Charreada, a stylish rodeo!

Earlier this year, I spent a brief time in Oaxaca, a town in southern Mexico where one can eat a different mole every day of the week and crunch on the famous “chapuline,” the roasted grasshopper delicacy. While there, I went to a “charreada,” a Mexican rodeo-like event (though historically, it precedes the rodeo). Held in the nearby small town of Atzompa over a two-day period, this charreada was quite a colorful affair.

Charreada began in Mexico in the 16th century when horses were introduced by the Spanish.  Although the main event is Spanish-inspired, “charros” the Mexican horsemen, adapted the equestrian contests of the Spaniards to produce a uniquely Mexican sport, referred to as “Charreria”.   It is so closely associated with Mexican culture that in 1933, the Mexican president named Charreria the National Sport of Mexico (and I thought it was soccer, silly me), and UNESCO included it as an Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2016. 

The charreada consists of a series of scoring equestrian “suertes” or skills with strict rules (even about the charros wardrobe, which is quite elegant and reminds me of “mariachis”), and competitors are judged on both style, speed, and execution.  Specific dimensions are marked off with lines in the arena, and the lines are closely monitored.  The events, typically nine for men and sometimes one for women, are staged in a particular order, and the competition is organized by teams as opposed to individuals. There are skills involving bull tailing, bull riding, roping, and riding bareback on a wild mare (for a detailed list of the “suertes”, see Charreada Events).   (Unsurprisingly, these events have critics in the animal rights community, though the locals say that the competitions are no more hazardous for the animals than American rodeos or thoroughbred racing. I have no informed opinions about these issues, so I will only comment on the spectacle.)

As someone watching my first charreada, I found it quite confusing. Even after watching four teams compete, I constantly wondered what was happening. (Truthfully, I have the same problems when watching American football, so this is probably a reflection of my sports-watching skills more than anything else!)

The charros are undoubtedly impressive. They undertake dangerous maneuvers and are unbelievably skillful with the ropes. However, since I could not appreciate the nuances of their demonstrations of skill, I particularly enjoyed watching the “ritual” aspect of the event and walking around the grounds.   

Preceding the competition, women riding sidesaddle and dressed in colorful Adelitadresses paraded into the arena, demonstrating their graceful equestrian abilities.  The Adelita dress, a traditional outfit for these “charra”, is named after a folkloric female fighter in the Mexican Revolution. It is a wide-ruffled dress with a circular skirt that falls to mid-boot. No doubt, women looked elegant in their colorful Adelita dresses.  The competitors also parade in the arena on horseback with music and encouragement from the crowd.    An interesting tradition is that spectators throw their hats in the arena when a competitor does well.  The “charro” then picks it up and gives it back, taking the opportunity to shake hands with the appreciative spectator.

But for me, the most charming part of the event was the surprising participation of little girls all dressed in red Adelita dresses.  They also paraded in the arena on horseback, although some looked like they would prefer to be somewhere else.  

Enjoy the colors of the charreada!

Disfruta los colores de la charreada! Ole!

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9 Responses

  1. Absolutely wonderful, France. The motion of the animals and charros is so artfully captured, and the gestures and expressions are as well. I am always so taken (and impressed and envious!) of your ability to frame within your photos. The arc of a rope, the open area between a slats of a fence, the negative space underneath a horse, for example, and then…wow…so many critical elements placed “just so” within that framing. Your timing is impeccable! It’s always a pleasure and an inspiration to see your posts. Well done!

    1. Kathy, you are the nicest person I know. Thank you so much for all your kind words. If you see these elements in my photos, it is because one can equivalents in yours as well. I miss you.

  2. Fascinated by the colours. Enjoyed every bit of it. I wonder why you didn’t include the roasted grasshoppers. Had to Google.

    1. Hello Dipankar, Gad you like the colors. I din’t not think I could produce an elegant photo of roasted grasshoppers but I am sure there are some on Google. Crunchy little things but tasty. Hope all is well.

    1. So glad you like the images, Brian. Mexico is a colorful place. All the best, France

  3. How beautiful and not a sponsor’s logo in sight in the arena at the Charreada. One forgets how pure it is to gather for a sporting and skills event that is culture driven not commercially driven . Love the skill of horse riding and roping so can only admire the fearlessness. It must be a highlight for the young ones to participate …seems very inclusive . One horse power is still magical to watch and who doesn’t enjoy a lively Mexican band . Wonderful time had by all ..except the bull 😆.
    Hope you are well , lovely to see you posting ..it has been a while or did I miss some 🤔 🌺🙏🥰

Would love to hear from you!

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