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Let There Be Cowboys - Los Charros Part 5
Beyond the crowds, the lights, the music, the festivities of the charreada, there is mucho trabajo (much work) and preparation that goes into ensuring that the charreada will be successful. The livestock need to be exercised and familiarized with the grounds, chutes, and corrals. The arena needs to be prepared for competition. All of this will come in time. First, there is the beginning…
The charros’ heritage stems from the roots of the vaquero, back to the days of Spanish rule in the 1500’s when the Spanish brought horses and cattle to Mexico in 1519. The horses and cattle multiplied and grew in numbers so large, that in 1537, the process of castration and branding began in order to help control their overwhelming populations, and to ensure that the cattle went to their proper owners.
In their humble beginnings, a charros’ image was associated with someone who was unkempt and crude. Time passed, wars raged, and the charro fought for the honor of their country, and utilizing their superb horsemanship skills, they proved to be a valuable asset. With their extraordinary roping skills, they were able to rope in the enemies, and detain them. They also used their roping skills to pull in the enemies’ canons and drag them off the field. They played important roles in 1821’s revolution; they fought against the French and Maximilian in 1865, and another revolution against their own government in 1910. This turned around their reputation and they became honored heroes of patriotism; they were even called “the force and reserve of the Mexican Army” by the President.
The charro continued to hone their skills of the lariat; they would practice after round-ups, and compete in events on large haciendas. By the 19th century, these competitions became commonplace on the haciendas, especially when they coincided with brandings and round-ups. These competitions drew crowds from many miles away, and even fiestas and other celebrations included the entertainment of the charro, for they were well in demand.
After the Mexican Revolution, the charros, fearing that their tradition might fade away, on July 4, 1921, called for a congreso in Mexico City, and founded the Asociación Nacional de Charros, and in 1933, the Federación Nacional de Charros was founded to watch over the charro associations. Later, in the late 20th century, this organization would oversee the charro associations in the United States as well as in Mexico. Such was stated that all riders must be certified charros in order to perform in a charreada. The charreada found its way into the hearts of the people of Mexico - and merged its way across the border, as well. Presently, there are over 100 charro associations in the United States. Unlike the American rodeo cowboys in the United States, however, the charro do not get paid for performing in the charreada.
The charro are celebrated in Charreria, the tradition that honors the heritage of the Charro. In Mexico, Charreria is the national sport, and September 14, officially called Dia del Charro, the “Day of the Charro”. Dia del Charro is also celebrated in the United States by Hispanic and charro communities.
The women participants are called charras. In the past, women played an important part in the Mexican Revolution, acting as decoys for their revolutionists. Today, they are given their place in the charreada in the final event called escaramuza, and it is not unusual to find a Grandmother, Mother, Daughter,and Granddaughter all competing on the same team. The escaramuza team consists of eight women riding side-saddle, performing choreographed patterns, accompanied by music.
Charro - Tools of the Trade
- Sombreros - hats
- Don cuco bordados, charro suits trajes - Charro clothing
Tack - The Art of Mexican saddles
- Estribos - stirrups
- Herraje para cabezada - headstall kit
- Herraje para pecho pretal - breast collar kit
- Argollas para cincho y montura - saddle & cinch’s rings
- Chapetones extra grandes - extra large conchos
- Chapetones de montura - saddle conchos
- Piteada y cosida a mano - agave embroiled, hand stitching saddlery
- Vaquet suave y durable- soft and durable leather
- Elaborado por artesanos mexicanos - made by Mexican artisans
- Decoration made of hand carved seashell inlay
- Matching horse and saddle bits
- Large, Mexican spurs
- Buckle for the piteado belt (an exquisite belt embroidered with thread made from the fiber of the agave, sewn into intricate designs)
- Piteada y cosida a mano - agave embroiled, hand stitching
The charro prefer to use natural materials for as much of their equipment as they can, such as saddles and tack, leather and natural fibers of the agave plant are used. Even ropes hundreds of feet long are processed from the agave. For bits, spurs and buckles, ornamentals for equipment, amozac steel is the preferred choice. Rabbit fur, for sombrero felt, palm fibers, wool and suede for sombrero itself. Deer horn, bovine horn and hoof material comprise other equipment. Gold and silver embedded ornaments and thread, for attire.
Different occasions call for different types of garments, such as for work, semi-gala, gala, and formal. All attire consists of trousers and a jacket, either of plain cloth or suede, plain or with suede decorations, silver buttons, a cotton shirt such as the pachuqueña. Commonly, hats are of rice or wheat straw, with maybe rabbit hair embroidered, and maybe strands of silver or gold thread, maybe further decorated with small decals of silver, leather, or suede.
Women’s attire is the Adelita dress or the charro suit, or the china poblana outfit.
Competitions begin with a prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico’s 2nd national anthem, “Marcha Zacatecas”, performed by a mariachi band. Following, are representatives of different charro associations riding in on horses around the lienzo (arena) carrying the flag of Mexico. If the event is held in the United States, the hosting state flag and the United States flag are carried in as well. Then comes the local dignitaries and the President of the association officers. Then comes the competing teams (in charreada, it is not a single’s competition, it is a team competition), and perhaps a charro reina, queen.
- Cala de caballo - reining- rides from one end of the lienzo(arena) to the middle, and must rein his horse in a marked area twenty meters wide by six meters long. He will also lead his horse in right, left, and backward positions.
- Piales - three charros attempt to rope the hind legs of a horse or bull or steer.
- Colas - the charro rides up and grabs the bull by his tail, passes the tail under the charro’s right leg, make a sharp right angle turn, and endeavors to flip the bull on its back.
- Jineteo de toro, bull riding - requires the charro to ride the bull until it stops bucking.
- Terna en el Ruedo -roping- ropers must rope a calf as quickly as possible, one from the neck and the other from the hind legs.
- Jineteo de yegua, bareback bronco riding
- Manganas a pie, horse catching - the charro, either on foot or mounted, must rope the hind legs and forelegs of a running mare.
- Manganas a caballo, horse catching on horseback
- Paseo de la Muerte, the pass of death - final event, considered the most breathtaking, as the charro must ride his mount bareback and attempt to jump from his tame horse onto the back of a unsaddled and unbridled mare, using only the mare’s mane to bring the horse to a halt.
State Finals, Zacatecas, includes complete stages of Charreada.
The charro is awarded points to see how fast they can rope the hindlegs or forelegs of a horse:
The horse is released from the chute, then a group of waiting charros chase the horse, forcing it into a full gallop. The charro will be either on horseback or on the ground, and lassoes the front legs or hind legs of the horse, causing it to fall to the ground. If the horse attempts an escape by trying to jump over the fence, it is dragged back into the arena, and the process continues.
Animal rights activists call this horse tripping. Witnesses at events have said they seen the same horses being tripped repeatedly to the point where they have become lame or can no longer run. Other injuries reported broken legs, necks, and spinal damage. An animal's rights group, Voices for Animals, states that they had witnessed the horses left with little water and food, that they were housed in filthy quarters, and left with untreated wounds.
The horses used in these events are allegedly purchased via slaughterhouses; they are not the horses owned by the charros. The slaughterhouses attempt to make an extra profit on the horses before the horses are slaughtered. One leasing house in California admitted they had leased 25 horses per weekend to two different charro rodeos in the days before horse tripping was banned. California, along with Arizona, Florida, Illinios, Kansas, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island and Texas, have outlawed horse tripping. Television and film productions have also been banned horse tripping by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and the American Quarter Horse Association. Animal activist groups such as PETA, have protested the rights and treatment of the animals in both charreada and rodeos.
States that still allow this practice are Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and the eastern part of Washington.
Charros vigorously defend their actions and tradition. The President of Federacion de Charros of the U.S.A., claims that people are ignorant of charreada, and that the charros have been attacked for unclear motives. He states if they were to take away this tradition, what would be next? Charros contend that animal rights activists place their charges on lies and half-truths. When animal rights activists say that they have found lacerations on the horses' legs due to horse tripping, the charros counter, saying that the lacerations were caused by horses kicking each other or getting their legs tangled in barbed wire. When the activists say that horses are unable to walk away after the horse tripping, the charros counter by showing hundreds of videos showing the horses trotting away unharmed.
While the charros cling to tradition and defend their actions, others are condemning what they believe is animal cruelty. Opposed to the practice was late Cesar Chavez, and the Mexican American Political Association.
What Is Your Opinion?
I believe that horse-tripping should be:
The Treatment Of Animals In Charreada
Do you believe it is okay to use animals for sport in charreada?
Charros Federation, USA.com
Charreada: Mexican Rodeo in Texas, Al Rendon, Julia Hambric
The Mexican Cowboy, George Ancona