Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

Gaucho Moderno

This month the U.S. will lift a 14-year ban on the import of Argentine beef that was instituted in 2001 after an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. The overall Argentine herd fell from 55 million heads in 2003 to 48 million in 2011, as farmers started to cull young animals because of low prices and slumping demand. Over the years, it’s become more and more difficult for Argentina’s modern-day cowboys, or gauchos, to make ends meet in an industry shaken not only by the ban, but also by factors such as global commodity trading and expanded soybean production. With fewer and fewer cattle to run, the lone horseman is finding himself increasingly out of demand. Photographs by Victor J. Blue for Bloomberg.

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    Gauchos Jose Luis Semorile (left) and Luis Daniel Cerrudo (Semorile’s stepson) train horses on the Estancia La Argentina farm outside San Antonio de Areco, Buenos Aires province. Semorile and Cerrudo work as domadores, or horse trainers, and are preparing a group of young quarter horses to become working cattle horses.

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    The sun rises over a lone windmill at the Estancia La Argentina farm, which employs about eight people but only two gauchos who work on horseback. The farm is around 1,500 hectares and currently runs about 800 head of cattle.

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    Gauchos gather to drink their morning maté at the Estancia La Argentina farm.

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    Gaucho Daniel Lopez herds cattle on horseback. Lopez and his friend Pablo work the fields daily, under the direction of the farm foreman, separating cows, moving them among pastures, and generally keeping an eye on them.

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    Ropes, saddles, leads, boots, and other tack fill the bed of a pickup as gauchos train horses at the Estancia La Argentina farm.

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    Domadores (left to right) Fatima Semorile, Luis Daniel Cerrudo, and their father, Jose Luis Semorile, help a farm owner train some of his young horses outside San Antonio de Areco. To bring in extra income, they help run other farms in the area as well. Jose also works as a baker, while Luis travels abroad to train horses for polo teams.

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    Luis Daniel Cerrudo trains a young horse on the Estancia La Argentina farm. The doma, or the process of training cattle horses, lies somewhere between breaking and training. When a horse is trained, it does the same thing every day and learns from repetition. Through the doma, however, horses learn a variety of new things each day of training and are given days off to let the lessons sink in, a process that can last a year.

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    Luis Daniel Cerrudo takes a break from training horses to drink some maté on the Estancia La Argentina farm.

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    Gauchos watch horse competitions at the 2015 Rural Exposition in Buenos Aires on July 26. Known simply as the Rural, the weeklong expo takes place in the Palermo neighborhood of the capital. Ranchers from across the country bring their best horses, cattle, and other animals for judging, and dozens of gauchos and reenactors dress up in traditional outfits and compete.

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    A rider is judged as she participates in a competition at the 2015 Rural Exposition.

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    A boy is dressed in traditional clothing as he hangs out behind the scenes at the Rural.

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    Gaucho Pablo Chavez (left) and other riders dressed in traditional clothing prepare to participate in a competition at the Rural.

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    A gaucho rides in a parade at the 2015 Rural Exposition.

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    Morning dew clings to pastureland grass, typical of the Argentine Pampas. The Pampas, the great plains of Argentina, for generations have been the cradle of beef production as well as gaucho culture in the country.

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    Gauchos Pablo Chavez (left) and Daniel Lopez take an afternoon break at Estancia La Argentina. Chavez wanted to be a gaucho his whole life. As he grew older and finally got the chance to work from horseback, he realized that to get ahead he would need to do more than just run cattle.

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    Chavez and Lopez ride the range and corral cattle at Estancia La Argentina. They work the fields of the large farm from horseback every day but, in a modern twist, also provide bovine health services and help manage the breeding of the farm’s herd.

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    Pablo Chavez (left) performs an artificial insemination for farmer Martin Vivanco on some of his cows in Duggan, Buenos Aires province. Chavez attended night classes for four years to earn a technical certificate in agricultural administration, as well as to become an expert in bovine health and reproduction. He uses this knowledge to provide inseminations and vaccinations that augment his income as a cowhand.

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    Luis Daniel Cerrudo holds on to a cattle horse as it rears at a farm in Duggan. “Each horse has its own personality,” he says. 

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    Farmhands eat lunch in the kitchen at the Estancia La Argentina farm in San Antonio de Areco.

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    Daniel Lopez (left) and Pablo Chavez hold down a newborn calf and tattoo its ear at the Estancia La Argentina farm in San Antonio de Areco.

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    Luis Daniel Cerrudo waits to rope a calf to be castrated at a farm in Duggan, outside San Antonio de Areco.

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    Luis Daniel Cerrudo (left), Fatima Semorile, and Jose Luis Semorile help a farm owner castrate some of his calves outside San Antonio de Areco.

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    Jose Luis Semorile trains a young quarter horse at the Estancia La Argentina farm. Semorile contracts with his sons to break and train cattle horses for farms in the area. “It’s my passion,” he says, though he takes on other jobs as well to make ends meet, including working as a baker.

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    A cattle horse sweats after working the morning at the Estancia La Argentina farm outside San Antonio de Areco. The farm uses American quarter horses for their superior intelligence and cattle sense, instead of the traditional Argentine criollo breed.

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    Daniel Lopez drives cows into a pasture on the Estancia La Argentina farm.