The anticipation of a new pony has the potential to incite all sorts of youthful feels, no matter one’s age. Of course, the search alone can turn into a full time hobby for the hours spent scrolling through photos, videos, and vivid profiles obtained from horse rescue websites, forwarded by trainers, or discovered through the abundance of #salehorse posts on Instagram. It can also get next-level exhilarating when combined with a two-week trip to Argentina.
Last fall, during an authentic Argentine asado dinner (captured on Outside Rein), we learned about an annual horse shopping trip curated by Martin Videla and his wife Rachel to his native province of Buenos Aires. The Videlas manage Rancho Pampa, a predominantly jumper training farm that they recently relocated from Argentina to Aiken, South Carolina. Every November, they accompany a large group of clients on a scouting trip that is as much an insider’s equestrian vacation with avid locals as it is a crash-course in the venerable qualities of performance horses bred in the region, and the monetary advantages of acquiring one.
Whitney Pierpont is a close friend of the Videlas and joined them on one such trip in 2018, “just for fun.” She was so positively struck by the experience that she returned with them in 2019, this time with an acquisition in mind. A fox hunter and eventer, each year Whitney has made the most of her trip, touring some of the country’s most distinct areas on horseback with recommendations from the Videlas. Below, she gives us a play-by-play of what sounds like the ultimate horse shopping-and-vacation trip of a lifetime, complemented by a very personal souvenir.
Whitney on her Criollo mount.
Typically, equestrians shopping for imports go to Europe. Why Argentina?
“Why not?” is a better question! There are so many advantages to shopping for horses in Argentina. The exchange rate is great right now. You can see over one hundred carefully selected horses with incredible bloodlines in just a few days. One of the biggest benefits is that whether a mare, stallion or gelding, there is only a one week quarantine when you import them to the U.S., unlike importing from Europe where mares have 2+ weeks and stallions a month (big $$ savings). And on top of seeing incredible horses, you get to enjoy all of the benefits of spending time in Buenos Aires.
Tell us about Rancho Pampa and the type of horses they import.
The great thing about Martin is that even though he’s from Argentina, he worked in the U.S., has had lots of U.S. clients, and is now based in Aiken, SC running his own training farm, so he knows first hand what type of horse the U.S. market wants. They breed, buy (for clients and themselves), and bring over warmbloods (Silla Argentinos) that combine great bloodlines, temperament, and trainability. Their horses are out there winning primarily in the hunter ring, in the jumper ring, and in eventing.
Where in Argentina does Martin escort clients, and encourage them to explore?
Martin is passionate about his country and loves to share his knowledge of its history and the people. He encourages his clients to explore Mendoza and the wine country, and the Iguazú Falls. Then of course, there is so much to see in the Patagonia region that he recommends: The Andes; Puerto Madryn to see the whales, sea lions, and orca; and further south, the largest penguin rookiery in the world, El Calafate, which is near the Los Glaciares National Park, home to the massive Perito Moreno Glacier.
Andesluna Ranch host and guide, Dominique (left), with a gaucho.
About the tourism portion of your trip … From where did you start and what was your itinerary?
On this trip, my friend and I flew into Buenos Aires followed by a two-hour flight west to Bariloche in the lake district at the base of the Andes. Our first night we stayed at the charming Aldebarán Hotel & Spa overlooking the water for some cozy pampering before several days of riding.
The following morning we were picked up by Dominque, our host and guide from Andesluna Ranch, which would be our home base from which we would set out on mounted day trips. After a beautiful hour’s drive on legendary Route 40, one of the world’s greatest motor tours, we pulled into the picturesque, intimate Restaurante Pirque. The food was prepared by an Argentine couple using local, fresh food from the province. After lunch we continued on our journey and soon started driving on a rough, single-lane natural rock road into a valley of the Andes. At times our truck seemed to be clinging to the side of a steep cliff. It was exciting, and, literally, breathtaking when our trunk plunged into a river of rapids and water rushed over the hood. Eventually, we could see Andesluna Ranch deep in the valley. It was like looking at a green oasis. We spent the next few days riding their sturdy and friendly Criollo horses out from the Ranch through valleys, across mountain ridges, and traversing steep terrain.
Whitney and a friend on one of many steep descents.
What was the most memorable part of riding the countryside?
Crossing a rushing river in the valley on horseback was momentous. As the horses took us though the current with apparent ease, the equally adept Border Collies would swim alongside; however, they would consistently get swept down the river. Once on they managed out the other side, they would run back to catch up to us. We crossed the water multiple times while exploring the countryside and were amazed at how well the horses handled the swift current and rocky river bottom. We also really enjoyed the vistas looking across the mountains and valleys that were simply spectacular. On one special afternoon, we came across a vast meadow and built a camp fire just on the edge under old trees that lines a rolling brook. We ate grilled meat with cheese, bread, and wine. It was magical.
It sounds like extended periods in the saddle promise the most authentic experiences. Any interesting equipment or tips?
The gauchos have created the most comfortable saddle designed for hours of riding and ease of staying on. They are multi-layered, with plush sheepskin covers. They often used them to rest their heads on the ground at night when working on the vast grasslands.
Any recommendations for packing or preparation?
We were in Argentina during late spring (mid-November), when the weather in the mountains is chilly and windy. I packed my Patagonia (of course!) three-in-one jacket and it was a life saver: it cut the wind and kept me dry during rainy spells. Dominique also provided thick ponchos from Ecuador to layer on top of our outerwear, and they were awesome.
As for the detailed planning, we worked with MacDermott’s Argentina. Hugh MacDermott helps create the tailored experience you are looking for. For Andesluna Ranch, Tammy and Dominique can be reached directly at ride@Andesluna.com. They are down to earth, friendly, and love sharing their ranch, horses, hearth, fresh produce from their green house, and the wild land that encompasses their ranch.
When our adventure was over at Andesluna, we flew back to Beunos Aires to enjoy the city and begin yet another inaugural adventure, a visit to equine estancias to scout sale horses with Martin.
Martin with a client at The German Riding Club
Now for the (horse) shopping … What can one expect?
Martin finds his clients a clean, safe airbnb in a convenient location of Buenos Aires. He arranges all of the horse viewing appointments and provides the transportation. His horse shopping expeditions are full, long, and very productive. Some days we can see up to thirty horses free jumping, under tack, or available for a trial ride.
Can you give us an example of the types of riders on this trip and what they are looking for?
Every day I was in a car with hunters, jumpers, eventers, breeders, and investors. Personally, I was there looking for a young eventing prospect to train myself. I found a beautiful mare with a powerful jump.
What is the experience like?
The days are jam packed with lots of horses and even more fun! Typically, Martin rents a van that he drives, and we all hop in and let the adventures begin. Martin takes clients to breeding farms, the big riding clubs (German Riding Club, The Military Equestrian Center in BA, Club Hípico, etc) and private farms. In order to accommodate everyone on our trip, we looked at everything from unbroken 3 YOs that will soon be auctioned, to hunter prospects, and horses out competing in the Grands Prix. We usually grabbed lunch on the road. Dinner was always back in Buenos Aires, and we consistently had incredible meals at places tourists would not otherwise find (one of the great advantages to having a local make the arrangements!). We always made time for “horsing around” between serious shopping. Attending polo games, watching tango performances, a day trip to an artisan silversmith who designs custom jewelry, belts, bowls, and knives—these are just a few of the cultural activities. It’s an incredible, nonstop equestrian vacation where the days are full, but full of fun. Like some of us chose to do, people will often take side trips to the Andes, the vineyards in Mendoza, the glaciers further South, or head North to see the waterfalls at Iguazú. I think nearly all of these can be done on horseback.
Rancho Pampa babies, destined for the States.
Are most horses green, and if so, … how do you get a feel for potential?
We saw horses of all ages and experience. The young horses that are not trained under tack are shown free jumping. You can get up close and personal with the horses as well. If you are serious about a horse, you can arrange a vetting and have the results shared with your vet back home.
Please describe the acquisition experience.
Once we were all back in the States, Martin and Rachel hosted an asado at their farm in Aiken where we watched a live auction in Argentina with the horses we had seen. During the auction, Martin was in constant communication by phone with an agent of the auction company that handled the bidding process. In my case, we had already vetted two horses during our visit to Argentina, and so it was very exciting to stand with Martin as he bid on my behalf, and helped me successfully purchase my first horse from South America.
What did you find most interesting?
This may not be surprising, but the more time you spend listening, watching, absorbing, and learning, the better trained your eye is for identifying talent!
Congratulations, you bought a new horse! What was the next step?
Martin arranged this young mare’s “backing” by using one of his trusted friends who is a gifted horseman. The mare learned quickly and has advanced to her next stage of training at the military equestrian center in Buenos Aires.
Equally exciting, when does your new mount arrive and what is her name?
Her name is Emperatriz, which is Empress in Spanish. Hopefully, she will arrive in April where she will begin her new life in South Carolina.