World

Mexico celebrates its charro tradition, even into horse retirement

  • In this Aug. 26, 2014 photo, 4-year-old patient Saul Valverde rides lying on the back of Andariego, a 19-year-old veteran horse retired from "charreria," the Mexican version of a rodeo, at a corral in southern Mexico City. Andariego now works as a therapy horse, helping children with special needs. Horses can live another 20 years after their rodeo days. The lucky ones find second careers in breeding or as therapy horses. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

    In this Aug. 26, 2014 photo, 4-year-old patient Saul Valverde rides lying on the back of Andariego, a 19-year-old veteran horse retired from "charreria," the Mexican version of a rodeo, at a corral in southern Mexico City. Andariego now works as a therapy horse, helping children with special needs. Horses can live another 20 years after their rodeo days. The lucky ones find second careers in breeding or as therapy horses. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this Aug. 26, 2014 photo, 4-year-old patient Saul Valverde kisses Andariego, a 19-year-old veteran horse that retired from "charreria," the Mexican version of a rodeo, at a corral in southern Mexico City. Andariego now works as a therapy horse, helping children with special needs. In Mexico, the career of the charro horse usually runs about 10 to 12 years. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

    In this Aug. 26, 2014 photo, 4-year-old patient Saul Valverde kisses Andariego, a 19-year-old veteran horse that retired from "charreria," the Mexican version of a rodeo, at a corral in southern Mexico City. Andariego now works as a therapy horse, helping children with special needs. In Mexico, the career of the charro horse usually runs about 10 to 12 years. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this Aug. 31, 2014 photo, charro Leonardo Flores, stands on his horse Canelito while showing off his roping skills; a move called, "florear sobre el caballo," during a practice session at a corral in southern Mexico City. "Charreria," the Mexican version of a rodeo, usually consists of nine scoring events that include horses and or cattle. It is Mexico's official national sport as well as being part of the pride and tradition of the Mexican culture. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

    In this Aug. 31, 2014 photo, charro Leonardo Flores, stands on his horse Canelito while showing off his roping skills; a move called, "florear sobre el caballo," during a practice session at a corral in southern Mexico City. "Charreria," the Mexican version of a rodeo, usually consists of nine scoring events that include horses and or cattle. It is Mexico's official national sport as well as being part of the pride and tradition of the Mexican culture. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)  (The Associated Press)

Since their arrival aboard Spanish ships in the 1500s, horses have been part of the story of the New World. In Mexico, there is perhaps no better representative of the country's combined cultures and history than the horse trained for "charreria," the Mexican version of a rodeo.

Horses competing in this embellished display of skills once necessary to ranch life, must be agile, well-tempered and intelligent — able to execute the commands of their charros, the horsemen whose traditional riding suits and wide-brimmed sombreros are part of the cultural iconography.

For the charro, his horse is as inseparable from himself as it is from the history of Mexico.

"We were conquered by horses, we gained our independence with horses, we made our Revolution with horses and we continue to love horses," said Daniel Flores Yeverino.

The 73-year-old Flores, who began learning the skills of a charro when he was about 5 years old, continues to participate in charreria tournaments, where riders compete in riding and roping events. His father and grandfather were charros, and his children and grandchildren have followed the path.

Just as charreria is a combination of Old World and New World influences, the horse preferred by charros is itself a combined breed: the American Quarter Horse, which descends from European thoroughbreds and the "native" horses derived from the various stocks brought by the Conquistadors. Other breeds such as Arabians are viewed as too high-strung for the demands of charreria.

Horses begin training for charreria at age 3. In Mexico, the career of charro horse runs about a dozen years — 15 if it is cared for particularly well, Flores said. Calm demeanor and strength are prized over lightning speed.

Horses can live another 20 years after their charreria days. Unfortunate horses may end their lives pulling rickety garbage carts through city streets or, at worst, a slaughterhouse. The lucky ones find second careers in breeding or as therapy horses.

One former charro horse, Pollito, works with therapist Columba Ortega to help children who suffer from emotional trauma or physical disabilities.

"The charro really loved this horse, but he didn't want it to fall into the wrong hands," Ortega said. "He didn't want anyone to mistreat it."