Before we take you to a charreada (Mexican rodeo) we need you to forget about rodeos you may have seen in the US or Canada. In Mexico (where rodeo was born), it’s a whole different animal.
For starters, it’s a team sport with each charro (Mexican cowboy) on the team competing on behalf of the team in the event or events in which he excels at the most.
After the Mexican Revolution Mexicans began to worry that the charro traditions were being lost so official organizations were formed to foster and govern what it means to be a charro and to keep the charreadas alive. They’ve done a good job and today charros and charreadas are very well respected. This video will show you why:
The first event in a charreada is Cala de Caballo and it’s one of the toughest charreada events to master. Besides the sliding stop (shown below) riders must train their horses to pivot in a tight, fast circle on one back leg. Then do it in the other direction.
Charros competing in a charreada are awarded points for graceful and skilled execution, but points can also be taken away for any one of a confounding minefield of infractions in each event.
Often called the national sport of Mexico, charreada has strict rules about what each competing charro must wear and carry on his saddle in order to participate. Forget even one item and you can be disqualified.
Another essential element is a Mexican saddle, characterized by an over-sized saddle horn. The extra girth is needed to withstand events like Piales en Lienzo during which a wild mare is roped and the rope is then wrapped around the horn which is used to leverage the rope until the mare is brought to the ground.
So much heat is generated by the straining rope that it would burn right through the petite saddle horns used on Western saddles in the US. Even the Mexican mega-horns sometimes need reinforcements. Most charros competing in Piales en Lienzo wrap many layers of twine around their saddle horns before competing as a level of protection between the rope and their saddles.
Winning teams aren’t awarded any money at the end of a charreada–just bragging rights and, maybe, a trophy.
Charreada events aren’t timed as they are in rodeos in the US and, honestly, sometimes there’s not much action in the action. On the other hand, slow moments give you ample time to go get another cerveza…
Everyone goes to their local charreadas–crooked old charros, young couples, gorgeous women dressed to the nines and, of course, families and aspiring charros.
Probably the most dramatic event in a charreada is Manganas a Pie or forefooting in which a charro on foot ropes the front legs of a galloping wild mare, then uses his own body to stop her and pull her to the ground. They do this by (ready?) wrapping the rope around a part of their own bodies. Usually their thigh or their waist. Some charros, however, wrap the rope around their neck. The finishing flourish involves the charro digging his heels in to stop the mare then throwing himself on the ground to finish the job. It takes skill and guts and a dash of insanity.
The ninth event of a charreada is El Paso de la Muerte, literally the Pass of Death. It involves a charro moving from the bare back of his own horse onto the bare back of a galloping wild mare then riding the bucking mare before dismounting. But you can’t just fall off. In order to earn maximum points (and avoiding losing points for incomplete execution) a charro in this event must land on his feet, Nadia Komenich style.
Some charreadas include a tenth event for female charros. Called escaramuzas, the women wear colorful, traditional, many layered dresses called Adelitas and they perform intricate choreographed patterns while riding sidesaddle.