Charrería is the national sport of Mexico. Mexican Charros and Charrería are to Mexico what cowboys and rodeo are to the United States.
The National Sport of Mexico
Mexican Charros and Charrería are to Mexico what cowboys and rodeo are to the United States. This simple analogy is a clear way of transmitting what a charro and charrería are; it should also be mentioned that charrería is also the national sport of Mexico. However, the styles of dress, riding styles and events have gone in different directions while maintaining many similarities and sharing common elements. The word charro is the nickname given to someone from the area around Salamanca in Spain. To this day, the fertile fields and oak tree dotted landscape famous for its Iberian jamón and toros de lidia are known as the Campo Charro. The horseback riding and cattle raising tradition originating around Salamanca had an important influence in importing these traditions into Mexico as well as other places like those represented Argentine guachos, Venezuelan llaneros, Chilean huasos and other herders found around America. Charrería is the term applied to the skills that charros put on display in competitions, which are called charreadas. These competitions, the forerunner of the North American rodeo, are an opportunity for charros to exhibit their horsemanship and mastery of herding skills.
In the 16th century the first transplants from Salamanca, Spain began to settle in Mexico as part of the colonization that took place after the conquest. With these settlements came the need to establish a ranching industry to supply the newly expanding empire. Initially, the Spanish prohibited the indigenous people from riding horses as a way of maintain control over them, but with the necessities caused by expansion and ever growing cattle estates the Spanish required the assistance of the Mexicans to manage the animals being raised over large areas of land.
With this, the breeding of horses increased and the number of riders exploded. Within a short period of time the native riders showed themselves to be as good or better riders than the Spanish. These vaqueros (the word "cowboy" is derived from) and rancheros (owners of smaller ranching operations) are considered to be the founders of Charrería.
Over the years, charrería evolved by developing events by which participants could show their mastery of horsemanship and ranching skills. In the 19th century, charreadas were a very important part of the Mexican ranching culture with regular competitions taking place in Mexico and in the southern United States and in particular, Texas. It is at this time that American riders began to participate in these competitions which would ultimately evolve into American rodeo. One event that received particular attention from the Americans was the event called the coleadero. The precursor to steer wrestling or bulldogging, the charro attempts to wrestle a steer to the ground, but unlike the American version, the rider does not dismount. The charro will attempt to wrestle the steer to the ground by grabbing its tail and wrapping around his leg to roll the animal over. American cowboys enjoyed this even so much that by the 1860's, this event among other charreada events were present in most Texas fairs.
Because the events during this time were very similar, it was not uncommon to find charreadas taking place in Canada and the United States. In Mexico, charreadas were held all throughout the year and were often competitions between teams from competing haciendas. Charrería, unlike rodeo, is a team sport in which teams compete in 9 events and 1 event for women (a newer event which began in the 1950's). Another important difference between charrería and rodeo is the in charrería there is no prize money to be earned. Often winners are awarded prizes of equipment other material but never money. Today, Mexican law treats charrería as an amateur sport and makes it illegal to award money in a charreada.
Because of the dramatic social changes in Mexico and the land reforms implemented both during and after the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) the popularity of charrería began to wane. To make sure that these customs and traditions wouldn’t be lost, the Asociación Nacional de Charros (National Association of Charros) was formed in 1921; today, the association is called the Federación Mexicana de Charrería. From this organization the rules and regulations of everything related to charrería was standardized and compiled into the rule book of over 100 pages.
Many people consider the charreada much more stylish and artistic than a rodeo since points are given for all aspects of charro's performance down to where their hands are placed in a specific movement. This attention to detail is what sets the charro and charrería apart from other comparable sports. The highly ritualized charreada takes place in a lienzo charro (rodeo ring) which is not completely circular—it is shaped like a keyhole with long alley ending in circle. The program of events is usually completed in the following order:
1. Cala de Caballo—An event with various tests of horsemanship and style. It is not uncommon to receive negative points in this event.
2. Piales en Lienzo—The charro, atop his horse and stopped, must lasso the hind legs of horse running at full speed and stop it in a short distance.
3. Coleadero—A type of steer wrestling explained above.
4. Escaramuza—This women's team event has each team (normally 8 riders) perform choreographed movements on horseback to music. Also of note is that the charras must ride sidesaddle style.
5. Jineteo de Toro—Two handed Bull riding. Unlike rodeo bull riding, the rider attempts to stay on until the bull stops bucking. They must also dismount correctly.
6. Terna en el Ruedo—bull roping event where three charros each must use their lariat to rope a part of the animal. This event is an opportunity for a charro to earn maximum points by showing off their trick roping
7. Jineteo de Yegua—Bareback riding on wild mare is the objective of this event. Riders attempt to stay on the horse as long as possible while holding on with tow hands.
8. Manganas a Pie—A standing charro ropes the front legs of a running horse tripping it so that it falls and rolls over. This controversial event has been outlawed in some American states but is still practiced in Mexico.
9. Manganas a Caballo—The same as the event above but on horseback.
10. El Paso de la Muerte—A charro will ride bareback and jump on the back of a wild unbridled and unsaddled horse and remain on it until it stops bucking.
While animal cruelty is always a topic of debate, the events that have raised the most concern are the horse tripping manganas events. These events have been outlawed in most American states where charrería events take place; also sanctioned events have fewer incidences of animal welfare problems. Like rodeo, the greatest possibility for animal abuse in a charrería event is at unsanctioned, private charreadas.
Charrería is a sport that combines style, tradition and skill. For these reasons this sport is so popular and accepted not only in Mexico but also in the United States and Canada. It is also important to note that this is a sport that requires a constant investment of money in equipment, maintenance and transport without any expectation of receiving any kind of salary, much less prize money.