A major charreada (contest/performances of Mexican cowboys) took place Saturday, March 11, 2023, in the Lienzo Charro, rural Hidalgo County, south Texas (North Bentsen/Palm Drive), the arena owned by Mr. Salvador Vera.

The event was sponsored by Federación Mexicana de Charraría. The Federation is composed of all Mexican states and fifteen US states; the sport is quite popular, and often (California) controversial. Events began in late afternoon, continuing until evening.

A charro is a Mexican horseman, typically in some aspect of elaborate traditional dress, not just a dusty cowboy. A charreada (probably ancestor to the rodéo) involves competitive equestrian events. It has its roots in Spain, its evolution in Mexico. The charrería surrounding the event would cover the entire culture –the costumes, music, food, and tools for horses and arena.

Our gracious host, Jesus Leal, his niece, Ari and his date, Bibi, welcomed me and my colleague, Dr. Freeman – gringos but aficionados–to the “cola” event. After passing the numerous, long horse trailers, attendees paid and were greeted with music, tacos and soft drinks for purchase (I didn’t see beer) and well maintained bathrooms. Vaqueros were often bi-lingual and, when time permitted between events, forthcoming. More personal information would be fascinating—their own stories, training, for en cada cabeza, un mundo–”in everyone’s head, there is a whole world.” Chief among them was regal octogenarian, Don Polo (seen on his steed, greeting us on the sidelines in photo).

The “cola” is an event of young steers released in a straightaway manner, vaqueros and their lassos at the ready. (So many Spanish words now quite common in English, verdad?) They were not to be lassoed, (perhaps easier?) but brought down by catching the cola, the tail and twisting. One contestant, as young as eight, Santiago, after a good chase, was successful right at the end of that 100 yard track.

A huge, open-air, arched wooden canopy loomed above horses, cattle, participants and spectators. In an adjacent arena, four teams, consisting of several vaqueros, in wide Mexican sombreros, competed with each other in bull riding and steer roping.  Several sported impressive silver and leather saddles, and with accomplished lassoing, and astride their quite experienced and brilliant horses, demonstrated their roping skills.

The vaqueros skillfully placed loops on chest and back legs of a lone, beige caballo (seemingly “wild stallion”) as he raced around the circular track. Interesting that, for mixed, modern audiences, “no animal was injured in these sequences.” The cowboys were serious but, in no sense, detrimental to the animals. Impressive was the institutional support for the charreada. Good to know that the original cowboy, the vaquero, is “alive and well,” indeed, flourishes in south Texas.

My appreciation to Ms. Vianey Cavazos, member and aficionada of charreadas, and former student, UTRGV, for information. 

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