Charrería: Mexican Horsemanship

Charrería: Mexican Horsemanship

 

Charrería is Mexico’s answer to rodeo. This form of Mexican horsemanship involves a series of competitions on horseback geared toward testing the equestrian prowess of each charro’s skill set. This sport has been added as one of UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage, and is considered Mexico’s national sport.

 

A Brief History of Charrería:

 

The term “charrería” likely comes from the Basque language—which is itself a linguistic anomaly with nebulous origins—from the root txar meaning, weak, small, or bad. The term “Charro” would evolve to mean “a person of the land”, “a person who speaks roughly”, or “a person with bad taste”.

 

Charrería comes from equestrian traditions rooted in the Spanish city of Salamanca. However, it would not resemble its modern incarnations until the 16th Century, when the Spanish first settled to colonize Mexico. The Spanish Viceroyalty of New Spain ordered the population to breed horses, but indigenous people were not allowed to learn to ride. By 1528, massive estates called “haciendas” built entirely around cattle-breeding and raising had grown so productive that their needs necessitated an amendment to the law forbidding indigenous Mexicans to learn to ride horses—with the exception of the nobility (and their descendants) of tribes which had allied themselves with the Spanish during the Conquest.

 

In most cases, mestizo (mixed race) workers were hired to work as herdsmen, though in some few cases, some haciendas hired and trained indigenous workers to meet the demands of this growing enterprise. Soon these new riders became incredibly talented Mexican horsemen. By law, these charros had to work for a plantation, they had to wear leather, and they had to use saddles that were different than military saddles.

Haciendas began to compete between themselves over who had the most skilled riders at Mexican horsemanship. These competitions became the first charreadas—and thus charrería was born.

 

The Early Days of Charrería:

 

The earliest days of charrería were largely pioneered by smaller landholders called rancheros. These ranchers were the first to organize orderly ranch work competitions, and thus they are credited with the creation of the charreada.

 

For decades, haciendas would gather together and arm their charros to fend off attacks by bandits as an ad hoc militia. Therefore, they were naturally an invaluable asset during the Mexican War of Independence. Charros were employed as cavalry on both sides of the war.

 

After the war, it was difficult for the new Mexican government to maintain control. During the ensuing chaos, several bands of roving bandits dressed themselves as charros. Much like Western outlaws in the United States, they would rob towns and bribe government officials to look the other way, in effect establishing their own order.

 

Around the 1850s, President Benito Juarez established a mounted police unit called the rurales that would patrol remote and rural areas. These elite forces were also dressed as charros which only helped to solidify the look in the minds of Mexicans as denoting strength, nationalism, and masculinity. This rose charros as a form of chivalrous ideal which politicians in the late 1800s sought to identify with.

 

Prior to the First World War, rodeo and charreada were essentially the same sport. Athletes from all around North America competed together—with Americans and Canadians competing in Mexican horsemanship competitions as well. However, when the charreada was formalized as a legitimate Mexican sport, then international competition ceased and charrería began to take on its own distinct style.

 

After the Mexican Revolution, when the rich aristocracy was overthrown, the haciendas were dismantled by the new Mexican government. Charros saw their fledgling sport was in crisis. In 1921, charros got together and formed the National Association of Charros in order to organize and govern all aspects of charrería.

 

After the invention of movies, during the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema, many Mexican westerns glorified the charros and Mexican horsemanship in general which spurred a resurgence in interest in charrería. During this time, Mexican-American charros also began to run their own charreadas, and in 1970s, their efforts were legitimized and aided by the Mexican Federation of Charrería. Now, champion charros from the United States compete in Mexican competitions as well.

 

What is a Charrería Like?

 

Charrerías are very lively and exhuberant events featuring live music from mariachi bands playing classics that put you right at home. Tequila, mezcal, and beers are as common as flavored waters, and the culinary delights are as delicious as anywhere in Mexico.

 

The charros come out wearing a traditional charro outfit which consists of a tight-fitting suit, boots, chaps, and a sombrero. They also wear botinas (small boots) with spurs at the end. This outfit is practical, not only aesthetically beautiful. The close-fitting clothing ensures that the cloth will not snag on a harness or a steer’s horn. Also, the small boots are specifically made to prevent boots from slipping within the stirrups.

 

The saddle used by charros is wider than a typical American western saddle with two grips at the back of the saddle. This gives the charro an extra handle. Furthermore, the wide saddle helps to prevent a charro from being pitched off his saddle during complex maneuvers.

Unlike rodeo, where most events are based on time, time is not the main principle in charrería events. Instead, charros are graded on their poise and grace, and the complicated maneuvers that they perform.

charreada

What is a Charreada Like?

 

Charrerías are very lively and exhuberant events featuring live music from mariachi bands playing classics that put you right at home. Tequila, mezcal, and beers are as common as flavored waters, and the culinary delights are as delicious as anywhere in Mexico.

 

The charros come out wearing a traditional charro outfit which consists of a tight-fitting suit, boots, chaps, and a sombrero. They also wear botinas (small boots) with spurs at the end. This outfit is practical, not only aesthetically beautiful. The close-fitting clothing ensures that the cloth will not snag on a harness or a steer’s horn. Also, the small boots are specifically made to prevent boots from slipping within the stirrups.

 

The saddle used by charros is wider than a typical American western saddle with two grips at the back of the saddle. This gives the charro an extra handle. Furthermore, the wide saddle helps to prevent a charro from being pitched off his saddle during complex maneuvers.

 

Unlike rodeo, where most events are based on time, time is not the main principle in charrería events. Instead, charros are graded on their poise and grace, and the complicated maneuvers that they perform.

 

Charrería Events:

 

Cala de Caballo: This event is a demonstration of horse reigning, including canter, gallop, spins, slide stop, and backing. This is highly scrutinized event which can garner more negative points than positive points.

 

Piales en Lienzo: This event is a demonstration in heeling. A horseman throws a lasso, waits for a horse to through the lasso, and catches it by the hind legs. Points are awarded for distance.

 

Colas en el Lienzo: Also known as coleadero, this event is an exercise in steer tailing. The charro rides alongside a bull and tries to topple the bull as he rides past.

 

Jineteo de Toro: This event is an exercise in bull riding, similar to the rodeo event. The charro must not fall off, but instead, he must dismount from the bull.

 

Terna en el Ruedo: This is an event in team roping. Three men must collectively tie a bull, one by its neck, one by its hind legs, and the third then ties the bull’s feet together.

 

Jineteo de Yegua: This is an exercise in bareback riding. The charro must ride a wild mare bareback until the horse itself stops bucking.

 

Manganas a Pie: This is an exercise in forefooting. A charro has three opportunities and 8 minutes to rope a horse by its front legs, and then force it to the ground and having it roll once.

 

Manganas a Cabello: This is an exercise in forefooting on horseback. A charro has three opportunities and 8 minutes to rope a horse by its front legs while on horseback. In the US, horses are not rolled, though they are rolled everywhere else.

 

El Paso de la Muerte: By far the most dangerous event, a charro attempts to leap from his own horse to the bareback of an unbroken horse without reins. The charro then rides it until it stops bucking.

 

Escaramuza: Added in 1992, this is the only women’s event in charrería. Women perform precision equestrian displays while wearing traditional Adelilta dresses.

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