Sunday, October 12, 2008

Independencia Part 2 - Charreada!

The moment of truth. A charro, lariat at the ready, pursues a galloping horse around the ring at Ajijic's Charreada. A charreada is the Mexican equivalent of what US and Canadian residents might think of as a rodeo. The charros, and the charreada, originated in Salamanca, Spain in the and took root in Jalisco State in the 1500s, before becoming popular all over Mexico. Jalisco has many ranches on which young men (and some women) work cattle and horses, honing skills displayed at the charreadas. For more detailed information on charros and the charreada, click here.

Each year, during the week-long celebration of the Independencia Fiesta, Ajijic's charros hold their Charreada and invite other charros from Jalisco and elsewhere to compete. I was fascinated by the similarities and differences between charreadas and the rodeos I had seen around Oregon, another place full of skillful young horsemen (and horsewomen).

Charros on parade. The Ajijic Charreada begins with a parade of charros from different groups from Jalisco State and elsewhere. The charros wear beautifully stitched and ornamented outfits and I was a little surprised that they would risk them in the always muddy and sometimes dangerous events. The outfits did provide a lot of class to the Charreada, however.

The events take place in an arena that looks a little like an old fashioned keyhole. The keyhole consists of a long rectangular chute about 20 yards wide by 75 yards long, which opens out into a circular ring about 75 yards across. Many of the events begin at the far end of the chute and end up in the middle of the ring. The spectators sit in stands that surround the ring, or lean over the walls of the chute on either side. The Charreada was very informal and I was able to wander freely with my camera where ever I wished.

Showing off.  A charro rides around the ring showing off his beautiful horse and riding skills. Curious about the unusual shawl he had draped over the neck of his horse, I tracked him down when he left the ring.

Looks like a lot of work. When I finally got up close, I realized that the shawl was actually an intricate weaving of the silvery mane of his horse. It must have taken hours, but was certainly eye-catching.  Oddly, the rider himself was not particularly dressed up.  He must have exhausted his sartorial creativity on his horse.

Lariat practice.  Numerous events featured fancy work with the lariat. This charro practiced his moves prior to using it for real to capture a fast galloping horse. In one popular event, a charro stands in the ring performing rope tricks, seeming to ignore his fellow charros as they chase a horse around and around the ring behind him. At the correct split second, and without looking, the charro whips the rope behind him to lasso the leg of the fast moving horse. Astonishing!

Charros do everything from the saddle. Without dismounting, a charro accepts congratulations from his friends on his performance in an event.

Dancing with horses. Between formal events, the charros like to show off a little. This one danced his horse across the ring to demonstrate his control over his mount. By lightly slapping the horse on the rump, the charro signaled his horse stop and rear up for the crowd.

Four Sombreros on a sunny day. These stylish charros bellied up to the ring's safety wall to catch the action at close range. A few moments later, as you will see in the next picture, their dignity was put to the test.

Bull in a pedestrian chute. Sometimes the charreada animals got back a little of their own, much to the delight of the crowd and the discomfiture of the charros. This young bull, apparently tired of being chased around the ring, suddenly leaped the safety barrier which runs around the inside of the ring just in front of the stands. This is an area where charros and some spectators gather for a close up view of the action. The bull charged down the narrow passage, causing all in his path to leap out of the slot like hot popcorn out of a pan. Finally, with much waving of broad sombreros and other encouragement, the bull trotted through the open gate and back into the ring. He was not further molested while he took a victory lap and strolled out the exit ramp. Score one for the bull.

Skid marks are the point of this event. The rider begins at the far end of the chute and gallops full tilt toward the broad ring at the end. When the horse enters a certain area, the rider brings it to a sliding stop, with the horse literally sitting on its hind legs and leaving long parallel skid marks in the dirt. The length of the skid marks (the longer the better) and whether they stay within a certain area from side to side determine the score. My photographer friend Jay and I were somewhat mystified by this event until Jay (who speaks excellent Spanish) questioned a nearby charro. This dignified and resplendently-dressed gentlemen was very happy to explain the intricacies to the two puzzled Gringos.

A bronco bucks to unseat its rider. The charro holds on for dear life as the furious horse attempts to rid itself of its unsought burden. Unlike some US rodeos I have seen, the charro has no saddle. The only thing he can hold onto is a rope around the horse's chest. Another charro races up to help in case the bronco rider gets into trouble.

And they're off! The bull launches himself down the chute with the charro in hot pursuit. The charro must quickly reach down and grasp the bull's tail. A miss on this will cost him many points in the event. Part of the scoring is for how quickly the charro can accomplish this ticklish business. The bull, obviously, is not interested in cooperating.

The push off. The charro, after successfully grasping the bull's tail, winds it around his leg and uses the leg to push against the bull's hind quarters as the huge animal thunders down the chute. This push helps tip the bull's balance and sets up for the next step. You can see how fiercely the charro concentrates on this split second effort.

The critical moment. With the bull's tail still wound around his leg, the charro steers his well-trained and fast galloping mount off to the side, pulling the bull off balance. The artfulness and dexterity of this maneuver are part of the scoring of the event, along with how short a distance it takes and how (and whether) the bull falls.

Down goes el toro! The young bull tumbled over a couple of times, and then clambered up and trotted off to the exit chute, apparently none the worse from his experience. I suppose there are some in the animal rights community who might find this sport offensive. However, unlike formal bull fights where the animal is nearly always killed after considerable torture, the only thing injured in the bull toss appears to be the bull's dignity.

Picture of the future. Charros and the charreada are an important part of Mexican culture, especially here in Jalisco, their birthplace. This young boy, practicing his rope skills on the wall of the ring, symbolized to me the future of the colorful charreada. Even at his young age, his skills were impressive. Many children take part in the events, if only as tots perching atop mounts many times their size. If children truly are the future, then the future of charros and the charreada is secure.

My last posting on the Independencia fiesta will focus on the Globos Fiesta and the Rebozo Fashion Show. Both were full of color and drama, but in a different way from the Charreada. Please feel free to post a comment (see below) or email me directly with any thoughts. I love hearing from people who have enjoyed these postings.

Hasta luego! Jim


  1. Eeeee! Haaaa!

    Especially where the charro grabs the bull by the tail.

  2. To say that the bull is 'none the worse for the experience' is as misleading as you can get. Imagine running at full speed when someone grabs your arm and jerks it hard enough to send you flying. That would wrench the joints apart! How can anyone think this wouldn't be excrutiatingly painful at the very least, if not causing permanent damage? Mexican Charro's portray some of the worst of human kinds blood sports, the epitomy of cruelty & should not be supported.

  3. By saying the bull is "none the worse for the experience" I was simply reporting what I observed at the event. I saw no injuries to animals. While I admittedly, there is a potential for injury to both the bull and the rider, inflicting injury was not the object of the event.

    By contrast, in a bullfight, the bull is first tortured and weakened with small spears in his back, then tormented to exhaustion by the matador, then killed (sometimes clumsily) with a sword. Now THAT is a "bloodsport". The bull throwing event hardly rises to the level of "the worst of human kinds of blood sports" by comparison.

  4. Well put Jim. I have seen they way that the Charro care for their animals and it is far from abusive. I think that you have to get in there and see it all to fully appreciate the amount of work, dedication, and love that goes into what they do. If you ask me it sure beats the bulls alternative (your dinner)For now he is well fed and is part of a sport where hes' already figured out how to fall in order to avoid injuries. Trust me those bulls are not stupid and do catch on to the game pretty quick lol. I love this sport and urge you to watch it with an open mind, ask questions and try to losen up a lttle :)

  5. I've also seen how charros take pride and care for there animals...Some mothers dont take care of there babies as charros do for there animals...

  6. Look at the very poor shape of the chased horse.
    It looks like a walking skeletor.


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