A Shift in Perspective: Life in Costa Rica With the American Quarter Horse

A Shift in Perspective: Life in Costa Rica With the American Quarter Horse

Costa Rica is popular for its biodiversity and tropical climate, but more than the “Pura Vida” lifestyle meets the eye for local American Quarter Horse enthusiasts.

Young boy working cattle

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By Ashley Baller, AQHA International

Volcanoes, rainforests, beaches – when you are thinking of your next getaway, you name it, Costa Rica’s got it. For natives, though, Costa Rica offers more than an ideal vacation destination, it’s home to hundreds of American Quarter Horses and an AQHA international affiliate.  

Agricultural parallels are found regardless of where you call home around the globe, but what is life like for American Quarter Horse members in a country with 12 microclimates and 5% of the world’s biodiversity? 

Take a walk with us as we give you a glimpse of the “Pura Vida” lifestyle, with an American Quarter Horse twist. The Asociación de Criadores de Caballo de Campo y Deportivo, ACRICAMDE is the recognized AQHA international affiliate in Costa Rica. This organization began in 2004 with a small group of members who were active in only three events: barrel racing, team roping and tie-down roping. Sixteen years later, ACRICAMDE now actively hosts clinics and AQHA-approved shows in reining, working cow horse, cutting, team penning, ranch sorting and ranch riding. bay horse in a working cow horse class

Carlos Rodriguez, AQHA Professional Horseman and ACRICAMDE president, gave us the inside scoop on what makes American Quarter Horse life in Costa Rica unique in terms of weather, style and cattle. 

Depending on your location within the country, you can find yourself at the top of a volcano among the mountainous highlands, at the beach along the dry coastline or hiking through a thick, humid rainforest. While some areas throughout the country experience consistent rain year-round, other areas only experience four to six months of rainfall. In Guanacaste, the climate is hot, dry and sunny, but if you travel 2 ½ hours to San Carlos, it’s tropical and rainy. As a result, livestock enjoy grass-type forage and depend on grain and supplements to fulfill their protein needs. 

As you might be able to guess, weather impacts lifestyle far beyond forage types, but also show attire. When Carlos competed at his first show in the United States, the Celebration of Champions in Stephenville, Texas, the traditional United States show attire came with a surprise. Upon entering the arena for his first class, Carlos’s trainer noticed that something was missing and asked, “Wait! Where are your chaps?” Unsure, Carlos replied, “Chaps? What for?” Since it’s normally too hot in Costa Rica, Carlos had never worn chaps before, and he assured us, putting them on for the first time was far more difficult than anticipated. Needless to say, Costa Rican heat and western chaps don’t always make the best pair. 

This wasn’t the only thing that came as a surprise to Carlos, while showing in the United States. Only two or three covered arenas can be found throughout Costa Rica, and all are in the shape of a square or rectangle. When memorizing a pattern or visualizing the dimensions between markers in the United States, it isn’t common to take into consideration how the shape of an arena impacts a pattern or event, rather we naturally adjust our eyesight accordingly. If you’re only accustomed to riding, or boxing, in a square-shaped arena, though, working in an oval for the first time presents a unique set of challenges. The lack of corners makes it difficult for the eye to judge the distance to the end of the arena and the end markers. So, if you’ve never practiced in a round arena, Carlos suggests setting up cones to emulate an oval. That way, you and your horse are prepared for arenas of any shape. 

Now, think about the type of cattle typically seen in a United States cattle class. I bet you’re envisioning a calf or steer of European breed-type, maybe Angus? If you’re in Costa Rica, you’ll see cattle with a lot more “ear.” If you aren’t familiar with Brahman cattle, we’ll give you a hint.man cutting with brahman cattle

This breed is typically used to produce bucking bulls for rodeos because of their height, strength and mass. Due to Costa Rica’s high temperatures and humidity, cattle must be able to acclimate, hence Brahman make the perfect fit for this part of the world due to their environmental adaptability. To make them useful for AQHA competition, it's necessary to breed the “spunk” out of them by crossing with a Nelore or European breed. Even as a Brahman-cross, however, they’re still faster, meaner and larger.

Do American Quarter Horses become intimidated by the size of the cow? Carlos said, “If you’re atop a well-trained horse, they do whatever they need to do to get the job done, regardless of the size. You, on the other hand, you need to know how to read your cow. An extra couple of feet should be added to your flight zone, or the cow will take off.” To provide perspective, traditionally when taking a cow down the fence, a 2- to 3-foot (.61-.91 meter) distance should be maintained from the cow. If you find yourself head to head with a Brahman cross, though, the flight zone should be increased to 4 to 6 feet (1.2-1.8 meters), and you should be ready to pick up the speed. 

two men team penning in costa rica

Heat and cattle breeds aside, Costa Rica offers a lively and growing American Quarter Horse community. Next time you’re browsing for your next vacation spot, consider Costa Rica for the best combination of tropical adventures and, possibly, time well spent in the saddle. 

To learn more about AQHA international, visit www.aqha.com/international.