Scenes from Behind the Chutes

Scenes from Behind the Chutes at the Mexican rodeos down in Chihuahua, Mexico.  Editor Carmen Roman  Ink Publications.


BEHIND THE CHUTES  Spurs and A Prayer
Photos and Story  by RAEchel Running

April 3, 2013 rough draft 6  wc: 2500 words
text: 2273  sidebar: 438      new wc: 2711

The rodeo soundtrack goes with the landscape. A whole lot of country, classic Mariachi, a driving tuba, and a  little rock n roll  spiced with some cinematic spegetti western like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly dusted on top.  There is nothing like a classic western.  Youth from every part of the world wanted to grow up and be a cowboy.  With the new release of “The Lone Ranger”, the movies feed our need for heros with masked, horse riding cowboys who ride into our collective imagination and  the black and white and surreal cinimea and save the day.

It’s the middle of the 21st century, summertime, a late afternoon in a small town. The desert winds have calmed down. A parade of pickup trucks line up through the open gates of the local arena. Horse trailers, double cabs, dusty put together pickup trucks held together with bailing wire and political stickers; an image of our Lady presides over bales of hay and saddles which contrast next to the new, bright n shiny, freshly washed latest turck model. Nortenos and country western music blast from tinted truck windows as they back up in reverse. Windows roll down, doors open and tailgates drop.  Men unfurl their legs and  pour out of the backseat.   Their lean, hard as nails and  nimble bodies creak out the kinks from the road wherever the rodeo circuit has lead them in Mexico’s wildwest country. License plates represent a transnational cultural love for rodeo.  During the Super Bull Grande rodeo events, cowboys from Las Cruces, New Mexico, Arizona, Sonora, Chihuahua, Durango  unload their bags of gear patinaed with the faraway dust of the other desertlands, ranches and rodeo arenas as faraway as Guatamala and Brazil. Everyone is here for a chance to celebrate the sport of rodeo. 

In these times we could use another hero. Maybe he looks like a  rodeo cowboy. The mythic Cowboy of the west continues to fuel the imagination of the world. He is a man who puts himself at risk to carry on an age of tradtion of man and spirit intertwined with the animas that offers the rites of spring and summer’s harvest and life sustaining rains for all to reap the bounty of the earth. He is a man of dust. An adventurer, a lone rider who rolls in like a moviestar.  He  carries our heart on his sleeve, rides tall in the saddle out into the sunset in a blaze of dust.  He is born from children’s and explorer’s dreams; someone who makes something out of nothing; risks it all for a new opportunity in the roll of the dice, he tries his luck. He rides between the forces of good and darkness, aligned with or against the elements of time. His world is beyond the fence, he knows no boundaries and lives life on his own terms. a man who values freedom; He is a wanderer and a stranger in a new land.  He dusts the road off and the cowboy steps out and becomes an icon.

More pickup trucks roll in. Horses are groomed. Men start a fire to cook carnitas. Coolers of ice cold tecate serve as temporary seating. Dust rises. Flies buzz around. Horses snort and the cattle are restless in their pens on the otherside of the lot. One can smell the aroma of chile.The rodeo stand surrounds the arena begins to swell with people.  It offers shade under the hot sun and dark rain clouds moving in the distance.  People look out and the cowboys sqint into the sun setting in the west. The spirit of the crowds swells with friends greeting eachother and it’s another summer’s day, celebrating with the compadres, family, the fruits of the land and commaradarie. Vendors move in the deep shadows of the heat of the day. They ply their wares selling sweet and salty and spicy snacks ; ice cold drinks and the beer flows offered from the sweet smiles of the Tecate girls with their manicured fingers dripping with the icy wettness glittering like dimonds in the sun. Over the loudspeaker Norteno and Country music blend rhythms of American Country, rock and Norteno brass like the icecold Mechilada drink of Clamato and beer over ice, chile, salt and a healthy dose of fresh lime. Another One Bites the Dust. 

Behind the empty chutes, truckbeds are lined up against the outside fence for easy access over the 2 metered wall. Saddles, vests, and chaps are tossed over the wall and the sides of trucks.  Boots, lucky shirts, a beloved rosary  are selected. Grandfathers dress their sons; wrist guards are wrapped and daughters groom their horses as parents look on; Two pairs of hands and generations of families who have a keen sense for horsemanship know the ritual With each brush of the comb, the handling of a bridle, the breeding of horses and the cattle business, the sport and the cultural traditions are pass down  celebrating horsemanship and community.  

Contemporary rodeo shows were made famous by  America’s Wild Bill’s West show featured many Mexican cowboys. The Mexican south of the border showmanship added the bling into Rodeo style.  Binational cowboys cross borders to perform and compete in both countries. Ponciano Diaz, a young man from Puebla, became a national hero of Mexican bull-fighting added the Mexican Corrida famous in America and Europe.  In 1922 at Madison Gardens, in New York City, Tex Austin held the first rodeo elevating the Wild West Show as a bonafide sporting event. Of the 10 orginal events at Madison Square gardens, five remain standard ; Bareback bronc riding, saddle bronc riding, bull riding, steer wrestling and calf roping all which remain as the Professional Rodeo PRCA anual events held every December  in Las Vegas, Nevada. The art of rodeo has been taken to new heights with larger prizes, and noterarty on the  professional athlete circuit.

Guermillo Americo Herrera Corona, Promotora de Rodeos, director and Federacion Mexicana De Rodeo, Presidente,  rode on horses before he knew how to walk. Raised within a family charro tradition, Guermillo has been competing in rodeos for over thirty years. “I’ve been a bull fighter, pick up man, roper, bull dogger, judge, stock contractor, promotor, and clinician.” He has also been a National champion,  and has promoted the best rodeos in the Republic for over seventeen years.  “ Rodeo is a chain between the recent past and the rushing future. Let’s keep these beautiful traditions that keeps  families together and a community strong through preserving this way of life. There is a dicho “ ‘Las veredas quitaran, pero La Querencia cunando. " You can erase the roads, but never the querencia.' " 
It’s early on a sunday afternoon. There is a calm and  an air of expectancy. The arena  is void of any disturbance excpect for the dust blowing from the wind. A calm before the storm. It’s another day, another dollar, another bull, and one more show to go.Within the ring, a man and a bull; around them the clowns and the vaqueros; above them the growing crowd of families; the community; the valley; the mountain and the traditions.


The sun is going  down. Hats off. Heads bow low. Even the wind seems to stand still momentarily. The cowboys knell to the ground, making the sign of the cross. He grabs a handful of arena dirt, kisses his closed fist before releasing the earth from his hand to the wind. The community bow their heads.  A roar from the loud speakers, it’s time to saddle up and get your Rodeo on!  The festivities continues- announcer, musica, another ice cold drink for to take the edge off your seat. Meanwhile, the cowboys walk back to the chutes to meet their destiny, a luck of the draw and add their dazzling brillance and athletic prowness to the collective center of the arena.  Brave or crazy, with Ganas for sure. 

I jump into the pit and climb on rails behind the shoot. To move you lead with your shoulder past other shoulders.  Boots step over sport bags with gear and  vests with crosses are laid out.  Gates open and clang shut. Legs swing over railings. Spurs hang loose on the fence. Fancy chaps  are thrown over the wall. Boots dangle in space. A father is whispering in his son’s ear. What can one know of  a father’s advice for taking your very first ride? How many rodeos have they seen?  The father takes a stance, his arm in the air and waves it as he bends his knees in a quick gesture; hia hands clench in the air around an imaginary rope - his  spine stretches thrusts forward. Repeat gesture. The son bites his lip like a young Elvis might have done. He watches his father from the corner of his eye. Looks around. He pulls his hat down to block the sun from his focused eyes. Dust blows behind his lashes in a  storm. He paces the corral. Other riders gather, swing there chapped legs over the bent railings; tie off their boots so they won’t fly off midair. Pacing. Preening. Stretching. Down in the trenches men stretch on the wall like dancers in studio. They’re busted up but the show must go on. Aches and pains are wrapped; elbows, wrists, fingers. Another sign of the cross made. A petition to heaven. The hat  brim is wedged tighter like the narrow chute gets tighter like the rope around the bull. Behind the chutes it’s constrained close quarters. The conversation between you and God is right out front and center.  Intimacy is found in a bowed head. Eyes are closed. Faith and fate are interlaced and finished off tight with a bite of the teeth. The body twinges from head to toe and shakes as if channeling a spirit. The neck muscles pop. Head snap. Side to side.  Men’s hats crowd around the chute shading the rider from all angles. All you see is the gloved hand; the rope and the hair standing staight on the back of the bull.   Bulls are proded in file down the line seperated by gated bars. Everything around me feels like two tons of fate waiting for the roll of the dice. The air is thick. The flies are thick. Teen age boys with ball caps hang back and move up in the ranks from the outside to the inside. Rodeo Clowns dance, make the crowd laugh and shoo bucking bulls away from the fallen cowboys who’ve crashed to the ground or landed on their feet. The gathered energy of man and animal is palatable. Leather straps are tightened. Deep concentration. Hands fly. Legs grip tighter. GO! Two bodies, one man, one animal lerch against the sky leaping, rearing, bucking. a hat flies off, a hand waves crazy in the air  and  he falls  to earth. The cowboy mystique  holds the play of  the mercies of God and Anima, life and death and miracles large and small.  He casts himself free from the confins of the luck of the draw and shoots for  an 8 seconds play against time. The boy flies out the gate and returns a man. 

THERE IS A DICHO THAT PRAYS " LAS VEREDAS QUITARAN, PERO LA QUERENCIA CUANDO" IT TRANSLATES LIKE " YOU CAN ERASE THE ROADS, BUT NEVER THE QUERENCIA" In the history of Bull fighting in Spain there is a word, Querencia  the center part of the arena where a man or animal knows their essential center spot.  A place where the wounded bull goes to renew his strength and center himself for a fresh charge. It is  a place in which we know exactly who we are. The place from which we speak our deepest beliefs. To find our own “Querencia”  one’s center doesn’t mean one literally has to ride a bull. It’s probably a place out in nature; where you can see forever or mark the passage of your life’s cornerstones.  If you want the real deal and not just what’s in the movies connect to your dust and the roots of tradition and feel the  pulse and the heart of a culture that lies within each one of us.

The mythic west has forever captivated our desire for something wild and free. The iconic cowboy and the Lone Ranger was born out of the salt of the sweat the earth and beasts of burden. It is that space between flesh and sky, seperating and universally tied breaking the rules of gravity and grace; courage and bravery. The mystic lies in the curl of smoke from a cigarette by a distant fire; it’s in the step of a walk bordering on something between a strut smooth and to the point. The cowboy’s  Wrangler style and the free spirit of a man in the  prime of his malsculinity, con ganas, has nothing to lose and lives life on his own terms.  He entertains  us with his courage finding communion with the stretched limits of sensativity of a disernment completely at odds of either flight or crash and burn. He gathers his courage and with God’s help he rolls the dice and does it again.

Cowboy Code of Ethics:
In the advent of Roy Rogers, the 1950’s TV cowboy legend inspired a flurry of TV and hollywood dreams. The matenee, backyard and city street cowboys dreams were planted into the psyche. for young boys around the world and a code of ethics for kids sporting sixguns and cowboy hats. Roy Rodgers, credits his inspiration for his fancy roping and the sport from Mexican trick roper and entertainer, Vincente Oropeza, winner of  the first  World Championship Trick and Fancy Roping in 1900. 

Roy Rogers Riders Club Rules
1. Be neat and clean.
2. Be courteous and polite.
3. Always obey your parents.
4. Protect the weak and help them.
5. Be brave, but never take chances.
6. Study hard and learn all you can.
7. Be kind to animals and care for them.
8. Eat all your food and never waste any.
9. Love God and go to Sunday School regularly.
10. Always respect our flag and our country.

To really connect to the experience of the west this summer find your local rodeo arena, for a charreria, or jarepayo and discover the roots of the western Cowboy. He was born from the heartland of Mexico. One may arrive a stranger but you will leave feeling you belong to a tradition, the salt of the earth, the dust and the wind.  Connect with the history and spirit of the traditional vaquero life.  May your sense of community be expanded from making new friends; Be awe inspired to witness the athletic spirit  passed down for generations of ranching families and people who work and know the elements of the earth.   Feel the free spirit within yourself move in your blood.  

RODEO Style:
Cowboys are cut from a different cloth. Rodeo cowboys defy gravity. Back ass backwards arched to the sky their silhouette flies through the air wild and free. Cowboy hats, boots,chaps, flying colors. A hawk feather. A rosary. Colorful and self asured masculity is not challenged to wearing pastels. Real men wear pink. Metalic blues and reds shine in the afterglow of stormy skies and arena lights.
Get a cowboy hat. You just may walk a bit taller with a little more confidence and find your place in the world when you cowboy up.  Doesn’t matter where. Something in your blood knows. Put some country music on and go find yourself a rodeo. A pair of cowboy boots, made from ostrich, alligator, manta rey, and a designer twist and a good cowboy hat. Don’t leave Chihuahua without a pair or two of authentic cowboy boots!


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