Argentina's Route 40 is one of the longest highways in South America. Born in Tierra del Fuego, just a stone's throw from Antarctica, Route 40 follows the continental backbone of the Andes Mountain range through Argentina's ranching countryside.
Located 15 miles off the highway, near the town of Junin de Los Andes, Estancia San Juan's entrance is marked by a dense poplar- and willow-tree grouping that stands out against the semiarid landscape. In the background, low-flying clouds snag on peaks and crevices in the Andes Mountain foothills. Pine forests and scrub-oak thickets cascade down the beige hillsides, and mountain streams intertwine below a shroud of early morning mist.
On a brisk fall morning, Esteban Mera rides a young colt in the ranch's training arena. He's dressed in earth tones that appear borrowed from the countryside: burnt sienna wool sweater, wide-brim hat tipped forward against the morning sun, and black bombacha slacks tucked inside knee-high boots in the traditional gaucho fashion. Only the flapping devil-ears of a red neckerchief and the sweaty sheen of the strawberry roan gelding he rides contrast with autumn's golden backdrop.
It's not the scene you'd expect to find at an international crossroads. In the horsemanship world, Argentine horse trainer Mera's unique training methods, blended from those used around the world, make his hometown of Junin de Los Andes an unlikely outpost amidst Patagonia's rugged beauty.
For more of this story, see the June 2006 issue of Western Horseman.