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The joy of horses… grace, beauty, spirit and freedom.By Jacob Ehrler
Photos: Jennifer Moloney
According 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.