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Ecuador Culture: The Paseo del Chagra — An Equestrian Tradition

The paseo del chagra is an important tradition in Ecuador culture. One definition of a chagra is a cattle farmer of the high desert Andes regiĆ³n. Cattle and horses were introduced to Ecuador via the Spanish conquistadors and large and small landowners alike were called chagras, whether indigenous or mestizo.

The town of Machachi, south of Quito, is known as the capital of the chagra and has a religious connection with the paseo del chagra.

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In 1877 the Cotopaxi volcano erupted. Afterward and in later years, the area inhabitants would wait patiently for snow to fall on the mountain and when that occurred, they would organize a minga to gather up the cattle and lead them in a procession, reminiscent of the animals that had been scattered by the eruption and then rounded up.

The word chagra means campesino or Andean cowboy. In the past, the chagras were those who rounded up and led cattle across the country from one location to another, just like drovers did in the United States in previous centuries. The paseo del chagra has evolved into an Ecuadorian parade that allows riders and horses alike a chance to dress up and strut their stuff. The riders traditionally wear ponchos, hats and zamarros, which are chaps made from the hides of llamas or cows.

Woman on horse

For the horses, this means being bedecked in colorful leg wraps and having their manes and tails braided and ribboned. It's time to show off the best saddles and bridles, to dress up in costumes of the past with chaps and big hats and ponchos.

Rearing horse

These spectacles are not orderly affairs. In fact, the lively horses are encouraged to rear, buck and give the audience a thrill.

Rearing horse

Horses routinely veer into the crowds, scattering onlookers, who'd best be on their toes or they get their toes trodden upon.

Rearing horse

This man was attempting to get his horse to side-step but the animal wasn't in the mood to cooperate.

Little girl on pony

The kids are the cutest things. This little girl was quite the lady, gently and leisurely encouraging her pony down the street.

Some of the horses are of Spanish descent, called paso finos, which means "fine step." The Paso Fino is a combination of breeds — Andalusia, Spanish Jennet and the Barb. Spanish landowners in Colombia and Puerto Rico bred for their comfortable gait and endurance. They are a sight to behold as they glide smoothly and gracefully along. Their riders seeming to float, barely moving in their saddles.

 

There are most likely a number of breeds of horses represented in a paseo del chagra. Paso finos are born with a certain gait. Others are trained to perform tricks, dance and prance backwards. The horses throw their feet out to the side, so you see a flurry of legs and hooves, but the horse's body seems stationary.

Horse with red leggings

My favorite, a vision of sculptured muscle and restrained grace.

Drinking beer

All this riding is thirsty work.

Horse with yellow leggings

This horse was a crowd-pleaser as his owner put him through his paces.

Paseo del Chagra

Another of my favorite horses--arched neck, elegant.

Leaping horse

This horse leaped totally off the ground several times. Then his rider lost temporary control as he spurred his mount and the horse stumbled into the crowd. Very exciting but I was glad I was on the other side of the street.

Ribbons

I wonder how this horse feels about being all dolled up in ribbons.

Young rider

A paseo del chagra is an Ecuador parade and spectacle that always draws a large, enthusiastic crowd. The children take the parade rather seriously and they don't smile much. As a group, the kids are very disciplined, bravely sit astride animals many times their size and strength.

The noble horses in action are a joy to watch. They are taught to saunter sideways, to bow, leap into the air, even lie down. I love to see them glide down the street, feet flashing out to their sides as they bear their riders effortlessly along.

 


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