The charreada or charrería is a competitive event similar to rodeo and was developed from animal husbandry practices used on the haciendas of old Mexico. The sport has been described as "living history," or as an art form drawn from the demands of working life. Evolving from the traditions brought from Spain in the 16th century, the first charreadas were ranch work competitions between haciendas. The modern Charreada developed after the Mexican Revolution when charro traditions were disappearing. The competing charros often came from families with a tradition of Charreria, and teams today are often made up from extended families who have been performing for up to five generations. The charreada consists of nine events for men plus one for women, all of which involve horses, cattle or both. Some of the events in the charreada have been criticized by animal advocacy groups and some states have banned certain events. However, there is an absence of independent statistical data and unbiased recording of the injury rate of animals has not been undertaken.
Charrería, a word encompassing all aspects of the art, came to Mexico from Salamanca, Spain in the 16th century. When the Spanish first settled in Colonial Mexico, they were under orders to raise horses, but not to allow Native Americans to ride. However, by 1528 the Spanish had very large cattle-raising estates and found it necessary to employ indigenous people as vaqueros or herdsman, who soon became excellent horsemen. Smaller landholders, known as rancheros or ranchers, were the first genuine charros and they are credited as the inventors of the charreada.
Prior to the Mexican Revolution, ranch work competitions were generally between haciendas. Before World War I, there was little difference between rodeo and charreada. Athletes from the United States, Mexico and Canada competed in all three countries. Subsequently, charreada was formalized as an amateur team sport and the international competitions ceased.
Following the breakup of the haciendas by the Mexican Revolution, the charros saw their traditions slipping away. They met in 1921 and formed the Asociación Nacional de Charros to keep the charrería tradition alive. The advent of the Mexican cinema brought greater popularity, especially musicals which combined rancheras with the charro image, akin to the Western and "singing cowboy" genres in the United States.
Mexican Americans in the United States also held various charreadas during the same period, but in the 1970s, the Federación Mexicana de Charrería (FMCH) began assisting them in establishing official charreadas north of the border. They are now quite common. At times, US champion teams compete in the national competition of Mexico.
The participants in the charreada wear traditional charro clothing, including a closely fitted suit, chaps, boots, and a wide brim sombrero. The body-fitting suit of the charro, while decorative, is also practical; it fits closely to insure there is no flapping cloth to be caught by the horns of steers. The botinas, or little boots, prevent feet from slipping through the stirrups. Spurs are worn on the botinas.
The saddle of the charro has a wider horn than that of a western saddle, which helps safeguard the charro from being pitched off and from being hung up. There are two grips at the back of the saddle, in case the charro needs to hold on because of a buck or some other unexpected act of the horse.
A charreada is held within a marked-off area of an arena called a Lienzo charro consisting of a lane 12 metres (39 ft) wide by 60 metres (200 ft) long leading into a circle 40 metres (130 ft)) in diameter.
In the opening ceremony, organizations and participants parade into the arena on horseback, usually accompanied by a mariachi band playing Marcha Zacatecas. This signifies the long tradition of Charros being an auxiliary arm of the Mexican Army. The short charro jacket is remniscent of that worn by members of Villa's Army.
The charreada itself consists of nine scoring events staged in a particular order for men. Unlike rodeos, most charreadas do not award money to the winners as charreadas are considered an amateur, rather than professional sport. Prizes may take the form of trophies. Unlike American rodeo, events are not timed but judged and scored based on finesse and grace. Charreada historically enjoys greater prestige in Mexico than in the United States.
Until recently, the charreada was confined to men but a women's precision equestrian event called the escaramuza is now the tenth and final event in a charreada. The event involves women's teams dressed in a style reminiscent of the nineteenth century, participating in precisely choreographed patterns for horses. The immediate antecedent of the present Escaramuzas were the Adelitas, or "women of the revolution." Tradition holds that women on horseback were decoys during the Mexican revolution. The women would ride off to raise a cloud of dust so that the Federales were deceived into thinking an attack would come from that direction. The revolutionaries would then attack from the rear.
The women in the escaramuza are mounted "a mujeriegas", that is, in an "albarda" or sidesaddle that is peculiar in style to the Charrería but the underlying design has also evolved over hundreds of years in both Europe and North Africa. The traditional albarda for the Escaramuza is a cut down charro saddle, with a leather seat and leg braces, U-shaped for the right leg and C-shaped for the left leg.
The charreada itself consists of a number of scoring events staged in a particular order—nine for the men and one for the women. Two or more teams, called asociaciones, compete against each other. Teams can compete to become state, regional, and national champions. The competitors are judged by both style and execution. Unlike rodeos, most charreadas do not award money to the winners as charreadas are considered an amateur sport, not professional. Under Mexican laws it would be illegal to receive a monetary reward for participating in a charreada. At times there are such prizes as saddles or horse trailers.
- Cala de Caballo (Reining); Literally the demonstration of the horse rein, the horse is required to show its talents in the canter, gallop, slide stop, spins on its hind legs as well as backing. Is one of the hardest events to master and also the most elaborately scored, it is possible to score more negative points than positive ones.
- Piales en Lienzo (Heeling); a horseman must throw a lariat, let a horse run through the loop, catching it by the hind legs. Three opportunities are given. Points are awarded for distance needed to stop the mare. This is done in the rectangular portion of the arena;
- Colas en el Lienzo, or Coleadero (Steer Tailing) similar to bull dogging except that the rider does not dismount; the charro rides alongside the left side of the bull, wraps its tail around his right leg, and tries to bring the bull down in a roll as he rides past it. Points are given for technique, time, and roll of the bull.
- Jineteo de Toro (Bull riding) similar to the rodeo event. Bulls are smaller, between 990 and 1320 pounds, and are ridden until they stop bucking. Two hands can be used on the bullrope. Points are given for technique. The charro cannot fall off, he must dismount and land upright. After the charro dismounts the bull he must remove the bullrope and bellrope so the Terna en el Ruedo can follow. This event has its roots in an earlier form known as Jaripeo.
- Terna en el Ruedo (Team Roping); a team roping event in which three charros attempt to rope a bull - one by its neck, one by its hind legs, and the last then ties its feet together. They have a maximum of 6 minutes. Points are awarded for rope tricks and time.
- Jineteo de Yegua (Bareback on a wild mare); similar to Bareback bronc riding. Yegua means mare. An untrained horse, often a mare, is ridden with a bullrope. Two hands are used and the legs are held horizontally to the ground.
- Manganas a Pie (Forefooting) a charro on foot (pie) has three opportunities to rope a horse by its front legs and cause it to fall and roll once. The horse, usually a mare, is chased around the ring by three mounted charros or hazers. Points are awarded for time and rope tricks as long as the horse is roped and brought down. Extra points are given for the tirón del ahorcado (hanged pull) in which the rope is around the charro's neck, like a noose, and he uses his body to cause the mare to fall and roll. Points for all three attempts are cumulative. Eight minutes are given.
- Manganas a Caballo or (Forefooting on Horseback); a charro on horseback has three opportunities to rope a horse by its front legs. In the USA, the horses are not rolled, they are released as soon as they are roped. But elsewhere, the goal is to have the horse fall and roll once. The horse is chased around the ring by three mounted charros. Points are awarded for time and rope tricks as long as the horse is roped according to the national rules. Points for all three attempts are cumulative. Eight minutes are given.
- El Paso de la Muerte (The pass of death) a charro riding bareback, with reins, attempts to leap from his own horse to the bare back of a loose, unbroken horse without reins and ride it until it stops bucking. The most dangerous part of this is if the charro performing the pass falls under three other mounted charros that are chasing the loose horse round the arena ring. This is done backwards at times for show.
- Escaramuza (English: "skirmish") is an event added in 1992 for teams of women who perform precision equestrian displays riding sidesaddle and garbed in Adelita dress. It is usually held between the Coleadero and the Jineteo de Toro.
Animal welfare issues
Various aspects of charreada have been criticized by animal welfare groups in the United States as being inhumane. While some animal rights organizations oppose many or all aspects of both charreada and American-style rodeo, other organizations do not oppose rodeos generally or the charreada events that are similar to those seen in US rodeo. However, they do oppose specific charreada events, particularly steer-tailing and those that involve roping horses, which are grouped under the term "horse-tripping." These organizations have particular criticism for piales and mangana, the heeling and two forefooting events that involve roping of horses, where they claim that the horses used will often sustain injuries, including broken bones and teeth, dislocated joints, and lacerations. The distinction claimed between Manganas, or horse-tripping, and events that rope cattle, such as calf roping, is that the high center of gravity of a horse, the longer legs and faster speed of a horse creates greater potential for injury, whereas cattle are smaller, have a low center of gravity, are slower and have sturdier limbs. There are additional concerns that horses are underfed and overused, repeatedly roped until lame, with rope burns down to the bone.
Horse tripping is not permitted in motion pictures monitored by the American Humane Association. The California-based Charros Federation USA states that it has voluntarily banned horse-tripping in mainstream charros for over 15 years. They also note, however, that the complete capture in mangana was not stopped due to a belief that there was an unreasonable danger to the horses used, but so teams from California would not be at a disadvantage when they competed in the United States, after a 1994 California law stopped the take down in mangana. Under the Federation rules, the complete capture is still permitted in Mexico.
Nine US states, including the southwestern border states of Texas, California, New Mexico and Arizona, have banned horse-tripping as a sport, although horses may still be roped and taken to the ground when required for veterinary care, identification and branding; or essentially, reasons other than entertainment. In 2011, the state legislatures of Oregan and Nevada considered but did not pass bills that would have stopped horse tripping, and, in Colorado, a bill intended to ban both horse-tripping and steer-tailing also failed.
There are also concerns about the steer tailing event, due to concerns that a steer can suffer injuries to his tail, but also his back and limbs as he rolls. Legislation to ban steer tailing, which also is an event seen in some rodeos, was introduced in at least two states.
Supporters of Charreda defend the sport, stating that there is little evidence to support claims of inhumane treatment and noting that few animals are seriously injured. The Charro Federation has stated that experienced Charros know how to properly rope a horse without injuring it. The Charros Federation USA notes that fringe groups who do not follow mainstream standards give a bad name to the whole community. Supporters point out that events sanctioned by the Federación Mexicana de Charrería (FMCH) are held in both the United States and Mexico, and they operate under rules promulgated by the Federation. They also point to successful and highly public events such the Fiesta San Antonio, where Charreada has been an integral part of the festival for more than 60 years.
There are few hard statistics on either side of the issue. Many charreadas are loosely organized in the USA and obtaining data is a challenge. Informal reports by organizations on both sides of the issue exist. The American Horse Defense Fund claims that from 8 to 20 percent of horses leased for charreada in California were reported to be injured seriously enough to be "sent to slaughter" each week, and the president of the California Equine Council claimed to personally observe a circuit of 10 charreadas for which 78 horses were leased for a season's use, and only 2 were not sent to slaughter by the season's end. Arabian horses are said preferred by charros due to their lighter weight, and Arabian horse rescue organizations have reported on encountering rope-scarred animals in slaughter yards whose injuries have been attributed to charreada use by the feedlot owners.
Charro associations question the legitimacy of these reports and lack of hard data. In 2011, Charreada organizers in Texas began keeping statistics on injuries to both animals and charros for events sanctioned by the FMCH. Since that time, they have self-published results from 1035 charreadas. 624 of which were held in Mexico, where traditional mangana, piales and cola events are offered. 411 charreadas were held in the United States, with non-traditional manganas, but traditional piales and cola. There were also an additional 10 coleaderos. They have reported 10 injured Charros, two steers with horns broken, three steers had tails broken in cola, one steer losing the hair at the end of its tail, one steer's leg broken in cola. A horse started limping after hitting a wall in Paso, but the lameness resolved a few hours later. A horse pulled a ligament in cola. One horse was killed when it flipped in a bucking event. In the Charreadas and Coleaderos, held in Mexico, 6601 steers, 18059 horses and 2009 bulls were used. In the Charreadas and Coleaderos held in the United States 4570 steers, 3905 horses and 1216 bulls were used.
In comparison, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) reports an animal injury rate of less than one percent in its sanctioned US rodeos. However, The Charro Association notes that the PRCA only sanctions about 30 percent of all US rodeos, Unsanctioned rodeos may have higher abuse and injury rates, and the ASPCA notes that rodeo practice sessions are often the location of more severe abuses than competitions. Likewise, anecdotal reports suggest the worst charreada abuses in the USA occur at events held in small venues with little public notice, and the deepest concerns are directed these unsanctioned events. The problem appears to be most often reported in California, where horse-tripping is banned, yet private "backyard" events still feature these events.
An additional issue separate from the animal welfare debate is concern from some people within the Hispanic community that bans on charreada are a form of cultural discrimination. Supporters of the mangana and piales events argue that catching horses by their legs has been and is a legitimate method of animal husbandry. Therefore, it is properly part of a celebration of traditional ranching methods of Mexico. This is evidenced by the veterinary and ranch work exemptions in the California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas statutes. They also note the inclusion of mangana and piales in Charreada rules promulgated by the FMCH as proof of the tradition of catching horses by their legs.
On the other hand, others argue that horse-tripping is not a traditional part of Mexican culture. Prominent individuals within the Mexican-American community such as Cesar Chavez have come out in opposition to inhumane treatment of animals being justified on cultural grounds. Chavez, who became a vegetarian and had concerns for the welfare of animals in general, had written a letter in 1990 to Action for Animals stating his view that legislation was needed to ensure the humane treatment of animals at rodeos and explaining that violence was linked with racism, economic deprival, and various animal sports, including dog fighting, cock fighting, bullfighting and rodeo. This letter did not specifically mention charreada, though Chavez drew particular attention to rodeos where no veterinarian was required to be present.
The legislative debate in California in 1994 brought this issue to the forefront. When the bill banning horse-tripping passed, there was concern that the legislation was part of an overall anti-immigration climate that the voters in California were generally favoring at the time.
When horse-tripping legislation was debated in California, the sponsor of the original bill was Joe Baca, an Assemblyman of Mexican descent who went on to become a member of the U.S. Congress. When the initial bill was submitted by Baca, it was criticized as discriminatory by other Mexican American Assembly members such as Richard Polanco. The original bill was defeated, but was resubmitted during an emergency session of the legislature. Assemblyman Baca did not sponsor the resubmitted legislation, instead it was sponsored by a non-Hispanic member, John Burton. However, during the debate leading to the ban enacted in 1994, the California Equine Legislative Counsel presented testimony that individuals such as Cesar Chavez and organizations including the Mexican American Political Association opposed horse-tripping as a "cruel cultural anachronism."
Rodeo and charreada
The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) does not take an official position on Horse tripping, as is not a sanctioned event. The California-based Charros Federation USA states that it has voluntarily banned horse-tripping in mainstream charros for over 15 years. There are two non-charreada events in the United States that ropes horses by their front legs, the non-PRCA Jordan Big Loop Rodeo and the Harney County Ranch Rodeo in Oregon.
In 2013, the Oregon legislature considered legislation regulating horse-roping events. The PRCA opposed the bill on the grounds that the activities of concern to sponsors are already covered adequately under existing animal cruelty legislation and because the wording could define roping the legs of horses for any reason as per se cruelty. Douglas Corey, chair of the Livestock Welfare Committee of the PRCA, said “We do not feel that simply roping the legs of a horse is an act that should be banned."."
During the 2011 legislative debate in Nevada on legislation to ban the horse-tripping events, some opponents of a ban expressed concern that it would also undermine rodeos. However, this was disputed by supporters of a ban: "Horse tripping is not a recognized event in any form of sanctioned rodeo...This issue has absolutely nothing to do with rodeos nor is it some back door attempt to attack rodeo and livestock events..."
On the other hand, supporters of charreada point out that some rodeo associations initially opposed the California horse tripping ban, pointing out that when the original bill was submitted, supporters such as Eric Mills were also seeking to ban calf roping, "steer busting" and bulldogging. After the bill failed, the California Equine Counsel, who was not opposed to those events, stepped in as the main spokes group for the resubmitted bill. Once Mills no longer took an active role in the legislation, the Rodeo Associations decided to remain neutral, and the bill passed. In 2011, SB 613, a bill to stop “horse tripping” was submitted in Oregon. This was opposed by the United Horsemen. “They were joined by other SB 613 opponents, including the American Quarter Horse Association, the Oregon Quarter Horse Association, and the PRCA. Other opponents included the directors of the Pendleton Roundup plus other rodeo directors and supporters. The bill did not pass.
The PRCA also worked with the Charros' groups to stop a bill to make steer tailing illegal, and to stop legislation that would have required two weeks advance notice of rodeo events.
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