With Sombreros And Sidesaddles, Virginia Women Renew A Mexican Tradition

Nov 8, 2015
Originally published on November 10, 2015 3:21 pm

They sit high on their imported sidesaddles, their ruffled skirts tucked neatly beneath them at a ranch in northern Virginia. Las Amazonas del Dorado — this riding group slated to perform — are preparing for their next ride.

These six women are engaging in the sport of escaramuza, a group riding event performed only by women at Mexican rodeos.

"When you're on the horse and performing, it gives me chills every time," said 17-year-old Adriana Jimenez. "Inside, you feel this great happiness, and it fills me up with pride inside to be from a place so full of culture and life and color."

While the star of the show is the cowboy, these cowgirls provide some of the sport's most dazzling entertainment.

To hear more about these women and the sport, listen to the audio link above.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now we look at an American take on a Mexican tradition. Mexican rodeo is equal parts daring stunts and intricate choreography. The star is the cowboy in his sombrero and embroidered jacket, but cowgirls also provide some of the sport's most dazzling entertainment. Riding in teams and wearing colorful costumes, they perform a high-speed ballet on horseback. One family in rural Virginia is rediscovering the tradition. NPR's Vanessa Rancano sends this postcard.

VANESSA RANCANO, BYLINE: The six horsewomen gather in a small dirt arena.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMEN: (Speaking Spanish).

RANCANO: They sit high on their imported side saddles, their ruffled skirts tucked neatly beneath them. They call themselves Las Amazonas del Dorado, after the family's El Dorado ranch. For the past six years, they've dedicated themselves to the sport of escaramuza, a group riding event performed only by women at Mexican rodeos. The Amazonas are a team - the first in the state. Their uniforms - matching embroidered dresses made by an aunt. Before the show, the women huddle together on their horses. Beatriz Castro and Rosa Alvarez review the choreography.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: (Speaking Spanish).

RANCANO: First, they'll gallop in, then spread out and dart towards the audience, all in synchronized movements.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: (Speaking Spanish).

RANCANO: These women are related by blood or marriage. During the week, one works as a hairdresser, another as a nanny, two are students and the others clean houses. But when the northern Virginia weather allows, they spend their Saturday afternoons on horseback.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: (Speaking Spanish).

RANCANO: The announcer amps up the crowd. The Castro clan is 300 strong, and friends and relatives have come from across the state for El Dorado's charreada, or rodeo. Men in cowboy hats and chaps sit on truck beds, sipping tequila. Kids take turns on a tiny Shetland pony.

(SOUNDBITE OF UNIDENTIFIED SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in Spanish).

RANCANO: As the show starts, the Amazonas circle the ring at full gallop. They criss-cross the arena and spin in a blur of peach fabric. They meet in the center, then fan out symmetrical arcs.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: (Speaking Spanish).

RANCANO: The women are beaming under their sombreros.

ADRIANA JIMENEZ: I feel really happy and in a really enthusiastic mood.

RANCANO: Adriana Jimenez is 17 years old and the youngest in the group.

JIMENEZ: When you're on the horse and performing, it gives me the chills every time. Inside, you feel this great happiness, and it fills me up with pride to be from a place so full of culture and life and color.

RANCANO: The Amazonas haven't just rekindled a shared tradition. They've forged an equestrian sisterhood. Vanessa Rancano, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.