Forget about rodeos you may have seen in the US. Mexican rodeo (called charreada in Spanish) came first and it’s like nothing you’ve seen before, as we learned in Lagos de Moreno.
Rodeo rules in Mexico
After the Mexican Revolution Mexicans began to worry that their cowboy traditions were being lost so official organizations were formed to foster and govern what it means to be a charro and to keep the charreada culture alive.
See some of those traditions in our Mexican rodeo video, below.
Rodeo in Mexico is a team sport with each cowboy (charro in Spanish) competing on behalf of the team in the event or events in which he excels at the most. 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.
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 and listen to the requisite mariachi band.
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. Winning teams aren’t awarded any money at the end of a charreada, just bragging rights and, maybe, a trophy.
The 9 explosive events of a Mexican rodeo
The first event in a charreada is Cala de Caballo which is a reining and responsiveness challenge that requires a horse to gallop at full speed, then slam on the brakes without lifting his back feet for the duration of the sliding stop (shown below) which is judged on distance and definition.
In addition to the sliding stop, riders must train their horses to pivot in a tight, fast circle on one back leg. Then do it in the other direction.
Another essential element of a Mexican rodeo is the saddle which is characterized by an over-sized saddle horn. The extra girth is needed to withstand events like Piales en Lienzo, which is the second event in a Mexican rodeo. During Piales en Lienzo a wild mare is roped and the rope is then wrapped around the saddle 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.
The third event of a charreada is Colas en el Lienzo, or Coleadero, or steer tailing and it’s aptly named in any language: a mounted cowboy at the gallop grabs the tail of a running steer, wraps it around his leg and flips the steer over. Elapsed time: about seven seconds. A properly tailed steer should end up like this with all four hooves in the air.
The fourth event in a charreada is Jineteo de Toro or bull riding. The bulls may be smaller than the ones they ride in the PBR, but the hats are bigger.
The fifth event in a charreada is Terna en el Ruedo or team roping. First the bull is ridden, then it’s roped by the back legs, then by the front legs. Fancy rope work punctuates this event which is more elegant than fast.
The sixth event in a Mexican rodeo is Jineteo de Yegua or bronc riding which is similar to bronc riding in US rodeos.
Probably the most dramatic charreada event is Manganas a Pie or forefooting in which a cowboy 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.
Cowboys do this by wrapping the rope around a part of their own bodies, usually their thigh or their waist. Some Mexican cowboys, however, wrap the rope around their neck. The finishing flourish involves the cowboy digging his heels into the dirt 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 eighth event of a charreada is called Manganas a Caballo and the goals are the same as Manganas a Pie, but all of the roping and stopping is done on horseback, not on foot.
The ninth event of a charreada is El Paso de la Muerte, literally the Pass of Death. It involves a cowboy 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 cowboy in this event must land on his feet.
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. It’s lovely to watch.