Barrida. Photography: Courtesy Edgar Sotelo
Barrida. Photography: Courtesy Edgar Sotelo

Artist Edgar Sotelo loves and paints the charreada.

C &I talked with Texas-based artist Edgar Sotelo about a popular subject of his paintings, the Mexican horsemanship tradition of the charreada. Also known as la charreria, the rodeo events hark back to the old haciendas of Mexico.

Cowboys & Indians: Your earliest drawings — around the age of 5 — were of horses, charros, and cowboys. Did you grow up in the charro lifestyle?
Edgar Sotelo: I was never exposed to the charro/cowboy way of life while I was growing up because there was not a whole lot of that in Juarez. I grew up loving the cowboy way of life but never actually participated in events that define the culture.

On the other hand, both sides of my family were very active in the charro way of life. They were very involved in competitions every weekend. Even one of my cousins, Jose “Chenito” Porras, was a member of the national champion team in 1971. My grandfather had a ranch in south Mexico that we visited as kids. My dad did a lot of horseback in his years as his only means of transportation.

C&I: How is the charreada different from a “regular” rodeo in the States?
Sotelo: Charreadas consist of nine events. Unlike rodeos, none of the events are timed; they are judged. Each team accumulates points on how they perform on each event. It is more about the finesse and grace of the performance rather than the speed. Charreria is the national sport of Mexico. It is a team sport, more like ranch rodeos in the States. There is also a competition called Charro Completo, in which an individual from each team performs all nine events. At the end, the one with most point wins.

C&I: How is a vaquero different from a charro?
Sotelo: The vaquero is a mounted horseman that tends cattle, more like the American working cowboy. The charro is a participant in the charreada sport. In order to be allowed to participate in a charreada, the charro has very strict rules to follow for the tack he uses and his outfit. Everything has to do with tradition: The bits, the spurs, the hats, etc. have to meet the criteria for charreria.

Paso de la Muerta. Photography: Courtesy Edgar Sotelo
Paso de la Muerta. Photography: Courtesy Edgar Sotelo

C&I: How are charros and cowboys different? The same?
Sotelo: The roots of both disciplines have a common origin. Environment and culture have taken each discipline its own unique way. The cowboys are at home on the ranch. You will find charros at the competition arena.

C&I: What would cowboys from the States recognize as similar to their own rodeo culture at a charreada?
Sotelo: There are some similarities in a couple of events like the bull riding and bronc riding. Also, calas is a form of a reining performance and horse maneuvers.

C&I: What attracts you to the charreada as an event? How about as a subject for your art?
Sotelo: The tradition. You get to witness some awesome horsemanship skills. Most of the horses in the arena are stallions (very well-behaved). That shows the level of horsemanship of the participants, especially when charreadas are considered an amateur sport. When they do the rope tricks, it is a sight to behold.

I like it as a subject matter for my art because of my family connection with the sport. It is very graceful and has a lot of flair.

C&I: How can we find out where charreadas are being held in the United States?
Sotelo: There are many charreadas held every weekend throughout the United States. It is a sport that is growing fast. They are not regularly advertised — it’s mainly word of mouth. Most of the spectators are family members or friends. The [American] Charro Association web page is a good source to find a local affiliate.

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