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Is Mexico’s National Game a Beloved Sport or Animal Cruelty?

Charrería in Mexico, October 27, 2007, photo by Ruben Balderas, CC 2.0.

Charrería in Mexico, October 27, 2007, photo by Ruben Balderas, CC 2.0.

Though many think football (soccer) is the most popular sport in Mexico, the charrería is considered to be Mexico's only national sport (translator's note: the name charrería comes from the word charro, the Mexican cowboy). It's an activity that involves the charro (the rider) and various animals, such as a horse, bull, calf, or mare. Unlike many other sports, in charrería, women have also a role. They're known as escaramuzas (literally: skirmishes). According to Wikipedia, urban populations ignore the basics of charrería, but its advocates consider it a very old activity, and a fundamentally Mexican one.

The charrería can be performed as a mere show or as a competition. If it's the latter, some rules must be observed. The activity is carried out through a series of suertes charras (horse shows) or acrobatics, that combine the charro expertise with the training the animal has. Among those acrobatics we can fin the “bull ridings” and the paso de la muerte (the deadly step). The latter consists of a rider riding a horse at full speed that jumps directly to another horse (named “raw” horse) that is also in motion while being spurred on by other charros.

The civil association Mexican Federation of Charrería, located at the Historic Downtown in Mexican capital city, is one of the authorities of this activity. Besides fostering the paracharrería (which is the same activity but carried out by individuals with special needs), the Federation also aims to make this an inclusive activity and to prevent discrimination. According to the group itself, their mission is:

Participar en la prevención y eliminación de la discriminación de las personas con discapacidad, así como en su integración a la sociedad, favoreciendo su participación en el deporte en general y de éstos la CHARRERIA EN PARTICULAR por ser el único deporte 100% Nacional y dar la oportunidad a los Charros y Charras, que por algún accidente dentro de este deporte hayan quedado con alguna discapacidad, de continuar participando activamente en éste, nuestro Deporte Nacional.

Take part in prevention and removal of discrimination of handicapped individuals, as well as making them part of society, contributing to their participation in sports activities in general and particularly in charrería, as this is the only 100 percent national sport and give an opportunity for male and female charros that due to some accident for practicing charrería are affected by any disability, to continue be active in our national sport.

Despite being a popular tradition, charrería isn't supported by everybody in the country, as some people claim it's an activity that promotes abuse or mistreatment to the animals involved. On the Derecho Animal (Animal Rights) online portal, we can find an explanation about this practice, that extends all the way to the United States.

La Charrería […] se ha convertido en una fiesta cada vez más popular en los Estados Unidos.

Langan, el presidente de una de las asociaciones defensoras, comenta tienen mucha preocupación por estos eventos, “El número de animales que esta siendo expuesto a lesiones es cada vez mayor” advirtió.

The Humane Society ha solicitado a los gobiernos estatales y locales que prohíban este tipo de práctica, que tienen como consecuencia el maltrato de muchos animales, y han logrado ser escuchados en lugares como Nebraska,Colorado y California.

En la ciudad de Omaha y Nebraska, se analiza prohibir este espectáculo, tras escuchar los argumentos a favor y en contra de esta terrible tradición.

Charrería […] has become a increasingly popular celebration in the United States.

Langan, chairman of one of the [animal] advocate associations, remarks they are very concerned for these events, “The number of animals that are being exposed to injuries is increasing”, he warned.

The Humane Society has requested local and state governments to ban this practice, that result in mistreatment to many animals, and they've managed to be heard in places such as Nebraska, Colorado and California.

In the city of Omaha and Nebraska, they are considering to ban this kind of show, after listening the pros and cons of this terrible tradition.

The website concludes with this phrase:

Al ser una tradición que es realizada [desde] hace mucho tiempo es de esperarse que los mexicanos defiendan la misma y aseguren que las charreadas son eventos culturales importantes y no peligrosos.

As this is a long-existing tradition, it's expected that Mexicans may defend it and assert that charreadas are important cultural events not dangerous at all.

On Twitter, Param0_ asks:

Is charrería a national sport or an excuse for animal abuse?

Meanwhile, Eugenio Peña points out other practices that should be banned too, if Mexico indeed must end charrería:

If you want to ban animal abuse, then you have to be against circus without animals as well as charrería, bullfighting, aqcuariums, cages, etc.

A member of the association Unidos Para Proteger a los Animales (United to Protect Animals) told the news site Angel Guardián:

El conocido escritor mexicano Carlos Fuentes sostenía que: “La cultura o es universal o no es cultura; es folclore”.

La charrería es mal llamada “El deporte nacional”, y digo mal llamada porque el Comité Olímpico define claramente que para poder considerar deporte cualquier práctica, los contendientes deben estar en igualdad de condiciones y el caballo no tiene ni remotamente las mismas oportunidades de su oponente el hombre.

Renowned Mexicano author Carlos Fuentes claimed that: “Culture is universal or it's not culture; it's folklore.”

Charrería is inappropriately known as “the national sport”, and I say inappropriately known as the Olympic Committee clearly defines that for any practice to be considered a sport, contenders should be under the same conditions, and here the horse is not even close to have the same chances as this contender, a human being.

Unidos Para Proteger a los Animales argues:

Al igual que la tauromaquia y las peleas de gallos, la charrería es otra forma de maltrato animal.

Si, la charrería es una tradición y una costumbre. Pero no es universal, por lo tanto no es patrimonio cultural ni deporte, tan sólo es una expresión del folclore mexicano.

As bullfight and cockfight, charrería is another way on animal abuse.

Yes, charrería is a tradition and a custom. But it's not universal, so it's neither cultural heritage nor sports, it's just an expression of Mexican folklore.

Mexican charros. Photo taken by the author and available on his blog.

These are the two sides of the same coin: an old Mexican regional practice that uses animals and has become a show and maybe a sport, or an activity that should be considered synonymous with bullfighting. However, we should note that in charrería, the goal is not to kill the animal but to perform the “perfect thrust”.

Charrería will probably come up for discussion by lawmakers soon, as the public shows growing interest protecting animals from public performances. When that debate comes to the public, we can expect to hear voices on both sides of the isle.

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  • Patricia Zambrano

    STOP the use of animals for human entertainment! Whether charrerias, bullfights, horse racing, swimming with dolphins, etc. IT ALL EXPLOITATION OF ANIMALS for human profiteering!

  • Jim Cather

    As citizens become educated and enlightened, “culture,” whether tradition, custom, or universal, changes. Horrifically cruel and barbaric activities, are discarded. Rather than hide like cowards behind the skirt of “culture,” Mexico needs to ban all cruel animal activities. People with big egos who need to dominate and terrorize animals for chest pounding “show,” should be guilty of crimes and arrested.

  • ericmills

    This translation leaves much to be desired, and the article is more than a little dated to boot.

    For the record, the Mexican-style rodeo called “charreada” is common throughout the American Southwest, and spreading. The charreada features nine standard scored events, plus the women’s “escaramuzas,” in which a drill team of 8 women riding side-saddle and wearing colorful period costumes, perform intricate patterns on horseback. Of the nine, only three have American-style rodeo counterparts: bull riding, bareback bronc riding and team roping. (No calf roping in charreadas, thankfully. With the exception of single steer roping (“steer busting”), calf roping is the most egregious event in all of rodeo and charreada, IMO.

    Of the nine scored charreada events, three involve roping the legs of running horses, either front legs (two styles, either on foot, or from horseback, commonly referred to as “horse tripping); or hind legs (“piales”). In the first two events, the intent is to fell the horses. In the “piales” event, the horses usually don’t fall, but are brought to an abrupt stop. Some veterinarians say that the “piales” event is even more dangerous for the horses than the two “manganas” events, for it stretches and strains tendons and ligaments. To date, no local Animal Control agencies have cited anyone for performing the “piales,” illegal though it is (California Penal Code 597g).

    Another standard charreada event is even more problematic: “steer tailing” (aka “”colas” or “coleadero”). A steer is run down a long straightaway toward the main arena. A mounted charro (cowboy) rides up behind the fleeing animal, grabs the tail and wraps it around his leg, then rides his horse off at an angle to the left, slamming the hapless steer to the ground. Tails may be stripped to the bone (“degloved”), even torn off. And the horses sometimes suffer broken legs when the steers run the wrong way. (See the many YouTube videos, or KABL TV’s “Renegade Rodeo” series, 1994, by reporter Christine Lund (1994).

    A dozen states in the U.S. have outlawed the “manganas” and “piales” events. California was the first, in 1994. (Others include New Mexico, Texas, Illinois, Maine, Florida, et al.) Nebraska is the only state to have banned both “horse tripping” and “steer tailing” (2007). Two California counties have also banned “steer tailing” (Alameda & Contra Costa, 1993).

    I’m a big fan of cultural diversity, but “steer tailing” and roping the legs of running horses should be banned outright. Even the United Farm Workers’ Cesar Chavez was an outspoken critic of this cruelty, and of rodeos generally. Si se puede!

    Eric Mills, coordinator
    email –

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