By Shari Bondy
Horses play a significant part in Baja Sur life and have done so since they were introduced onto the peninsula when Spanish horsemen were sent here with their mounts to guard the newly established missions in the 1700s. Here in central Baja, there are many ranches that maintain horses to herd cattle and the ranchers enjoy showing off and racing their noble caballos in local races. Attending these race is like stepping back in time to the old west.
Horse races are held several times a year in all the villages and towns and are fantastic family events to attend with beautiful horses to admire, food, beer tents and usually a live band playing to entertain the crowd. In local races, the horses from neighboring ranches race against each other. It is a time when people get together and dress up in their best cowboy duds for a day of fun day of racing. The cowboys give rides to ladies and children and there are always some dancing horses performing to the music.
Spectators line a ¼-mile strip called a taste, pronounced “tasstay.” They teach young horses about the track, the gates and general racing techniques. The horses are paraded up and down the track a few times so everyone gets a look at them and their jockeys, who ride bareback strapped in with a seatbelt. Official bets are taken and people bet casually amongst themselves as well. The entry fees go to the local saddle club to help with costs of events.
There are also big races held during traditional fiestas where real thoroughbreds are raced–some even coming from mainland Mexico to challenge our local favorites. Thousands of people attend these exciting races. Last week during our Fiestas in Bahia Asuncion, a horse called El Docente was matched against a legendary race horse from Bahia Tortugas named El Mochomo, who was the favorite to win.
The race was so close that even the picture of the official photo finish didn’t clearly show a winner. It was a tense few moments as the photo was reviewed and a lot of arguing and discussion took place before it was declared a draw, which is very rare in racing here. The revenge rematch should be interesting!
Horse races are often held on holidays like Father’s Day, Mother’s Day and town fiestas. So, if you ever have a chance to attend one of these horse races…don’t miss it! Watch for signs up around town about local races and dust off your boots and cowboy hat.
What are your experiences with horses and races in Baja? Share with us below!
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