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Escaramuzas, side saddle horse riders, keep Mexico’s oldest sport alive in Chicago suburbs!

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Beecher, Illinois – The oldest sport in Mexico is the sport of Chareria.

“It’s considered a national sport – everyone thinks it’s football but it’s Karari,” Ferenc Lamas said.

Equestrian men are known as escaramuzas, but perhaps even more impressive are the women, who are called escaramuzas. Literally translates to skirmish in English.

The 32-year-old llama has lived in Beecher, Illinois and has been riding horses for 16 years.

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“Escaramuza is a Mexican cowgirl working in sync with eight other girls on the side saddle making dangerous passes, quick turns, almost like a dance on the horses,” Lama said.

Charrería, which dates back to the 17th century, lives in the southern suburbs of Chicago. Illinois now has 16 charo teams and nine Escaramosa teams that compete statewide in hopes of continuing to compete in what’s known as Mexico’s annual Congresso.

Illinois is one of 14 states that continue the tradition and can officially compete in Mexico, according to Federación Mexicana de Charrería.

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“A lot of people from Chicago when we tell them what we are. If they see us getting dressed, they ask us when do we dance?” said the llama. “We no, we’re not folklorico ballet but we ride horses and they’re like waiting, does that exist?”

Llama belong to Las Coronillas de Illinois. Their team trains in Manhattan at Ranchos Los Gonzalez.

Founded in 2000, the Coronelas is the second oldest escaramuza in Illinois.

One of the strongest teams, Coronelas became the latest state champions on August 21 in this year’s state competition hosted by Rancho El Consuelo in Beecher. The team is now heading out to compete at the 2022 Congreso Conference in Zacatecas, Mexico, in October.

Alexa Corell, 18, from Juliet, has been riding for the past five years. Coriel has been a member of Coronelas for the past two years.

“We have a very strong leader, Itzel,” said Corell. “As an Escaramosa player in Illinois, she (Itzel) is one of everyone’s idols because she’s competed in Mexico so many times that she’s been a great contestant.”

Itzel Castañeda is the captain of Coronelas. At 27, she’s been riding since she was five.

“Being a captain, it’s a really competitive role and it’s a really tough role,” Castaneda said. “It’s an eight-girl team. It’s eight different ideas, eight different personalities, eight different schedules.”

Judges fly from Mexico. They are very meticulous, and they make sure every detail is in place before they even ride in the ring. This includes clothing, horses, saddles, and even their hair.

“Your hair should be a light pony,” Coriel explains. “And be careful not to fly away.” “You also aren’t supposed to have unnatural hair colors like blue or green hair. That’s part of the rulebook.”

But most importantly, they view the team as a whole for their accuracy and precision.

“If you’re doing a 360-degree roll, what they’re going to look for is if one girl is far away. If she’s too extroverted. It’s all about precision and coordination,” Castaneda said.

Unlike charros, escaramuzas ride the side saddle in traditional Mexican dresses

Castaneda said she considers herself an athlete.

“Nobody can stand on a side saddle and do it right,” Castaneda explained. “It involves a great deal of balance.”

The side-riding saddle is what sets the Escaramosa apart from the Charo.

A woman’s saddle is called a saddle – and a man is called a sella. The bard has two horns, one for their right leg to cross and one for their left leg supporting.

“Riding in a side saddle is not easy,” Castaneda said, “after a while your back hurts and you should look beautiful and you do it too.”

Beautiful in the sense that they wear colorful and traditional Mexican dresses. Most of the teams, including the Coronelas, have their dresses made by special seamstresses in Mexico. Las Coronelas’ signature color is now purple.

“It’s a color that has a lot of life,” Coriel explained. “We wanted to have dresses that make you smile when you look at them.”

Under the dress they wear a crinoline or crinoline to keep it puffy. Less than that, they are required to wear a calzonera, which is a type of stalk. Of particular interest is the ribozo or shawl, which is tied around the waist in a knot of six laces.

Escaramuzas advance into a male-dominated sport

Ironically, Charría is considered a “macho” sport, according to Castaneda. So much so that some charro don’t take escarmosa seriously.

“When we perform at Charridas, we go right in the middle of it and it’s like a lot of guys – that’s the half-time show,” Castaneda said. “We’re just like – we’re just as important as you guys.”

See also: Latinx, Latino, Hispanic: Defining a community with several terms with different meanings

Castañeda believes that being an escaramuza is more of a challenge, given that they have to work as a team while charros is an individual sport. “If one of the girls is missing, it can cause us to get into a routine,” Castañeda said.

Accidents can happen that fast.

One thing everyone agrees on, though, is the danger involved in being an Escaramosa.

“It can be very tragic. There can be a cross where one girl can run into another girl and we ride in the saddle on the left side so we don’t have those legs to control our horses, a fatal accident can happen,” Lamas explained.

Traditionally, the escarmosa wears either handmade or other accessories.El Mal de Ojo‘To ward off any bad energy or danger. They also attach small sacred necklaces to their dresses to protect them in the plaza. Many of the pins bear the image of La Virgen de Guadalupe.

“Accidents can happen very quickly and I feel like that’s where the religious part comes in,” Coriel said. “It’s (accessories) like a part of me, my home life, it’s with me.”

“We usually wear these escapularios and they show some motifs,” said 19-year-old Valeria Vargas of Romeoville. “I’m very religious and it’s like having God by my side.”

The youngest contestant on the team is 13-year-old Candy Doran from Juliette. Doran said she tends to pass out during competition.

“Sometimes random thoughts go through my head, but most of the time I’m really focused and trying not to get too overwhelmed,” Doran said.

For llama, it’s all about the adrenaline rush.

“All you really hear is hoofs stomping on the floor,” said Lama. “The music drowned out, and we watched we were fine.”

Border defects

American teams have a huge disadvantage when competing in Mexico. They cannot bring their own horses.

“It’s a really long journey to get our horses there,” Castaneda explained. “They have to have blood tests to see if they qualify to cross the border.” “So it’s a very big and very dangerous risk.”

Another drawback for the Coronelas teams and their Illinois teammates is the cold winter.

“We don’t have perfect weather all year round, so we only have certain months throughout the year where we can train in a circuit,” Castaneda said.

During the winter, they will train in an enclosed arena, but it is much smaller which adds to the list of obstacles that Las Coronillas jump to in Mexico. Teams in Mexico don’t always give a warm welcome to American teams.

“We have a lot of mixed reactions,” the llama said. “Some girls are surprised that we’ve made it so far that we have to adapt to a new horse in three days.” “And some girls think arrogantly – we can’t allow these girls from a completely different country – to take our positions.”

Sports aren’t cheap either.

“They’re very expensive,” Castaneda said. “Dresses range in price from $300 to $500. Custom saddles are around $800. Sombrero is also $800.” “Horses are very expensive too, all the maintenance behind them.”

“We are doing everything we can to get sponsors,” Llamas explained. “Our parents are our number one supporter. A lot of us look at us as eight girls on horses but there are a lot of people behind us.”

This is why family and tradition are key to the team.

Doran said, “I have a love for Charrería. I grew up in Rancho. I have a special bond with her.”

All the Coronellas family are the children of immigrants.

“Mom and Dad – they’ve come to the American Dream,” Lamas said. “So to be able to perform and support this little Mexican tradition that we can still keep here – it’s very nostalgic.”

“It’s amazing to feel like I’m living on the traditions my father brought here,” Vargas said. “I am continuing it and I hope to continue it with my children in the future.

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