Charros: The Mexican Cowboys
NOTE: Since I wrote this story I have received several angry letters about "horse tripping," asking me how I could condone such a brutal event. At first, I had no idea what these enraged people were talking about, so I did a search on the Internet. After learning what horse tripping was, I found myself outraged and sickened as well. Never, in all the areas of Mexico that I have visited, have I ever seen or heard of such a cruel "sport." Our local charreadas have never had any such event, and I sincerely hope they never will. I have seen them practice lassoing horses, but always gently, and the rope is loosened immediately so as not to cause injury. Our rodeos are an event you can bring your family to. There may be some "tipping," (such as bringing a beer bottle up to take a swig), but never "tripping."
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It all started with cowboys: "Blame it all on my roots...." Garth Brooks said in one of his most famous songs. And at the root of a popular Mexican event, called the charreada (rodeo), is the Mexican cowboy (vaquero).
Today, a charreada is the competitive proving ground of a new type of Mexican cowboy, the brave and proud charro. Originally, Mexican cowboys held contests among themselves to show off ranching skills such as bronco riding and roping. Now these rodeo showmen have refined their act so that they provide high quality entertainment to the rodeo aficionados. For many North Americans who spend their days in an office at a desk or even in a college at a standing desk, these events represent a male fantasy of showmanship and even an escape.
A charreada is basically a rodeo, and in Mexico it is a recognized sport with strict rules to be followed during the competitions. Both men and women are allowed to compete, wearing colorful costumes trimmed in silver studs. During intermissions, the horsemen make their mounts dance to a live Mariachi band, while vendors circulate in the stands selling refreshments and snacks. In the Manzanillo area, those strict rules are not-so-strict, and the charreadas are loosely structured, unlike bigger cities.
The first vaqueros were Indians or mestizos. They developed their skills of roping, branding and rounding up cattle in the new Mexican enterprise of cattle ranching, after the Spanish conquistadors introduced them to horses and cattle. The mixing of the two cultures created the Mexican cowboy.
Charros, or the horsemen who compete at charreadas, sometimes travel many miles for the competition. They usually start their training as small children ("charro-ism" is oftentimes a family tradition), and learn to perform rope tricks and fancy horsemanship on finely-trained steeds, along with bull riding, bronco riding, and steer roping. The charros say their sport is living history, an art form developed from actual skills of a life working on the ranch.
Naturally, a charro is a bit "macho" as tradition demands. After a few belts of tequila before the event, he's ready to face the risks and the broken bones. A charro is truly a "man's man," who holds a permanent place among strong horses and tough company.
Charros also participate in local parades, and each year hold a place of honor in the country's September 16 Independence Day parade. Charros are featured in the first few lines of the Mexican National Anthem, and are honored on Charro Day, September 14.
Susan Dearing is the author of more than 90 articles about Manzanillo and the state of Colima. Her guidebook has even more information and is in its 15th year of publishing.