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The joy of horses… grace, beauty, spirit and freedom.

By Jacob Ehrler
Photos: Jennifer Moloney


Haras Cerro Punta, in ChiriquíAccording  to equine author Sharon Ralls  Lemon:  “The  essential  joy of  being with  horses  is  that  it  brings us  in  contact  with  the  rare  elements of  grace,  beauty,  spirit  and  freedom.” Here in Panama this joy can be experi-enced on a unique tour in the Chiriquí highlands.

The tour is offered by Haras Cerro Punta, a thoroughbred breeding farm in a mountain valley between Cerro Punta and Guadalupe – the highest inhabited part of Panama.  The 100-hectare farm is surrounded by one of the most fertile agricultural areas  in  the country. With an average population of  200 animals, the farm turns out racehorse champions for Panama and beyond.

The gift shop of Haras Cerro Punta.
At the end of the tour, a visit to the gift shop affords an opportunity to acquire a souvenir or two and perhaps buy a bag of Eleta brand high mountain coffee.

Cerro  Punta,  named  for  its  point-ed  peak,  looks  down  over  the  rolling acres  of  the  farm,  but  is  often  hidden by clouds. A well-kept, jet-black fencing  system  surrounds  and  divides  the farm’s  bright  green  pastures  and  the main  entrance  through  an  impressive avenue  of  encalyptus  trees.  Located some  20 minutes  past Volcán  and  another  ten  beyond Bambito,  this  horse farm at  the end of  the  road welcomes visitors  to  its  top-notch  installations. You won’t often see this option in travel  sales  offces,  as  there’s  no  margin booking this $5 tour.Tours  are  conducted  by  farm  staff and bilingual university students. Most of  the  students  are  completing  practical  labour  requirements  for  programs ranging  from  English  to  agriculture and veterinarian studies.

The imposing entrance to the farm 'Haras Cerro Punta'
The imposing entrance to the farm is lined with tall eucalyptus trees.

The farm’s discovery by tourists has depended  largely  on  word  of  mouth. Guides  are  on  site  during  the  day  to escort visitors around the grounds  and see  the  thoroughbred mares,  stallions and  yearlings. There  is  also  a  visit  to a unique gift shop offering Eleta brand coffee  and  artisan  products  made  by the wives of the farm staff hands, adding  to  the   sense of community which you feel on this model and truly beautiful farm.

The  founder of Haras Cerro Punta is Fernando Eleta Almaran. In 1977 he and his brother Carlos split the herd of purebreds  that  they  had  shared  since 1945. These original Panamanian  racers  were  bred  using  stock  imported from England, Chile and the US. Until Haras  Cerro  Punta  was  founded,  the brothers  kept  their  herd  at Haras  San Miguel, another purebred farm  on the plain below the mountain.

Competitive advantages

The installations at Haras Cerro Punta
The installations at Haras Cerro Punta are as immaculate as the mountain setting is beautiful.

The  2,000 meter  altitude  at which the  thoroughbreds are born  is  the frst of  many  competitive  advantages  that turn  these  horses  into  race  winners. The  fresh mountain air gives  them an enhanced lung capacity, making it a bit easier  to bring home  the purses whenthey reach two years.

Conditioning begins as soon as the colts and fillies are weaned from their mother.
Conditioning begins as soon as the colts and fillies are weaned from their mother.

Horses  born  and  raised  at  Haras Cerro  Punta  also  enjoy  an  environ-ment  free  of  chemicals  and  additives. Fresh water is reflled by a system that reflls  instantly when  the horses drink in  any  of  the  stalls,  paddocks  or  pastures. Even the horses living in board-ing  stalls  eat  the  same  fresh  grass  as those in the pastures, delivered to them at each of the three daily feedings.

A respect and awe for the animals is contagious. The tour guides are excited to  share  the  beauty  of  the mountains, the  installations, and  the horses  themselves.

The   guides  can  tell you  the  ages, prices paid and purses produced by the stud horses with  intriguing names  like Tortelini  Ted  that  have  been  brought here to breed.

The enormous black Percheron stallion called Centurion
A photo opportunity. Visitors who dare are allowed a ride on Centurion, an enormous black Percheron stallion.

There are six stallions to be seen on the  tour.  Five  are  thoroughbred  race-horses  and  one  is  a  Percheron  called Centurion,  a  great  black  horse with  a bushy mane,  tail and forelock. Guides describe him as “muy mansito” which in Panama’s countryside dialect means “quite  docile.”  Which  is  reassuring since he weighs in at 2,300 pounds.

Riding the black stallion

Those  who  wish  are  invited  to mount  up  on  this  gentle  giant  at  the end of the tour and take a walk (led by one of the guides) and see the premises from a different perspective. Centurion just might  be  the most  photographed horse in the land.

Breeding and birthing

Galloping free over the bright green pastures.
They first learn to run at their mother’s side, galloping free over the bright green pastures.

The  thoroughbred  racing  authori-ties  do  not  allow  artifcial  insemina-tion. All horses bred for racing must be conceived  naturally  and  this  requires quite  a  lot of management by  the onsite veterinarian, Dr. Miguel Gutierrez,  and his staff.

  • Breeding takes place from February to May
  • Newborns arrive from January  to May

Making champions

Future champions deserve deluxe accommodations.
Future champions deserve deluxe accommodations.

Conditioning begins as soon as the colts and fllies are weaned from  their mothers. Their daily rations are served in  a  closed-in  area, designed  to  acclimate  the  young  horses  to  the  starting gate.

Training begins at 17 months, when the horses discover for the frst time the indoor  world  of  the  stable.  They  are transferred  indoors  where  their  vet-erinary  and  shoeing  attentions  are  increased  to make  sure  they are each  in optimal health.

An indoor rotational runner teaches the young horses, up to eight at a time, how  to run  in an enclosed space,   and prepares them for training to begin.

At auction in Panama City

With  their musculature  in  fast  development, the herd is shipped to Panama City. This October, some 49 hopeful future champions will be shipped to Panama City  for  auction. Buyers will come from all over the world. The sale takes place at Panama City’s   Hipodromo Presidente Remon Racetrack.