A show as Mexican as you will find

Charrerías are not just a Mexican version of rodeo. They are the national sport and a unique spectacle

Rising a few miles outside Querétaro, within sight of one of the city’s myriad residential subdivisions, creeping over the side of a hill like a white fungus, is Lienzo Charro Rancho Pitayo’s enormous palapa and one of Mexico’s most spectacular venues for charrerías, the national sport.

Charrerías are but distant cousins of American rodeo. The Mexican version originated as far back as the 16th century, when farm hands from different haciendas competed in events of horsemanship and other tests of skill. The tradition gradually faded as the haciendas were broken up after the Mexican revolution of 1910.

In 1920, at the conclusion of the revolution, groups of charros, or Mexican cowboys, began to organize and formalize their contests in the state of Jalisco and this eventually developed into regional and national organizations.

From there the sports grew into precisely choreographed spectacles in which strict rules govern all aspects of it, from the dimensions of the arenas for competition, called lienzos, to the outfits the charros wear. Today charrerías involve nine contests of skill for men, called suertes, and one for women, called escaramuzas or “skirmishes,” and strict rules of competition for each.

Lienzo Rancho Pitayo

The suertes take place in an round arena 40 meters (approximately 131 feet) in diameter, and a lane leading into the main arena 60 meters long by 12 meters wide, or roughly 200 by 40 feet.

There’s plenty of pomp, color, music and spectacle in the contests, which can go on for several hours, but don’t let the visuals distract you from the skill, and danger, involved in many of the suertes.

The Lienzo Rancho El Pitayo is a deluxe venue in every respect. Top-of-line embroidered felt sombreros, silver plated spurs, boots, lassoes, saddles and other requisites of the sport are sold in a vendors’ area that surrounds the main arena.

Inside, there are jumbotrons to provide instant video playbacks of the action plus running tallies of the scores by the various teams. There is a restaurant offering broiled meats, from chorizo, pork, quail, chicken, mutton, beef and other cuts I wouldn’t dare try.

And on a balcony presiding over it all, mariachi bands play relay and make sure there’s not a moment without music. Vendors of tequila—single servings or liter bottles—and other drinks ply the stands.

I estimate spectator capacity is about 1,500 to 2,000, and admission for the event we attended—the grand finale of the national charrería championships—was $100 pesos ($5 dollars) for parking and $250 pesos ($12.50 dollars) admission per person. All very reasonable for a non-stop show spectacle in which the spectators are about as entertaining as the events on the arena.

I went with Stew and our friend Joe and we noticed that we seemed to be the only foreigners in the place. That’s a loss for visitors and expats who may want to experience an unfiltered slice of Mexico: A charrería at Lienzo Rancho El Pitayo is indeed as Mexican, and beautiful, an afternoon as you are likely to find.

Through the following photos and captions I tried to capture a flavor of the event.

Silver (or silver-plated) spurs complement the formal uniform of a (well heeled) charro.
You can order your classic charro sombrero with custom embroidery to include the name of your ranch or team. Each hat takes about four hours to embroider.
Charro organizations ban the use of artificial materials on saddles, which are beautifully detailed and priceyprobably in the thousands of dollars. Boots at a nearby stall ran as much as $250 dollars, which didn’t seem so much, assuming you have an occasion to wear them.
A contingent of women riders opened the ceremony with a prayer.
A sequined standard of the Virgin of Guadalupe was part of the opening ceremony.
Attire for women participants is exacting, and includes a petticoat, embroidered ruffled skirts, hair gathered with a bow, and other details. There are three different outfits differing in decoration, sometimes with silver buttons. The round “R” on the hat signifies the ranch they belong to.
Men’s outfits also follow five different levels of detail, from “working” to “etiquette,” the most elegant to include gold or silver detailing.
Spectators of all ages dress for the occasion.
Charrería aficionados start early.
It’s never too early to get on the saddle. Notice the boots on the little guy. Of the five outfits for charros, the father’s is the plainest, that of a “working” charro.
“Cala de caballo” is one of the most difficult suertes. It involves riding the horse at full gallop and then stopping just at the line. Then the rider is supposed to get the horse to pivot on one foot and go around in one direction and then opposite. It requires complete control and communication between the horse and rider.
Got the lasso, the hat and the boots. All I need now is a horse.
Taking a rest between events.
Another suerte is the coleadera, grabbing a bull by the tail and bringing it down. Nothing happens to the bulls, except they seemed really annoyed.
When you’re in love, who cares about the horses and the rest of the show?
There are two suertes that involve roping a horse by the front legs and causing to fall on its side, one while riding, the other while the charro is on foot. Neither one is easy.
Not sure what this suerte was about, except that it involved chasing a horse at full gallop.
Faces in the crowd, beautiful ones.
Old fashioned bronco riding.
Roping a horse
Spectators reward great performances by tossing hats, baseball caps, shoes and other items on the arena, which the charros return.
Meat of all types, it’s what’s for comida at the charrería. Vegans need not apply.

We stayed only four hours, and I’m sure the show went on four hours longer. We saw the paso de la muerte, or “the pass of death,” a suerte in which a charro riding a horse at full gallop and bareback, attempts to leap onto a bareback, unbroken horse riding alongside and also galloping full speed. It’s both tricky and dangerous as the rider can fall under one of the horses. Two charros we saw who tried it end up on the ground.

Now that we have some notion of what’s involved in charrerías, we’d like to return for special events such as the charrería infantil, for kids. Stay tuned.

17 thoughts on “A show as Mexican as you will find

    1. I recommend you check the website of Rancho El Pitayo for coming events. Jalisco is supposed to be the heart of charreria, and I doubt you can top that, though El Pitayo is also way up there. Thank you for commenting.


  1. Your article was VERY interesting. The historical background and your explanations of the various activities were excellent. The rodeo certainly is a very Mexican experience. It has lots of resemblances to a Mexican bullfight — the pageantry, colour, music, etc. I must attend the next rodeo that comes up in the neighbourhood of San Miguel.


    1. Never been to a Mexican bullfight, but I understand the bull doesn’t get killed, and that the Mexican government is considering banning bullfights. Anyway, Lienzo El Pitayo is only about 45 minutes from San Miguel, and you can check the website for coming attractions. I saw a charreria in San Miguel several years ago, and it was a pretty low-budget affair compared to the one in Queretaro. Thank you for commenting.


      1. Sorry, Alfredo, but the bull does get killed in Mexico.

        Read my article: https://www.lokkal.com/sma/magazine/2020/may/bull.php

        Pat Hall

        On Thu, Sep 22, 2022 at 4:13 PM El Rancho Santa Clara < comment-reply@wordpress.com> wrote:

        Alfredo Lanier commented: “Never been to a Mexican bullfight, but I > understand the bull doesn’t get killed, and that the Mexican government is > considering banning bullfights. Anyway, Lienzo El Pitayo is only about 45 > minutes from San Miguel, and you can check the website for coming” >


        1. Sorry to hear that. Maybe it was Portugal I was thinking about. That being the case, I won’t be going to any bullfights here, just as I avoided bullfights in Spain, no matter how colorful…
          Thanks for your correction.


      2. Jim Browne

        Al I’ve been to a couple of charrerias and an escaramuza in a small coastal town in Nayarit .
        The bigger charrerias often have mariachi but in Nayarit it’s mostly Banda, a form that I can’t abide.

        The competion in the escaramuzas brings teams from around the state and Jalisco. The skill and precision is a thing of beauty, in La Peñita the Cala de caballo takes the sliding horse and rider perilously close to the back wall of the arena – all done sidesaddle.

        We’ll try to get to El Pital this fall.


        1. Unfortunately, we left about three and a half hours into the show, so we didn’t see the escaramuzas, except for their opening parade around the arena. Stew says he remembers the suerte of the guy changing bareback horses, and a couple of them ending up on the ground. Quite frankly, this was my first time at a rodeo and I didn’t know much of what was going. I would like to go back and take some more pictures.


        2. Gary: That’s what you get for going to a low-budget rodeo. At the upscale affair I attended in Queretaro, everyone seemed sober, or at least coherent and standing up straight, by the time we left. With bulls and horses running around, though, it shouldn’t surprise someone gets killed once in a while.


    2. There is a charreria at a ranch near Jalpa that I attended once, but it was kind of a mess. Quite a few people seemed to be drunk or not very good at whatever they were doing. But maybe there are other rodeos in San Miguel.


  2. babsofsanmiguel

    Wow!  That charrerias was a really fancy, high dollar one!  I’ve only been to the ones in small places in the countrysideand at the ring near Deportiva across from Los Frailes years and years ago.  The horsemanship is astonishing. If you are interested, next month about this time at Otomi there will be big riding competitions for dressage and other horse activities with people from countries around the world!  I don’t know how to tell you to get info.  I saw this info on SMA FAQthis morning. Glad you enjoyed the extravaganza. Barbara San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

    415 124-9450 Mx Cell 713 589-2721 Vonage


    “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing”                                            Helen Keller


  3. Otomi is REALLY a high-budget residential development. I don’t know if they even let the general public get in. We had lunch there once and the restaurant was really good. Sorry about your move. I thought your previous living arrangement was really sweet, perfect for a retiree to enjoy life. I hope the new place is as good. Al
    PS Your comments in WordPress are coming in fine.


  4. I went to a Mexican rodeo once, near Huichapan. Everyone was very drunk. Miraculously, no one died and it was a lot of fun. I have a sneaking suspicion that some years, someone does die, but that it’s still regarded as a lot of fun buy the spectators.


    1. Gary: That’s what you get for going to a low-budget rodeo. At the upscale affair I attended in Queretaro, everyone seemed sober, or at least coherent and standing up straight, by the time we left. With bulls and horses running around, though, it shouldn’t surprise someone gets killed once in a while.


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