Friday, February 5, 2016

The Huaso and the Rodeo

Visitors to Argentina expect to see gauchos, but few are even aware of their Chilean counterpart – less publicly celebrated, the huaso resembles his trans-Andean counterpart in many ways but differs in others. Both, of course, are horsemen, but the gaucho arose from a background of fierce independence on the Pampas, while the subservient huaso originated on the landed estates that dominated economic and social life in colonial and republican Chile.
Though the huaso was a hired hand or even a peon attached to the property, on Sundays he and his colleagues could blow off steam by racing their horses, betting, and drinking. As the spontaneous rodeo grew too raucous, though, it drew disapproval from landowners, who responded by organizing competitions that, over time, became more genteel versions of their huaso origins.
Though Chilean rodeo remains popular, it is now, according to historian Richard Slatta, a nostalgic exercise that's "a middle- and upper-class pastime, not a profession," as it has become in North America. Riders wear colorful ponchos, flat-brimmed hats known as chupallas (depicted above), oversized spurs, and elaborately carved wooden stirrups (photograph below).
The signature event is the atajada, in which a pair of jinetes (riders) guide and pin a calf or steer to the padded wall of the medialuna, the semicircular rodeo ring (as depicted at top). Since it's harder to control the steer by the body than the head - the chest is best - the horsemen get more points for this. They lose points if the steer strikes any unpadded part of the wall or escapes between the horses.

There are no cash prizes, though the event ends by acknowledging the champions and other riders with wine and empanadas. Compared to Canada, the United States, and even Mexico, Chilean rodeo is truly machista - women prepare and serve food, dress in costume, and dance the traditional cueca with the men, but they do not ride.


An hour south of Santiago, the city of Rancagua is the capital of Chilean rodeo, drawing thousands of spectators to March's national festival. In the Andean foothills of central Chile and in small settlements along the Carretera Austral, though, rodeo probably comes closest to its historic roots.

1 comment:

  1. The Chilean rodeo can be fun to watch, but since there is only one event, the atajada, that you describe, I get bored. I have never witnessed another event at rodeos.

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