Instead of walking in through the main gates fronting Plaza Italia to be faced with a large map and a larger dilemma of where to head first — cows, turkeys, tractors, 4WD trials, cheese stands, wool spinning? — the back entrance to the Argentine Rural Society (La Rural) greeted me with a right rural experience for gauchos in the making, albeit those rather more used to fast-food and public transport than their countryside-born counterparts: the chance to ride ponies around a sawdust circuit.
As I headed toward the queue, tucking in loose clothing and storing my valuables, edging my way to the front, I noticed a height limit. Given that I am, for the first time, too tall, there won’t be any pony riding for me this time…
The largest exhibition hall in Buenos Aires, La Rural is hosting the final few days of one of Argentina’s largest shows which takes place over two weeks every winter, the Rural Exhibition, which beside being one of the country’s most important, surely ranks as the longest-standing, given that it is now in its 126th year.
With more than 5,000 birds and animals on display — in fact, it is the largest such avian exhibition in South America — and around 500 exhibitors showing off the latest agricultural equipment, the finest members of cattle, hand-knitted llama wool wraps from the province of Jujuy and wine from San Juan, wandering La Rural feels like a microcosm of Argentina.
My hopes of saddling up deflated, I walk around the back of the pony pen, crossing over strategically placed hay on the concrete floor to sop up any awkward mishaps, and head toward a different pen, where a load of humpback cows are passively waiting their turn for something, possibly to enter the main showring, also know as the pista principal, or perhaps they are simply getting an airing, after a change of scene. Frankly, this is cow news at its best.
A little closer to the main action in the showring, where the judges have set up shop for the duration, there are some roars of excitement coming from the stands: it’s quite the rowdy bunch. A larger enclosure right next to the sawdust ring is obviously reserved for superstars as it has just the one bovine occupying the space. Already sporting yellow and white rosettes, Daisy (not her real name), an ebony-coloured Aberdeen Angus, practises batting her long eyelashes and posing with her handler, look left, look right, turn. Actually, she is slightly frothing at the mouth — perhaps she’s sucking on her curly tongue to keep mind off the judges in the ring.
It’s obviously a nerve-wracking moment, waiting to take to the cow-walk, because a photographer scoots past, startling her and Daisy does a little leap into the air, catching her handler unaware before he composes himself and calms down his ward.
Suddenly, he’s tipped the nod or the wink and off they trot into the showring, Daisy hothoofing her way to the centre to show off her soft coat, her pretty eyes, shiny hooves and a perfect tail. Despite the continued foaming and already knowing that she is a winning cow, yet another rosette is slapped on to her right-hand side, and there is more posing, look left, look right, for the photographers.
Part two of three tomorrow.
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