"Pato" has been regarded as Argentina´s national sport since 1953 and it has been played in this country since the seventeenth century.
As mentioned before, Pato is known worlwide as Horseball. It first set foot in Argentina almost four hundred years ago and the ancient game’s practices consisted of throwing a duck upwards and two teams of horse riders got trampled under foot while fighting to grab the duck and place it in a net. As time went by the duck began to be placed within a basket. The aim of this game has been and still is to score the largest number of goals by letting the duck go through the opponents´ ring.
In 1610, thirty years after Buenos Aires´ second foundation and two hundred years before the May Revolution, a document drafted by the military anthropologist Felix de Azara described a pato sport scene taking place in the city: “Two teams of men on horseback get together and two far away destinations are indicated. Later on, they sew the leather where a live duck sticking its head out has been placed. This leather is made up of two or more handles from which the two strongest men in each team hold on to half way between the destinations that have been signalled. Enthusiastically, they pull strongly until the strongest team grabs the duck and carries it with them, thus making their rival fall down onto the floor if they do not let the duck go. The winning team starts running and the opponents race after them and surround them until reaching them through one of the handles. They pull strongly once again, and the team that manages to carry the duck to the stated destination wins”.
One hundred years later, the French engineer Amadeo Freizer referred to a scene being similar to the one that had been described by Félix de Azara: “I witnessed a party in which the commissioners of two Spanish men both called Pedro had a big celebration in a village located in Talcahuano, near the one where we were staying. After hearing mass they rode their horses in order to chase the hen, just as the goose is run in France except for the following differences: everybody trampled down onto the player that had managed to get the hen´s head in order to grab it and take it before the one in honor of whom the party had been given.While galloping they bumped into each others so as to grab the hen´s head from the opposing team and still while running they picked up everything they had dropped on the way”.
This game was first banned in the city of Santiago del Estero on February 23, 1739. The argument for banning it was that “it is crazy to play pato in the middle of the city”. Sixty years later the Sacristan Mayor from Lujan Chapel announced that those who played the game would be under a threat of excommunication.
Buenos Aires´ mayor, Martín Rodríguez enforced a decree law on June 21, 1822 whereby it was stated that playing Pato was definitely forbidden. Rodríguez’s decree prescribed that: “The punishment for anyone playing this game for the first time will be one month´s hard labor and such penalty will be doubled if they are caught playing pato for a second time. Moreover, those caught playing pato for a third time will have to face a six-month hard labor period and shall be subject to redress the damage they may cause”.
In 1854, Bartolomé Mitre alluded to this sport in one of his odes and stated: “It is no longer customary to play pato, this sport now stands as a reminiscence from the past. As it was strictly forbidden to play it due to the personal misfortunes it brought about, people gradually stopped playing it, without forgetting it completely”.
Shortly after the beginning of the XX century, Alberto Castillo Posse, head of the security guard service in La Plata, organized a pato exhibition which was massively attended and aroused great admiration in all its attendants. Rules were drawn up for this sport in 1938 and Manuel Fresco, the city mayor, lifted the banning by means of a release that stated that “sports are subject to disciplinary rules and pato, as it is currently played, is regarded as a healthy and vigorous sport, similar to polo”.
The Argentine Pato Federation was created in 1941 and the institution known as "Campo de Pato General Las Heras" was founded in General Las Heras two years later; this district therefore came to be known as the “Pato capital city”. On September 16, 1953, the then president Juan Domingo Perón signed the Decree Law Nº 17.468 that ruled that Pato would be regarded as the “National Sport”.
Pato reached France and Spain in 1970. Yet, playing this sport in these countries made it necessary to change its rules so as to adapt to European horses´ space and cost conditions. Thus, pato came to be called “Horseball”, as it is currently referred to when being played in most European countries, Israel, the USA, Canada and Brazil.
The Argentine Pato Federation and the International Horse-Ball Federation in 2006 agreed to change the Horseball rules to make them fit Pato applicable rules. Therefore, this sport finally came to be known as “Pato-Horseball”. Also in that year, the first Pato-Horseball tournament took place in Buenos Aires´ Fair grounds, where Portugal was awarded the first prize and Argentina achieved the runner-up position. Apart from the above mentioned countries, others such as Austria, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, England, the USA, Canadá and Brazil also took part in this competition. At present, Portugal is organizing a new Pato-Horseball competition scheduled to take place this year in July.
The aim of this game has been and still is to score the largest number of goals by letting the duck go through the opponents´ ring.