What’s your job, Charlie?
I travel the world breaking in polo horses. I’ve spent a lot of time in Argentina, worked the last two winters in Australia where the horses are often completely wild, and will be spending this winter in Spain.
Describe the breaking process to us.
The first step is to get close enough to put a head collar on one of the horses. Often this can only be done with a lasso.
When I’ve got the head collar on, I halter-break them, then I have get them used to having weight on their backs, so I start with towels and bags and work up to the point where I can lie across their backs, pick up their legs and maybe put a saddle on. Through all this, the most important thing is to show that I am not going to harm them. Once I’ve got on top and have taught them left and right with the head collar, I just open the pen door and ride them.
Easing on slowly ...
A few seconds later, I was on the ground!
How long does it take to break in a horse?
Every horse is different. A key skill of the job is working out each animal's quirks and how much time it needs. My aim is to expose them to as much as possible so that they’re bombproof and any jockey can sit on them safely.
Swimming: good for a horse's agility and a test of its nerve
What is the success rate?
Hard to say – I generally train horses in groups of 12 and hope the majority will have a successful career in polo. A good polo horse needs:
- good action
- a good head
- power and speed
If it’s born with those attributes and is trained in the the right hands, it will succeed!
Finally getting there
When did you realise you had a special talent and who did you learn from?
I’m not sure I have a special talent .... what I would say is that as a boy I worked hard trying to be with and work under the right people. I knew if I kept my mouth shut and my eyes and ears open I would be alright. Maybe the only talented thing is having self control and knowing that you don’t need to over-complicate things. Keep it simple.
As far as mentors are concerned, an Argentine called Roberto Vinent was very good to me when I started out and I learned a lot from him. Another breaker who is freakishly good is an Australian called Jim Board who I also broke with in Argentina a few years ago.
But you can learn lots of things from lots of people and that I have done. And of course, you never stop learning.
Gauch-itas start young
Do horses have widely different characters?
Definitely, every horse has things that it’s good at, just like us. Some have the ability to be extremely good and go a long way in their polo life and others maybe not so.
Just like some horses have a steady mind and others less so. It’s important to work out what a horse’s strengths and weaknesses are before you start putting pressure on them.
What is the most satisfying part of your job?
Working with an agile horse that has a steady mind and the ability to do anything. But also meeting good people connected with nature and their culture.
Very occasionally, cowboys are allowed to smile
Is the money good?
I don’t think it will ever buy me a superyacht, but it will give me the life I want.
Life on easy street ...
Are horses nicer than humans?
They are less complex but I have been lucky enough to know a few humans that are incomparable and above any horse in a good way of course.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
I would most likely be in Africa doing conservation of some sort, maybe anti-poaching. Please don’t confuse that with anti-hunting – poaching is the problem, not hunting!
Where will you be in 20 years?
Time will tell. If I gave you any other answer, I fear I would be lying to you!
Thank you Charlie!