Maremma is a land of somewhat peculiar traditions….such as the legendary figures of Butteri cowboys, the Tuscan cowboys! When the countryside was once marshy, agriculture undeveloped, and large landowners had large herds from native breed: the men at work tending them, moving them from one pasture to another were and still are the Butteri. Between the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, the Butteri crossed the impervious areas of the Maremma to lead oxen and horses to pasture, checking that none of them were lost in the thick Mediterranean scrub. They were the only ones who knew how to get around and survive in a land so wild and inhospitable.
Butteri Cowboys: some features
Butteri still remain mythical characters, epic figures who are still the symbol of this ancient land, the keeper of the age-old secrets. Butteri Maremmani are horseback herders who ride precisely Maremma horses and have a distinctive clothing consisting of moleskin breeches, leg loops, velvet jacket and black hat. They protect themselves from the rain with a large cloak called a “pastràno” (reminiscent of the poncho of gauchos). In their hands they hold the “mazzarella”, a stick used to stimulate oxen and horses.
In the past they were numerous, but today there are few who try to guard and keep alive the customs and secrets of this craft. Today, associations have thrived with the aim of enhancing and promoting the tradition.
In the plain of Alberese, in the province of Grosseto, Butteri still ride and are still considered the best Italian wild horse tamers. Not only that, the events in which they show their skills are world-famous. They possess out-of-the-ordinary gifts of agility, reflexes and strength, which they show off in these breathtaking events.
Live the thrill of being a Buttero cowboy for three days
At La Forra, an amazing farm on the border between Chianti and Valdarno, Ernesto has been running a traditional herd of Maremma cows for decades, which he daily governs together with Butteri of Dimensione Maremma Association, which for many years has made this exceptional Italian tradition known throughout Europe and the world.
The experience is unprecedented: elsewhere you will be able to spend a day with the Butteri, observing them in their work in the pastures and sometimes performing small tasks; or you can participate in clinics in which riding techniques used by the Butteri are taught. But here the concept is different: Ernesto’s goal is for participants to experience an immersion in working with cattle and actively applying the techniques of the Butteri.
It starts in the stable where you will meet your horse. Then you will move on to the field, where you will be given me instructions to use the one-handed reins. After everyone has found some harmony with their horse, you will leave the camp and head to a nearby, smaller area of pasture and forest where you will begin with the basics to round up the cattle. Having herded the cattle you will have to move them first along a stretch of road and then up a grassy slope, through an olive grove to reach a pasture bordered by fences and with a giant sand arena in the center.
Here you will try to lead the small herd experimenting with horseback movements and their effect on the cattle. The great thing is that, contrary to Wild West, these are slow, gentle, careful movements.
The other key activity is herding, for us the most fun activity: each participant in turn must separate an animal from the herd and lead it into a separate pen.
But the real experience comes on the second day when you will have to deal with a substantial herd of Maremma cows (including bulls) and a small herd of Maremma and Lusitanian mares and foals living wild. This is where it gets serious!
At the end of these rewarding days, you can relax at the farmstead and cherish your time with delicious food specialties and good wine!
Happiness, it is known, cannot be bought. But, all things considered, being happy is relatively easy and cheap at La Forra!