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A Taste of Cowboy Culture at Finca Casagua

Destination: Playa Conchal

The months of November and December are marked by holiday celebrations throughout the country. Nearly every pueblo holds its own fiesta, where horse parades, rodeos and bullfights are the key attractions amid a host of festivities. Nowhere are the Tico's deeply-rooted traditions more evident, as they come together to dance, eat, drink and ride their beautiful criollo horses.

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In Costa Rica, the criollo horse is esteemed for its elegant high-stepping gait, noble character and hardiness. Its roots trace back to the Barb and Andalusian horses brought by the Spanish conquerors. The sabanero, or Costa Rican cowboy, remains alive and well in Guanacaste. 

The province's open plains abound in cattle ranches, where families live and work the stock much as their grandparents did.

An avid rider my whole life, I couldn't wait for a taste of cowboy culture at Casagua Horses, a 50-acre ranch owned by Kay Dodge and her husband Esteban Peraza.

Finca Casagua is located in Portegolpe, a 15-minute jaunt inland from Playa Brasilito. Kay and Esteban have been offering horseback excursions for 12 years, including a natural history tour and the popular cantina ride, where guests traverse old oxcart trails, stopping for the occasional boca and cold beer.

I was excited to learn about their natural horsemanship methods of training, which emphasize working with a horse's nature and instincts in a gentle manner. In the ring, I watched Esteban work with their spirited paint stallion, communicating through body language and signals. The paint willingly obliged to Esteban's requests, as a relationship of trust and respect had been established.

Nearly all of Finca Casagua's 26 horses have been trained using this technique, and many were born and raised on the ranch. Casagua recently started a "Paint and Paso" program, breeding criollo mares with their paint stallion, resulting in a breed of both "color and comfort".

I joined Esteban for an afternoon ride on backcountry trails. His beautiful criollo steed, Luna Llena, ambled with the lateral gait of the Peruvian Paso, his neck elegantly arched. My gentle gelding, Tinto, was sure-footed and a joy to ride. We climbed into the hills overlooking the ranch, and galloped along a flat, open stretch of dry tropical forest.

Along the way, Esteban and I chatted about his childhood in Guanacaste and studies at the Escuela de Ganaderia (animal husbandry school) near my hometown of Atenas.

We returned to the sprawling ranch of Casagua Horses, where I thanked Kay and Esteban for their warm hospitality. I hoped to return someday soon and join the Guanacaste Galloping Gals, an all-female group that rides together every couple of weeks.

By the time I returned to Hotel Brasilito, the sun was low in the sky. Always a fan of local sodas, I took a seat in the small neighborhood restaurant, which was packed with rowdy men.

For just $4, my plate was filled with heaping portions of grilled fish, rice, salad and beans. Combined with the colorful ambience, it was one of my favorite (and least expensive) meals of the trip.

Tomorrow I would be up with the sun, ready to push onwards to Playa Flamingo, my final destination in this two-week journey.

A Taste of Cowboy Culture at Finca Casagua in Pictures

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