Pato is a unique sport, and the national sport of Argentina. Teams of four compete on horseback to score points with a large leather ball with six handles called a pato. This sport tests players’ horseback riding skills and hand-eye coordination.
The player with the pato must hold it in their right hand and stretch out their arm as they ride. With their other hand, they hold the reins of their horse. Players on the other team try to steal the pato away, often by grabbing and tugging the pato while galloping down the field! Meanwhile, the player with the pato tries to pass it to their teammates. Their goal is to get closer to their opponent’s vertical hoop at the end of the field. If a player passes the pato through their opponent’s hoop, their team scores a point. The team with the most goals at the end of the game wins.
Historians believe the sport was invented by gauchos in the 17th century in The Pampas, an area in central Argentina with large plains. Gauchos were expert horse riders and hunters who lived in this area. They lived off the land and roamed the plains to find work and avoid city life. Gauchos played a version of pato in an open field. When the game was first invented, players did not use a leather ball. They used a duck trapped in a bag. (In fact, pato means “duck” in Spanish.) But by 1822, this version of the sport was banned. Authorities banned the game because it was extreme and dangerous. Many gauchos got hurt or even died while playing. In 1938, the ban was lifted, some rules were changed, and the duck was replaced with a leather ball. Now, no ducks are used or harmed when playing pato. The name of the sport remains the same, though. In 1953, President Juan Perón declared it the national sport of Argentina.
Now, pato is a popular and exciting sport for players and spectators alike. Every year, Argentina holds the Argentine Pato Open. This championship brings together the top pato teams in the country. Audiences watch exciting displays of skill, balance, and strength on horseback. Although pato is the national sport of Argentina, not many Argentinians have seen a live game. But pato still remains an important part of Argentine history and culture.