For Patagonian Ranchers, a Family Gathering Means Barbecue and Rodeo

Chile's gauchos turn the annual work of branding and castrating animals into a celebration of their way of life.

On the Estancia Mercedes ranch in Chile's Patagonia, friends of Sebastián García Iglesias gather to help brand livestock and castrate colts and steers. An all-day event, the work is accompanied by an extravagant traditional asado—or barbecue—hosted by the Iglesias Garcia family.

While a spirit of jocularity and easy community prevails, it's also a time to reflect on what it means to be a gaucho, on the legacy of the work, and on this way of life. (See "In the Wilds of Patagonia, Cowboy Honors the Pioneers Who Came Before.")

Compared with rounding up feral bulls, or riding through deep bogs and across steep sea cliffs to fetch cattle, the work is easy. As such, it also serves as an opportunity for the youngsters to hone their skills in a relatively safe environment. (See photos of the cowboys, or bagalueros, and read more about them in "Cowboys on the Edge.")

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During January's Fiesta a la Chilena in Cerro Castillo, Chile, riders rope and ride bucking cattle and horses.

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A rider clings to his horse at the Jineteada Festival at Estancia San Jorge, near Puerto Natales, Chile, in March.

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A rider talks with the owner of feral horses at Estancia San Jorge in March.

A few days later, the community gathers at a small Chilean border town for a traditional Chilean rodeo, or jineteada. Even in midsummer, a cold wind adds a battering element to the already taxing sports. Roping, cornering cows, and of course riding bucking cattle and horses are all part of a family-oriented show.

Families set up tents, horses graze among the parked cars, and in the center of the arena, gauchos from both Chile and Argentina show off their skills. The most extreme sport is that of riding the bucking horses. It is not uncommon for a horse to buck and rear with such force that it falls backward onto the rider.

All the while the announcer sings, accompanied by a guitar, a sentimental tribute to the rider along the lines of: "Here is Sebastian. He is a gaucho from Puerto Natales. He knows he must ride in wind and under stars to find his cattle. His life is lonely, but his heart is full of the woman he has left behind."