Hacienda Pambasinchi. So far, it's been a crash course in dealing with horses en masse. We have 80 here, divided into two herds and rotated around different pastures across an expansive 4,500 hectares. I've quickly learnt just how fast 80 horses can mow a field of long, lush grass to its yellowy roots - it makes for a lot of work shifting fence lines across vast swathes of farmland to ensure they have fresh grazing.
Despite the abundance of pasture, most days all the horses are rounded up to be fed and watered. Heaving 40kg bags of alfalfa through knee-deep sludge, spreading it across the five feeding troughs and topping each with a bucket of thick, sticky molasses decanted from an enormous metal vat, is a trial that has to be repeated at least three times to ensure no one is left hungry - the whole procedurecan take the best part of a day.
Any time left is spent working the 20 resident stallions. And Vinicio, the twenty-four-year-old Quechuan in charge here, has a unique technique to ensure no one is left out. First, he herds them all to the bubble-shaped ménage next to the coral where, in order to get in, all the horses have to jump a line of barrels about three foot high. The arena features a steep, in-built hill to one side, and the work begins by cantering all 20 horses together in circles up and over this hill at least ten times on each rein. However effective it is as a warm up, when they thunder past you at close range - a chaotic jumble of legs, tails and splattered mud - it can be quite unnerving! Subsequently, in groups of two or three, the horses are sent five or six times over a jump, before being allowed back into the main coral where their friends are waiting.
It's certainly not a style of training I'm familiar with, but it seems to yield results - as became evident when I rode the next day. My horse, Myway, was superficially very scraggly. About 16'1hh, he had a fluffy coat marked with various scratches from the rough and tumble of the herd, and an endearing face covered in brown stickiness from the feed troughs. Following Vinicio's instructions, I didn't groom him or pick out his feet, just chose one of the three creaking English saddles from the store room and tacked him up - one size fits all apparently.
I wasn't expecting much as we squelched down the muddy track to the ménage. But, after just five minutes of riding, I knew that this scruffy four-year-old was a seriously classy horse in disguise. He glided around the arena with floaty, elevated paces, bending easily around the tight turns and sharp changes of rein that the small, bubble-shaped space made necessary. Just as round, collected and powerful in canter as he was in walk and trot, there's no doubt he'd easily cruise through affiliated dressage. In fact, his evident quality made wonder why on earth they had a rookie like me schooling him... but rather than question it, I just enjoyed the ride!
My next horse, a three-year-old stallion, was less successful. A striking charcoal grey called Martillo, he hadn't quite mastered the notion of going forwards. After a few hapless attempts to complete a full circle of the arena in trot, I was exhausted. It was a sharp bump back to reality when compared with the Ferrari I had been sitting on before.
Yet despite this particular stallion's confusion under saddle, it's obvious that the horses here are beautifully bred and produced - which says something about Vinicio's 'en-masse' training method. And I expect that, within a year, Martillo will be just as elegant Myway. Whether or not I have anything to do with that remains to be seen...