Rodeo, viewed by many in Cuba as a sport and spectacle of the countryside, has grown in popularity in recent times, especially in ranching communities.
A rodeo, which means “roundup” in Spanish, features events that are based on different activities involved in cattle ranching, and rodeos can now be found in every one of Cuba's 14 provinces. Cuba has official institutions for this sport and rings that meet all of the international standards for carrying out these types of events.
With the passing of the years, the rodeo has become an opportunity for healthy entertainment, and is visited every year by a growing number of children, young people and adults from cities and towns.
Stadiums fill up with spectators who cheer on cowboys and cowgirls as they compete in steer wrestling (bull dogging), bull riding, “wild cow milking,” calf roping, coleo (“steer tailing), team roping and barrel racing, the latter an event especially for women. Acrobatics on horseback and a women's precision equestrian event called escaramuza complete the show.
The coleo, or steer tailing, event — where men or women on horseback take a bull by its tail—was introduced more recently so that Cuban cowboys (and cowgirls) would be able to train and compete with rodeo teams from Argentina, Venezuela, Uruguay and others where that event has a long tradition. In fact, in Venezuela, it is considered the national sport.
The rodeo tradition first came to Cuba in the 1940s from Mexico, having been practiced as a spectator sport for centuries throughout the American continent after first arising in what is now the U.S. state of Texas.
Courage, skill, dexterity, and lots of discipline are what a cowboy or girl needs to compete in this dangerous sport, a confrontation between human beings and animals, including horses, cattle and others.
In Cuba, there are 146 rodeo teams and more than 250 rings where athletes train and compete. Starting at the community level, team members accumulate points to be able to gain a spot on the provincial or national team. The best teams from each province participate in the international tournament held every year at the Rancho Boyeros Agricultural Fair in Havana. Top teams of “jinetes” (male riders) and “amazonas” (women riders) have come from Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, Venezuela and other countries to compete with their Cuban counterparts.
The Rancho Boyeros fairground opened in 1933, and is prestigious throughout the region for the quality of its ring and the events held there, which follow international regulations.
Tradition and identity in Ciego de Ávila
While rodeo is a major attraction in some parts of the country, in the eastern province of Ciego de Ávila it is especially significant to tradition and identity, given the scope of cattle ranching in the area, and the size and number of farming communities.
The province has 10 rodeo rings, most of them in very good condition, and all meet the standards needed for holding international events.
According to Mario Pérez, president of the provincial Cowboys' Association (Sociedad de Vaqueros), rodeo has been part of local community life for many years, and became especially popular in the 1970s.
“At that time several very talented people rose to the national level, and the new generations of cattle ranchers have continued that tradition, making rodeoa very popular activity among our ranchers,” he said. The Ciego de Ávila team has won the national championship five times, and its members include an international champion and a national team that holds the record for bull riding.
“Our local team members—18 cowboys and three cowgirls—are very skillful at handling their horses and cattle, which is what makes them among the best on the island,” he said.
Women compete in almost every event, and depending on their qualifications in the categories of equestrian skill, dexterity, posture, and esthetics, they are selected to be part of the “Amazonas de Cuba.” The top Amazona is the one who accumulates the most points.