Charreadas: The Culture, The Tradition, and The Art Form

Charreadas are events filled to the brim with tradition. From the clothing the Charros wear to the tack the horses carry, each item is a piece of living history. I have been fortunate enough to not only witness but photograph a few of these events and each time I attend I learn a little more about the history.

Horses are ridden in a traditional saddle with a horn with a very large circumference compared to most horned saddles. These saddles are simply called “Charro Saddles.” The purpose of the large horn is to provide more leverage when dallying a horse or a cow. Often times you can see grooves burned into the horn of the saddle caused my the friction of a tight rope spinning quickly against it as a caught horse draws the rope out of the Charros hand. Horses don a one eared bridle with a ported bit, and traditionally are finished bridle horses. The reins used are very thin pieces of rope which attaches to the bit by a fragile chain. Charros wear tight fitting clothing to prevent it from being snagged during their daring rides. There is no leeway on tack or clothing worn- all of it must be in the traditional charro style.

There are ten events that take place during the Charreada, and take place in a keyhole shaped arena called a Lienzo. Nine of the events are for the men, and one event is held by the women. This is a team sport, in which each team originally represented individual haciendas, or large estates. Individuals do not compete in Charreadas. These events, which are always preformed in the same order, are:

  1. Cala de Caballo, or test of the horse, where the horse and rider’s abilities are shown off. The horse comes running into the round part of the Lienzo and is supposed to slide to a stop. The longer and smoother the slide, the more points are awarded. Other portions of this event are high speed spins, a precision 180 degree spin wherein the horse is supposed to pivot on its back legs and make the turn in one movement, and backing. All of it should be done on a loose rein and with minimal effort from the rider.

  2. Piales en Lienzo is where a horse is caught by it’s back legs and a rope is dallied around the saddle horn tighter and tighter until the caught horse slows to a stop and quits kicking. Each Charro competing gets three opportunities, and the total distance it takes each horse to stop contributes to the number of points received. During this event you will often see smoke coming off of the horn of the saddle from the amount of force exerted on it by the caught horse.

  3. Colas en el Lienzo, or Coleadero (Quite literally Tail in the Lienzo) is an event where a cow is let out at the back side of the long end of the Lienzo, and a horse and rider team race to catch the cow, grab its tail, and flip it the other direction. The Charro that does this in the shortest distance, with the best technique, and has a bull that rolls well will typically be the winner of the event.

  4. Jineteo de Toro or bull riding, is pretty much what you would expect, the only differences from the American sport being the size of the bull and the use of two hands. In this event, the Charro is to ride the bull until it stops bucking, remove the flank rope dismount, and land upright in true gentleman’s fashion. After dismounting the Charro must then remove the girth rope from off of the bull to prepare it for the next event.

  5. Terna en el Ruedo is a traditional form of Team Roping. The goal for this event is for three Charros to rope a bull, the first roping his head, the next roping his back feet. The bull is then laid down, and the final Charro is to jump in and remove the ropes from the bull. The Charros are given six minutes to complete the task, where style and precision are the determining factor for points awarded.

  6. Jineteo de Yegua is riding a horse, traditionally a mare, bareback. Unlike American bronc riding, two hands may be used and the goal is to ride the mare until she stops bucking. The legs of the rider should remain horizontal to the ground, points are given for style.

  7. Manganas a Pie is an event where a Charro on foot preforms a series of rope tricks including jumping in and out of his loop before roping a wild mare being chased around the Lienzo by three mounted riders. The goal is to rope the horse by it’s front legs causing the horse to fall and roll. For extra points, the Charro can bring the horse down by wrapping his rope around his own neck, this is called  tirón del ahorcado. The Charro has three attempts to bring the mare to the ground, and points are awarded for all three attempts. You will not see the mare brought to the ground in the United States however as the practice has been outlawed here.

  8. Manganas a Caballo is the next event, where a mounted rider preforms similarly to the manganas a Pie. Points are awarded for trick roping, style, and bringing the horse to the ground successfully, and the rider similarly has three attempts to do so. In the United States however you will not see the mares brought to the ground as it is an illegal practice in this country.

  9. El Paso de la Muerte, or the pass of death, is an event where a rider sits atop his horse bareback and attempts to jump from his horse to the back of a wild mare all while being chased around the ring by three other riders. The wild horse is then to be ridden until she stops bucking, with the mane being the only thing available for the Charro to grab hold of. Occasionally this event is preformed with the rider facing backwards on his horse for an extra show of skill.

  10. Escaramuza meaning skirmish in english, is an event that was added to modern day Charreadas in 1992 in which women preform exacting riding displays while dressed in traditional Adelita garb. The women ride side saddle and show off their riding abilities against other teams of women. Often times this event is held between the tailing and bull riding.

If you ever get the chance to attend a Charreada, I say go for it. Bring some pocket money for the food, your dancing boots for the music, and your camera for a picture or two to help tell tale of this unforgettable event. You just never know what might happen, so pick a team, whistle and cheer, and have yourself an absolutely fantastic time witnessing living history.

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