horses in rodeoA day out at a Chilean Rodeo

Rodeos in Chile are even more popular as a sport than football. It is a sport that has its origins in more than 400 years of working cattle in a manner that is unique to Chile. Everyone in the crowd has an opinion on how to win and much advice is offered to the competitors from the stands, where a good deal of alchohol is also consumed.

The first requisite for winning is to have a good partner and  a good horse each; riders who work together and horses who do the same. Both the riders and the horses have to know how to ‘attack’, as that is how you turn the steer and earn good points. Many good riders lack the personality or temperament to attack well, and a horse has to to have the temperament and be trained to do so as well.

Our rodeo pair, El Coipo and El Flaco, waiting in lineHorses receive their rosettes at a local Chilean rodeo

The horse also has to be trained to gallop sideways. I was once put on a horse who knew what to do, and told to practise.  You have to turn the horse’s head away from the direction in which it is going and get it to lead with its shoulder. If moving to the right you would then squeeze with the left leg and put the right leg forward as a guide to the horse.Women compete equally with men in local rodeos

It was so contrary to any riding intuition that I took a long time to learn. I have never ridden in a rodeo but in the Cajon del Maipo there are several good women rodeo riders.

Women riding in a rodeo in Chile

The reason that horses have to be able to gallop sideways is that, in demonstrating their skill in control of a single cow, or steer, the work is divided as follows: one partner ‘arrea’s the animal, pushing it from behind and yodelling if necessary. The other partner has to pin the animal into the side of the media luna or arena, as otherwise it is impossible to control it well. To do this the horse has to gallop alongside facing the side of the arena at right angles and pressing the steer against the wall with its chest. When they arrive at the padded part the arriero stops pushing so that the animal may slow down for the partner to jam it into the side of the wall, padded to avoid hurt, in a way which causes the animal to turn round and go back in the other direction. This is done 3 times.

If the animal turns of its own accord, or merely with a touch to its head the pair get zero points. The positive points are scored by seeing how much of the steer’s body is freely visible when the ‘pin’ takes place, result of the horse attacking and pinning it against the side. If a pin leaves the neck free, it’s a two-point pin. If the pin leaves the shoulder blade free, it’s a three-point pin. If a pin leaves the entire rib cage free, it’s a maximum four-point pin. If the riders fail to turn the animal and it passes the red line at the end of the padded zone, they accumulate minus points.

There are 3 turns altogether, with therefore a maximum of 12 good points and 1 extra usually for coming fast and clean out of the holding pen. That is a maximum of 13 points. You might see this occasionally in an official championship but in the local campesino events almost any positive points are good. If the steer passes the red line of the padded bit, or doubles back between the riders in what is called tijeras or scissors, there are minus points to be accumulated. Other more obscure details can also gain minus points and so often zero points seems quite a good score, while minus 5 is not uncommon.

On top of that while probably not technically corrupt, the judges seem often to have their favourites, who get 3 good points for a 2 point move, who are not penalised for tijeras and so on, so it can be tough going for the less privileged riders riding away from the home ground. Rich and poor alike compete in the local events, although it is not a really poor man’s sport because horses of sufficient quality are expensive to buy, train and maintain. Some of the horses which take visitors on day trips or overnight camping rides are also ridden in rodeos locally.

For more information see also this article on rodeos in Chile

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