying. He would spend hours looking at the animals.

At about that time, Óscar went to live at his uncle's ranch in the Argentine Pampa. A Ranquel man called Don Cristóbal took Óscar under his wing.

Oscar's home Image copyright Erica Canepa

For the Ranquel, horses are demi-gods and any form of violence against them is banned. They learned how to imitate horses' body language to communicate with the animals.

Oscar learned empathy from Don Cristóbal, to understand horses' fears and to gradually gain their trust by playing with them as one of them.

Oscar in the farmyard with a wild horse Image copyright Erica Canepa

Step by step, he became an expert in horse psychology.

His passion for horses runs in the family. Three of his five children have followed in their father's path.

Cristobal (Oscar's oldest son) in the farmyard with a horse Image copyright Erica Canepa
Oscar's oldest son, and his 8-month-old son in the farmyard Image copyright Erica Canepa

They travel the world taming horse with their non-violent method.

Pincén is Óscar's youngest son.

Oscar's youngest son, Pincén, playing with his pony Image copyright Erica Canepa

In his company, unruly pony Henry soon becomes the most docile of animals.

So docile, Pincén can hop onto it and somersault off its back without the animal even flinching.

Oscar says the secret to his family's skill is very simple: "Show your soul to the horse and he'll show you his."

All photographs by Erica Canepa.

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