The Asociación de Charros San Antonio celebrated its 70th anniversary with a traditional charreada tournament Sunday at the historic Rancho del Charro on the city’s Southside. Cheered on by crowd of about 70 spectators, seven teams competed in events such as team roping, bull riding, bull tailing, and bareback riding.

Charrería is the national sport of Mexico and widely considered the forefather of modern-day rodeo. Influenced by centuries of history and culture, charreadas are unique adaptations of Spanish horse contests. Spaniards brought horses to the Americas during the 16th century and used them for ranching at the haciendas they developed throughout Mexico. As horse ownership spread through Central and South America, equestrian cultures and practices took hold.

“Mexican horsemanship and the charreada competition [are] defined by a unique rating of the horse, its attire, and the attire of the rider,” said Dr. Raul E. Gaona, chairman of the board for the San Antonio Charro Association and one of the announcers explaining different events to the audience. “Riders have to have the charro shirt, the charro hat, charro tie, charro-style chaps, and a charro-style saddle.”

Competing charros chat with friends and family on the side lines during the 70th anniversary of the Charreada in San Antonio.
Competing charros chat with friends and family on the sidelines during the 70th anniversary of the Asociación de Charros San Antonio. Credit: Hannah Whisenant / San Antonio Report

Many countries and cultures developed riding competitions based on Spanish influences, but no other resembles the Mexican charreada.

When you go to Columbia, Argentina, Paraguay, or Uruguay today, you’ll see that their style looks Spanish,” Gaona said. “Mexico is the only country that evolved completely differently. The reigning of the horse is different, [as is] the saddle and the attire.”

While the nuances of the charreada surely captivate dedicated fans, one charro has a simpler theory on why people flock to these events.

“When a person sees a horse, the first thing they do is smile,” said Luis Parra, one of the charros competing at Rancho del Charro. “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like horses. When the horse is the main event, people are going to come and see it.”

Parra, who competes in charreadas in his spare time, spoke to the Rivard Report saddled atop one of his horses dressed in traditional charro attire holding a beer and a cigarette.

“I’ve trained in roping since I was 7,” Parra said. “There are two ways of becoming a skilled rider. Some people are just born with the gift. Maybe you don’t have the talent, but you can practice a lot with dedication and discipline. Then you achieve being a good charro.

A charro teaches a young boy roping techniques at the 70th anniversary of the Charreada in San Antonio.
A charro teaches a young boy roping techniques at the 70th anniversary of the Asociación de Charros San Antonio. Credit: Hannah Whisenant / San Antonio Report

Celebrating Father’s Day alongside its 70th anniversary served as a nod to one of the organization’s stated missions. Since the nonprofit was founded in San Antonio in 1947, the association has sought, among other things, to uphold family-centric cultural values.

“In the audience, you can still see grandfathers, fathers, and sons – three generations doing the same sport,” Parra said. “There are a lot of stories here. We still have that tradition, and for us that’s amazing.”

The association’s principle purpose is to educate people on the culture and ritual of the charreada – Exercising and upholding those traditions infuses a deeper meaning into its participants’ heritage.

“I was born and raised here in the U.S., but I was always called a Mexican-American,” Gaona said. “Hyphenated citizenship is usually related to being second class. I’m an American of Mexican heritage which is very different. I know who I am, I know where I come from, and I like it.”

After decades of carrying on the tradition and teaching charreada, the association sees itself as an integral part of the local community.

“We’ve been here for 70 years now,” Gaona said. “We officially became a part of the culture of San Antonio. That’s what keeps us together and proud. We’re not identified as separate things. Charreada is San Antonio culture.”

Jeffrey Sullivan

Jeffrey Sullivan is a Rivard Report reporter. He graduated from Trinity University with a degree in Political Science.

Hannah Whisenant

Hannah Whisenant is a filmmaker and photographer from the Texas Hill Country. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a BS in Radio Television and Film, and she aims to continue telling...