Charrería, the national sport of Mexico and a forerunner of the North American rodeo, originated among the Spanish conquistadors in the sixteenth century. Charros, or Mexican horsemen, adapted the equestrian contests of the Spaniards to produce a uniquely Mexican sport. By the nineteenth century these contests were essential elements of celebrations on large haciendas, especially those festivities celebrating the herraderos (brandings) and rodeos (round-ups). People came from miles around to take part in the celebrations and to watch charros exhibit their skills and compete against each other in daring competitions of horsemanship. Charro contests were also included at major fiestas and celebrations in Mexico, and single charro events, such as the coleadero, the forerunner of bulldogging or steer wrestling, were often used as holiday contests. It was at these fiestas and celebrations that Anglo-Texans first encountered and participated in the sport. Charrería was well known in Texas from the days of the republic, and by the 1860s such contests were included at Texas fairs. Charrería was also influenced by the corridas, or bullfights, in the plazas de toros, where the coleaderos and jineteos de toros (bull riding) were first popularized. Charro sports were included in the corridas through the nineteenth century, and this helps to explain the presence of bull riding, which is not a ranching chore, in both rodeo and charrería.
When the large haciendas in Mexico were divided as a result of the Mexican Revolution, charros feared the demise of the tradition, and so they called a congreso in Mexico City on July 4, 1921, and founded the Asociación Nacional de Charros. In 1933 the Federación Nacional de Charros was founded in Mexico City to govern the different charro associations that emerged, and in the late twentieth century this organization oversaw the charro associations in both Mexico and the United States. In order to compete in a charreada, or rodeo, all associations must be licensed by the federation, and competitors must be certified as charros. There are presently over 100 charro associations in the United States. Texas charro associations exist in Houston, San Antonio, Austin, and El Paso.
The differences between rodeo and charrería have developed since the 1920s; before then, athletes from Mexico, the United States, and Canada competed in all three countries with no problems regarding rules or eligibility. One outstanding difference between the contemporary rodeo and charrería is that rodeo is an individual sport, while charrería is a team sport. The charreadas are performed in a lienzo, or arena, which has two principal areas: one is sixty meters long and twelve meters wide, and the second is a circular area with a diameter of forty meters. Unlike the rodeo competitor, the charro does not compete for prize money but rather for the honor of the sport.
The charreada is highly ritualized, and the events follow a traditional sequence. The competition usually begins with a military march, or the "Marcha Zacatecas," played by a mariachi band. A procession follows, with representatives of the different charro associations riding horseback around the lienzo carrying flags and banners; they are followed by the president of the state charro association, the members of the competing teams, and perhaps a "charro queen." Once the opening ceremony is completed, the cala de caballo, the first of nine separate competitions, begins. During this event, the equivalent of dressage in traditional equestrian competition, judges evaluate the rider's control of the horse. The charro gallops from the end of the lienzo to the middle of the arena, where he must rein in his horse within a marked area twenty meters wide by six meters long. He must also lead the horse in right and left turns and in backward movements.
The second event is the piales en lienzo, during which three charros attempt to rope the hind legs of a horse, steer, or bull. The third event is the coleadero, sometimes called colear or el coleo. There are at least eight different methods of accomplishing this feat, but the classic move requires the charro to ride up, grab the bull by the tail, pass the tail under the charro's right leg, and make a sharp right angle turn, thereby flipping the bull on its back.
The fourth competition is the jineteo de toros, or bull-riding, during which the charro must ride the bull until it stops bucking. During la terna, which is the equivalent of team roping in a North American rodeo, riders must rope a calf as quickly as possible, one from the neck and the other from the hind legs. The jineteo de yeguas is bronco-riding. The seventh and eighth events are the piales and the manganas, where the charro, either on foot or on horseback, must rope the hind legs and the forelegs of a running mare and pull it off balance. The final event is considered the most difficult, the paso de la muerte or "death pass," where the charro rides his tame horse bareback and attempts to jump onto a wild horse and ride it until it stops bucking.
A charro may compete in only three events in the state or national competitions; only one individual from each association may compete in all events, and he is known as the charro completo. Competitors are judged for style as well as execution. Charrería is predominantly a male sport; women perform in only one event, the escaramuza (skirmish). An escaramuza team consists of eight women who perform precision patterns while riding sidesaddle, often to musical accompaniment. This event is traditionally held after the coleadero and before the jineteo.
See also RODEOS.