Tandil lies to the south-east of the province of Buenos Aires in Argentina, in the humid pampas region.

Its valleys stretch from the mountains to the plains as far as the river Salado. It is the perfect place for adventure tourism… and it’s where I found myself crossing the Tigre Nature Reserve on horseback with a group of another eight foreigners.

A short practical class had been organised for those of us who didn’t know how to ride… Gabriela, the ranch owner, explained the essentials for surviving the trek: how to sit, how to hold on, how to talk to the animal so it will obey, and so on.

“You should be careful when approaching a horse you’re not familiar with. Horses respond to respect, but not to fear. If you enter their space without surprising them, they’ll show their appreciation. If they’re angry, they’ll let you know: their ears go back, they wrinkle up their nose and stretch out their neck and lips… But don’t worry, they’re not aggressive animals. Running away is their method of self-preservation, that’s where their nervous nature comes from. They always prefer flight to fight… and if you might be thinking they’re cowardly animals, I can tell you it’s better to be a coward for a minute than dead for the rest of your life!”

While she was talking, her hands were caressing the neck of a stunning horse, who responded by moving its muzzle.

“You can tell he loves her,” said someone.

“Their instincts are not as blunted as ours… they can sense our intentions and feelings, even if we hide them… I respect him and he respects me, but I can’t expect him to love me the way I love him. He would always rather be with his own kind out in the meadow than bearing my weight on his back.”

Graciela seemed to be a very special kind of woman.

When it came to assigning mounts, I was allocated a beautiful seven-year-old mare called Dakyu.

“She’s very docile and is used to being ridden. You’ll get along very well. Stroke her and show her you’re not frightened”.
“But I am!”
“Well, something’s not right then… because she’s not frightened of you”.

Before leaving, Graciela gave us her final instructions:

“We’ll move along in silence. That’s the only way you can feel part of nature. You can’t understand the sierra by crossing it in a car. Get the most out of this opportunity! If you let yourself be led, you can relive what the gauchos and the Indians used to feel a long time ago… something very close to freedom”.

That woman had an undeniable gift of persuasion!

After a day full of wonderful experiences, the moon lit up a night of guitars, Argentine barbecued steaks and home-made beer. Gabriela explained the origin of our horses’ names:

“Tandil is named after the city, obviously. It means “the rock that falls” in Mapuche and refers to the legendary “balancing rock”: a 300-tonne, seven metre high rock which for centuries balanced at the top of a ridge, rocking gently. On 29 February 1912 it fell and broke into three pieces. Nobody knows why it happened on that particular day and not any other. I think every Tandil native has his or her own theory! If you like, I can take you there tomorrow”.

Every name told its own story. A friend, a fruit, a country, a poem… until we got to Dakyu.

“She was named for polo. That was the original name of the sport in the Far East, before the English colonists exported it to Europe… and Argentina, of course. We’re a country of centaurs… so polo was right up our street! Argentinean polo is the best in the world. I was once a polo player. People used to say I was very good! But I was injured and could never return to playing professionally”.

“You need a lot of money to play polo…”, a young Italian pointed out ironically.

“It’s always been an upper-class sport. Refined, exclusive, sophisticated… and played at top speed on horses whose price is equivalent to 10 years of a normal worker’s salary. I’m from a moneyed family but that has never stopped me from being aware of things… and the injury did the rest. When I saw myself there on the ground, with my back and my dreams in pieces, I knew I had to get up… and start thinking for myself. I couldn’t live without horses, so I set up this ranch with my husband. One of the best decisions of my life”.

In the morning, we headed off for “La Movediza”; 268 granite steps took us to the point where the stone used to balance and see its remains at the bottom of the gully. Etched in the stone surface, among hundreds of messages in every possible language, I found this phrase:

“’tis not where we lie, but whence we fell”. Calderón de la Barca