Charreada is a style of rodeo that originated in Mexico and is still a rich part of Mexican tradition and culture. The rodeo sports showcase the skills of the ranchers who worked on haciendas in Mexico, training and herding animals.
After the arrival of Spanish horses in 16th-century Mexico, many Mexican people were employed by the Spaniards to herd cattle. These ranch hands were soon known as top riders, excelling in all of the equestrian skills necessary for herding cattle. Just like the origins of rodeo, these ranch hands would compete against one another informally. Haciendas would hold an informal test of ranch skills for fun and bragging rights.
After the Mexican revolution, the haciendas across Mexico were broken up. The charreada as a national, organised sport began as horse enthusiasts found a way to keep the traditions of the hacienda alive. In 1921, the National Association of Charros was created to organise these spectacles.
The charreada competition is divided into ten separate events that are always set in the same order. The competitions are formal but are not considered professional.
Calo de Caballo, reining in English, is a showing of a horse in reins. The rider demonstrates the horse at canter and gallop. The rider also showcases more difficult skills, like the sliding stop, hind leg spins and backing up. This sport is comparable to dressage in that each movement is judged on a complex scale according to grace and precision.
Piales en Lienzo, heeling in English, is a sport in which a charro lassos a horse by its hind heels. The charro has three chances to successfully catch and rope both legs. The scoring is based on how quickly the roper can stop the horse.
Colas en e Lienzo, steer tailing in English, requires the rider to stop and subdue a bull. Unlike steer wrestling in American rodeo, the charro remains mounted on the horse. The charro ties the tail of the bull around his leg and pulls the bull to the ground.
Jineteo de Toro, bull riding in English, is similar to the rodeo version of bull riding. The charro holds on to the bull rope while the bull bucks wildly. Rather than fall off, the rider dismounts the bull without falling and removes the bull rope.
Terna en el Ruedo, team roping in English, immediately follows Jinteo de Toro. The team of three charros rope the bull using lassos. One charro ropes the neck, one the back legs and the third uses the rope to tie the bull’s feet together. This must be completed in 6 minutes or less and must be done with finesse and showmanship for top scores.
Jineteo de Yegua, bareback on a wild mare in English, is a wild, bucking ride. The rider holds on to the bull rope and attempts to stay on the frantically bucking mare, holding his legs parallel to the ground.
Manganas a Pie, forefooting in English, involves an unmounted charro attempting to rope a horse. Unlike Piales en Lienzo, the charro ropes the horse by the front legs. The horse will fall and roll. The roper has three opportunities to catch the horse.
Manganas a Caballo, forefooting on horseback in English, is similar to the previous event, except that the roper is mounted on a horse, rather than standing on the ground. The rider has three attempts for the horse to fall and roll. Each attempt is scored and the total score is the sum of all three attempts.
El Paso de la Muerte, the pass of death in English, is so named because of the extreme danger of the event. The rider, bareback on a reined horse, will race alongside of a wild, untamed horse. The rider then jumps from the back of the reined horse to the wild horse. The wild horse does not have reins, but the rider must stay on until the horse is finished bucking. In order to direct the wild horse, three charros chase the wild horse. If the jumping charro should fall, the risk of being trampled is high.
Escaramuza, “skirmish” in English, is the only charreada sport for women. The women wear traditional Mexican outfits and, riding sidesaddle, display fine equestrian movements.
Tradition and Culture
Charreada is a sport created to keep the rich traditions of hacienda culture. As a result, the charreada competition incorporates many of these traditions into the sport. There is typically a parade at the outset of the competition. The participants parade through the town, showcasing costumes and fine horses. Each parade includes a mariachi band which plays the Marcha Zacatecas, which is a traditional song of the Mexican.
Both the men and women in charreada wear traditional costumes. For men, charro clothing represents the garb of ranch hands on the hacienda. The men wear fitted suits. The jacket is short and similar to what was worn in the Mexican army under Villa. The outfits are usually decorated ornately and are both beautiful and utilitarian. The clothing is durable, but also protects any part of the clothing being caught during the rough and tumble of charreada. The charros also wear a sort of cowboy boot that is lower towards the heel called a botina, and most wear spurs as well.
Women dress in a style dress called the Adelita. The Adelita dress stems from the Mexican Revolution. The dress is made of cotton and has many tiered layers with ruffles. The colours are typically very bright, with trim to decorate the ornate dresses. The dresses have large patterns in bright colours that make them a spectacle from afar.
Both men and women wear a wide-brimmed sombrero. The sombrero was necessary for the hot lands to protect the ranchers from the sun. It is worn in the parade, as well as in most of the charreada events.
Charreada is rich in culture, tradition and horsemanship skills. Some of the events are in danger from animal rights groups. In the United States, certain events deemed inhumane have been banned in several states where Charreada is performed. While some events are lost, the rich heritage remains, reminding spectators of what life was like on the expansive haciendas of Old Mexico.