Other NCW Mexican rodeos
Sunday, July 7, Chelan County Fairgrounds, Cashmere; 4-10 p.m.
OMAK — Heavy on the horns, the 11-piece band played on as the announcer introduced the first cowboy at the Omak Stampede arena last Sunday.
The drums snared and the clarinets crooned as 19-year-old Juan Antonio eased onto the back of a restless bull. The gate flew open, sending the bull bounding into the arena.
The tuba oompahed and the trombones blared while he stayed on the bull’s back to the count of 28 seconds. The bull calmed briefly, but struck up another bout of bucking before settling down long enough for Antonio to jump safely off.
Along with the bull riding, dancing horses, midget bullfighters, continuous music filling the stadium from late afternoon till dark. Vendors sold ice cream, Mexican food, and cowboy hats. Kids played behind the stadium stands, and teenagers cruised the grounds looking cool, despite the heat.
These are the sights and sounds of the Mexican rodeo, or jaripeo, now part of the summer scene in towns across the Pacific Northwest, including many in North Central Washington. There’s one scheduled in Cashmere tonight, one in Chelan at the end of the month, and another in Omak in late August.
They are very different from the American-style rodeos across the West that offer organized and timed events ranging from calf roping to barrel racing.
But both have their roots in Mexico, and both feature fearless cowboys willing to jump on the backs of a horned animal that uses all 1,500 pounds to get them off, then chases them around the arena with their heads poised to gore.
Two kinds of bull riding
Unlike the bull riding of the typical U.S. rodeo where cowboys stay on for an 8-second ride and are judged based on the power of the bull’s buck and the cowboy’s ability to stay on, there’s no time limit for bull riders in a Mexican rodeo.
These cowboys stay on as long as the bull keeps bucking, or until they’re thrown off. They win if they outride the bull. And they do it for sheer excitement and fun.
Some cowboys use one hand to hold onto a rope around the bull’s chest, while others keep both hands in the air while trying to stay atop the bucking bull.
Although they’re very different now, both the U.S. and Mexican forms of bull riding can trace their origins to 16th century brandings and roundups on Mexico’s huge haciendas, according to an article by Mary Lou LeCompte, who taught at the University of Texas at Austin for 36 years.
Now recognized as a leading scholar on rodeo cowgirls, LeCompte wrote, “The Hispanic Influence on the History of Rodeo,” for the Journal of Sport History in the spring of 1985.
In it, she researched the beginnings of bull riding, following it back to a form of bullfighting adapted by matadors in Mexico.
The original object of a jaripeo was to ride the bull to death, she found. But the sport evolved. “The jaripeo became a test of courage and riding skill, for rather than ride the bull do death, the object was to stay on it until it was tame,” the article says.
The piece also describes the scene at these early hacienda celebrations. “These fiestas attracted guests from hundreds of miles around,” it said. “Charros dressed in their finest outfits roped the animals, while lesser hands did the branding and other menial chores. Elaborate meals were served, bands played throughout the day, and dancing frequently lasted most of the night.”
Clearly, some of those same traditions can also be found at today’s Mexican rodeos being held across the West.
A reminder of home
People did come from miles around to attend Sunday’s jaripeo in Omak, although numbers were low because the heat, which rose to an unofficial 104 degrees in the Stampede parking lot.
Stampede office manager Sarah Grooms said some of last year’s Mexican rodeos drew 1,200 people, while last Sunday, just over 500 people attended, including about 100 kids who got in free.
Mark Miller, manager of the Town Toyota Center, in Wenatchee, said jaripeos there have attracted as many as 2,500 people.
They come not only to watch the bull riding, but to hear the music, to dance, and watch the entertainment.
“We just come to have a little fun. There’s nothing else to do here,” said Esmeralda Gonzalez, of Omak, who was enjoying a meal with her young daughter, Briseida.
She said she’s always interested in seeing the famous bands who come to play for them. “I hope they keep bringing more people. We need to have a little fun here,” she said.
Lorenzo Angel, of Brewster, said he goes to all of the jaripeos around, not just those in Omak.
They remind him of his home in Michoacán, Mexico. “They have them every weekend. Every Sunday. We all come, all the family,” he said.
He used to ride the bulls, when he was 14 or 15 years old. “Back when I was young,” he said, adding, “All the guys were riding bulls in Mexico.”
On Sunday, while some of the older teenagers were hopping on bulls, others were experiencing a jaripeo for the first time.
A group of four teenagers from Malott and Okanogan said they had only been to one or two before — just last year, when local restaurant owner Arturo Ramos started organizing them at the Omak Stampede arena.
Eric Arroyo, 14, Israel Gonzalez, 13, Jose Ramos, 14, and Jose Gonzalez, 12, said they’d been looking forward to the jaripeo, and worried that morning they might not be able to find a ride to it.
They had certainly heard of the bands that were playing, but came mostly to see the bull riding.
“It’s exciting. And funny sometimes, too,” said Jose Gonzalez.
Pedro de la Cerda, of Brewster, said it’s nice that an area the size of Omak can host a jaripeo, especially so kids with roots in Mexico can learn about their heritage.
Those held here are similar to jaripeos you’d find in small towns all across Mexico, he said.
The arenas are smaller, and the entertainment varies. But two key elements are always the present — bull riding and music.
“The bull riding. They risk their life. But it’s what they’ve done since they were little. That’s what they love to do,” he said. “And the music. They’re getting more bands that are willing to come up here.”
He said it’s also an opportunity for others to experience a part of Mexican culture. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, he said, “You would still enjoy it.”