Lucha Libre? Futbol? Drinking tequila? No, in fact, the national sport of Mexico is none of the above. It is charreada, an elaborate Mexican rodeo consisting of nine separately scored events featuring everything from bull riding to cala de caballo, or reining, which is literally where the rider is required to demonstrate mastery of the reins by forcing the horse to “dance” about the ring. There is even an event called El Paso de la Muerte (literally the pass of death), where the charro rides bareback and attempts to leap from his own horse to the bare back of a wild horse without reins and ride it until it stops bucking.
I’ve mentioned earlier that Jalisco is home to all things Mexico, and it’s no surprise that charreada originated in the same state as other fine Mexican traditions like Tequila and Mariachi. What is surprising, however, is that even though charreada is a serious competition where competitors are judged on both style and execution, the winners are never awarded any prize money. Charreada is considered an amateur sport and it is illegal to award money to the winners, although they can receive prizes such as horse trailers or free tequila for life (in fact one charro I recently met in Tequila claimed to have won exactly that prize).
My first experience with charreada was in a tiny little village near a beach off the northern coast of Guerrero, in a pueblo so small I don’t even remember it’s name. I can’t think of a more authentic introduction to the “sport”: beers were being poured on the horses, men where staggering about and prodding the bulls from all sides, a pair of spare boots lay on the side of the ring just in case some of the charros didn’t have a pair, and very little horse or bull riding actually occurred. The night ended with a crazy village dance and free tacos for all served from a bubbling vat in the back of a truck. As I always say, only in Mexico.