Though we missed the world famous annual drunken horse racing in Todos Santos, local guide Rigoberto Pablo Cruz ([email protected] (dot) com, good English) knew that locals in a nearby town were putting on a smaller race so we jumped in the truck and drove about an hour out of Todos Santos to the town of Chiabal II, climbing up to more than 11,000 feet (3,352 meters) into the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes mountains.

Todos Santos horse race

Horses and riders assemble at the makeshift starting line during drunken horse racing near Todos Santos in Guatemala.

Drunken horse racing in Guatemala

A soft dirt straight-away, about an eighth of a mile long, had been cleared through the center of the tiny, dusty town where, weirdly, there was a porta-potty in front of nearly every house.

Todos Santos horse race

And they’re off!

The “track” was then lined with a wooden fence meant to keep the racers in and the spectators out. About eight relatively healthy-looking horses were gathered at the makeshift starting line as less healthy-looking riders staggered around being fitted with a special hat with a very long colorful sash tied to it.

drunken horse race guatemala

Imagine what it would look like if you were drunk…

drunken horse race guatemala

Some riders were so drunk they had to be tied into the saddle.

Two or three horses raced at a time, set off by a loud whistle. Some riders were so drunk they had to have their hands tied to the horn of their saddles. Some screamed obscenities in both Spanish and English as they flew by. Some were still holding cans of Mexican Tecate beer as they raced.

drunken horse race guatemala

Drunken horse racing is a tradition in Guatemala.

drunken horse race guatemala

Drunken horse racing is a tradition in Guatemala.

Some riders flew out of the saddle. Others slowly slumped to the side before hitting the ground. The majority somehow made it to the finish line, except for one guy who was ominously carried off by locals.

Todos Santos horse race

Rider down! The old man who fell off this brown horse was carried away by his neighbors.

drunken horse race guatemala

Drunken horse racing is a tradition in Guatemala.

drunken horse race guatemala

Drunken horse racing is a tradition in Guatemala.

Though we watched the madness for a couple of hours we never did figure out who “won.” Maybe winning wasn’t the point.

Jockeys in training.

drunken horse race guatemala

Drunken horse racing is a tradition in Guatemala.

See the madness of drunken horse racing for yourself in our video, below.

 

See more of this spectacle in our story about drunken horse racing for Atlas Obscura.

 Read more about travel in Guatemala