The term Criollo originally meant animals (or people) of purebred Spanish ancestry who were born in the Americas, but through time it has come to mean breeds native to the Americas.
With few exceptions, all breeds native to South & Central America are of Spanish Barb or Andalusian descent. Brought to the Americas with the Spanish during the 16th century.
Today Criollo breeds are native to several countries including Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil & Colombia. Wherever they are from they are prized for their endurance capabilities & ability to withstand harsh conditions.
The criollo is a hardy horse with a brawny and strong body with broad chest and well-sprung ribs. They have sloping strong shoulders with muscular necks, short and strong legs with good bone structure and resistant joints, low-set hocks and sound hard feet. The medium to large size long-muzzled head has a straight or slightly convex profile with wide-set eyes. The croup is sloping, the haunches well-muscled, and the back, short with a strong loin.
The criollo is tractable, intelligent, willing and sensible. Criollo horses average 14.3 hands high, being the maximum height for stallions and geldings of 14 to 15 hands high. The difference between the maximum and minimum height for mares is approximately 2 cm (one inch). The line-backed dun is the most popular color, but the breed may also come in bay, brown, black, chestnut, grullo, buckskin, palomino, blue or strawberry roan, gray and overo colors.
The breed is famous for their endurance capabilities and ability to live in harsh conditions, as their homeland has both extreme heat and cold weather. They are frugal eaters, thriving on little grass. They have good resistance to disease and are long-lived horses.
The breeders implemented rigorous endurance tests to help evaluate horses for breeding. In these events known as “La Marcha”, the horses are ridden over a 750 km (466 mi) course to be completed in a 75 hours split in 14 days. No supplemental feed is allowed. The horses are required to carry heavy loads of 245 lb (110 kg) on their backs and may only eat the grass at the side of the road. At the end of the day, a veterinarian checks the horses.
Today, the horse is used mainly as a working-cow horse, but it is also considered a pleasure and trail horse which contributed a great deal to the Argentine polo pony. They are also excellent rodeo and endurance horses. The national rodeo competition is known as “paleteada”, and it involves a paired team of horses and riders that approach asteer from both sides at a full run. The steer is sandwiched in between the two horses that lean onto the bovine, practically carrying it down a 60 m long delineated path beyond which the horses must not go during the defined trajectory. It is an amazing demonstration of control that can literally pick up a steer and place it wherever it needs to be.