SAN ANTONIO DE ARECO, Argentina (AP) – There is no whip in sight, no shouting or loud jabs. Not even a firm hand on the reins. And yet Martin Tatta somehow persuades his beloved Milonga to join him in acrobatic feats, from handstands to other poses that even the most understanding horses rarely display.
Through soft touches, gentle coaxing and a few tender nuzzles, it seems Tatta can sway his steeds to do just about anything.
In San Antonio de Areco, a bastion of Argentine gaucho culture outside the capital of Buenos Aires, the 33-year-old Tatta is known as "the horse whisperer."
"For me, it's something natural. No one taught me. I taught myself," Tatta told The Associated Press.
Eleven years ago, the horse trainer's way of "breaking" horses without aggression caught the attention of a local rancher, who encouraged Tatta to perform for tourists. Since then, he's traveled the world displaying the special skill he has with horses.
Tatta insists anyone could do this, if they were to be patient and gentle enough.
But veteran horseman Alberto Nally, who at 70 is one of the most experienced gauchos in the community, says no other gaucho has such a gentle touch.
"It hardly looks like he's even trying or doing anything — that's why it's special," Nally said. "I've seen other trainers using their reins and pulling the horse's head back and forth, but Martin, no. He is steady and soft when he works with them. He has a gift. He was born with it."
Gauchos are Argentina's version of the North American cowboy. They are distinctive for their wardrobe of beret-styled hats, silver belts and leather chaps, or their habit of drinking the region's traditional tea, yerba mate. Historically, they were revered as stoic outlaws, themselves unable to be tamed.
A gaucho without a horse is simply not a gaucho, explains Andrea Vigil, who directs the town's historic gaucho museum.
What Tatta shows is that when "breaking" or taming a wild horse, "it doesn't have to be done through this harsh or brutal force. Bu instead it's the opposite: It can be done in a warm and intimate way that gets slightly stricter. And then, well, you saw — you can accomplish incredible things," she said.
"It's not a fight with the animal. No, it's all very serene and peaceful," Tatta explains. "There were these visitors that came and watched me, and after I had finished, they began to cry. And she said to me 'Martin, what you do, I can't believe it.' And I said to her, 'Ma'am, please don't cry. Are you ok? Why are you crying?' And he goes, 'You don't understand what you convey when you interact with those animals.'"