Horses, Bulls and Rodeos - A Costa Rican National Pastime
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If you happen to be in Costa Rica at the right time of year, a fun thing to do is going to the many rodeos, horse demonstrations or “bull fights”. Horses are almost a national symbol in Costa Rica and always a cause for a celebration. Rodeos are staged throughout the country and many small towns have their own rodeo or bull ring. There are also some portable ones and even a circuit of professional riders that tour around and appear at shows.
One famous event is Toro a la Ticas, held in Zapote, a suburb of San Jose, between Christmas and New Years. This event pits the bull against a crowd of testosterone filled young adults. This event is similar to the running of the bulls except the bull has nowhere to go. As many as 200 people will enter the ring and tease the bull. Some events feature prizes but most are for bragging rights only. The bull is not harmed though many participants are often injured. This event can be somewhat dangerous for tourists, many gallons of beer are consumed and the crowd sometimes gets ugly.
In the town of Palmares, about 35 miles west of San Jose, a horsemanship and rodeo festival is held each year during the first few weeks of January. This event takes place for an entire week and is a great event for the family.
Puntarenasalso hosts a similar event usually held in February as does San Isidro En General, also commonly known as Perez Zeledon. There is also a large “Carnivale” held each year in Limon in October which features some horse demonstrations along with the other festivities.
Every Sunday from November through August one of the tiny villages in San Carlos becomes for one afternoon the center of celebration of horse and rider, offering a variety of horse demonstration and riding events. The skilled participants will amaze even the most experienced rider. The events typically stage riding, roping and animal handling demonstrations. Some also feature Tope (horse dancing), Rescate (rescue exercises) Cabalgatas (cross country treks) Cinta Races (attempting to pass a small dart through a number of tiny rings while riding at high speed, you may even see some jousting.
Nicoya Peninsula is often referred to as “cattle country” and many a rodeo or bull riding demonstration can be found. Unlike most bull fighting in other countries, Costa Rican bull fights do not harm the bull. Most of the events will be bull riding.
In Nosara there is a bull ring that is full of weeds except for one weekend a year. Kristina and I were there to see Las Corridas a la Tica, Costa Rican Bullfighting. I was surprised to see the ring full of younger men, between 15 and 25 toreadors (bullfighters) wandering the ring in wait of the bull, as well as a few on horseback. Some had capes while others had short sticks and tin pans. I thought that this didn’t seem very fair to the bull.
The announcer introduced the first bull fighter and the crowd waited in suspense. The first bull fighter (loco) appeared in the ring RIDING THE BULL. He had no saddle, just a short rope to hang on for his life. Within a few seconds, the bull had ejected the rider and then tried to stomp and gore the rider as well as anything in its way. I’ve never seen people get out of a ring so quickly as the other men (locos) in the ring attempt to keep the rider from getting gored or trampled as well as themselves. The bull had other plans and managed to quickly empty the ring of all but the few horseback riders, whose job was to corral the bull out of the ring to ready the ring for the next victim (I mean rider). Occasionally the promoters would release a half dozen bulls into the ring when things were slow or the toreadors started getting cocky. Those bulls could clear the ring in six seconds flat.
A new law requires that all participants must be sober. One has to ask why a sober person would do such a thing! One bull came out of the gate and just wandered around. The toreador rider tried to incite the bull but it just kept walking. He finally got off and made the walk of shame while the crowd cat called and whistled. That’s the bull I want I thought.
We watched four or five more riders and got to see the Red Cross in action, who volunteer their services for the event. They had set up a triage unit for the not so fortunate riders and ring runners. We finally had to leave the ring after seeing the bull find another unfortunate play toy. As we walked around the festival outside the ring, we occasionally heard the crowd groan, indicating that the bull had won another round.
Don’t miss these annual events if you have the chance but do try to avoid getting on the bull… Even our little town of Ojochal has a bull ring and typically combines some bull ring antics, some riding demonstrations, a small carnival and great food.
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