Growing up in South Dakota almost guarantees you some exposure to farm animals, agriculture and a western way of life – at least indirectly if not directly. I was lucky enough to grow up in a family that had ties to ranching and horses. I competed in rodeo and have an appreciation for all things horse-y and horsemanship-ish.
While traveling through southern Chile we heard there would be a Jineteada, something like a rodeo, in the small town of Rio Tranquilo where we were camping. We made arrangements to stay an extra day so that we could experience the events that are something like those in American rodeos. This two-day event on Saturday and Sunday is advertised on posters all over the area and will draw locals and even people from Argentina to watch and to compete.
I have no idea what to expect and wait excitedly to see what happens at a jineteada. I noticed a group of horses tethered at the far end of a makeshift arena circled only with some rope and cut poles. at the opposite end there are two large posts painted white and number 1 and 2. A handful of people ride on horseback as two guitarists warm up and the crowd fills the small bleacher stand for the show.
As things get moving two saddled riders each get a tethered horse from the string and dally up and lead it to the opposite end to turn over to teams of 2-3 men working at each of the numbered posts. The horses are tethered tightly by halter to the post and then saddled with a sort of bareback rigging.
The horses with their riders are released one at a time while the crowd watches and the two guitarists sing and narrate the ride which makes it sound so poetic. Riders must stay on for 12 seconds, longer than the American 8 second requirement, and most try to whip the horse in a stylish frenzy.
The bucking horses react similarly to those I’ve seen in American rodeos and have the entire enormous field to buck around in, kept in only by that white rope.
The whole experience reminds me of home and my rodeo days. Lots of tourists are here to watch. And Brian and I sit with other bikers and watch the show for a couple of hours. We have choripan sandwiches – grilled sausage in fresh bread rolls with a spicy salsa and cold drinks.
I had expected other events, roping or other skills, but today will only be what we have seen. I’m finding it hard watching nursing mares and old or injured horses being ridden, so I decide to call it a day and go back to camp.
As I walk out I see women selling traditional belts and tooled leather items for riders and I stop to watch men play a game of Tava/Taba. They use the knee bone of an animal (I couldn’t tell what kind of animal) that’s been framed in metal plates as a sort of bocce ball and take turns tossing it through some wooden rails. It has to land on a certain side to count right – one side of the bone is covered with a silver plate and the other with a copper one. Money exchanges hands as bets go back and forth. Looks like good fun.
As I walk by the string of wild horses at the end of the afternoon, after most have been ridden, I see they seem relaxed and mellow. And I can look out at the turquoise water of the lake in the background. What a beautiful day.