Last year, photographer Devin Doyle, who’d spent two years photographing high school rodeo culture in the United States, became curious as to what the Mexican equivalent might look like. After all, he says,?“It’s the same land, the same ranching culture.”?What he found was an exciting competitive equestrian sport performed by women dressed in stunning traditional costumes, a sport directly inspired by the?Adelitas—the female?soldiers?who fought in the Mexican Revolution.
Escaramuza, an event within the larger rodeo-like sport known as?charrería?(now recognized as Mexico’s national sport) is comprised of teams of up to 16 women (though only eight can compete at a time) performing?a series of routines inside a?lienzo charro, or stadium, at breakneck galloping speeds—all while?riding?sidesaddle.
Every movement is intricately choreographed, often down to the second. In the?coladera, for example, the women split into two groups of four; one group circles the perimeter of the?lienzo charro, while the second moves in a much smaller circle in the center. Suddenly, the outer group changes direction and gallops straight toward the group in the center at full speed, so that each of the eight women individually?dissects?the formation, all in the same instant. The horses never slow and, if the move is successful, they never touch. They kick up dust that catches the light; through it, you can catch glimpses of skirts billowing as they pass one another. “I love the adrenaline, and the connection with the horse is so special,” says Catalina Quiroga, 17, who rides with the Santa Rosa Oro team, based in Monterrey, Mexico. “I began [when I was] a baby. My father is a?charro?and he’s been teaching me since I was?3?or?4?years old.”
The sport tends to be passed down?between?generations. America Martinez de Heras, 34, is the captain of the Rayenari, a team based in Phoenix, Arizona. Although she grew up?riding?horses and attending?charrerías—her father began appearing in them at age?8, and her sister began competing at age?9—an early mishap with a horse initially put her off. It wasn’t until age 20 that?Martinez de Heras?began?competing after?her sister?convinced her?to fill a slot on her team. “I guess I finally got over the fear, and I was always going to watch my brother and sister compete, so I thought, I may as well do it,” she says. Now, she adds,?“I?ride?with my sister and two of my nieces, and even my?2-year-old has her own saddle already.”
During the?escaramuza?season, which typically runs from February to November,?riders?practice twice a week for two to three hours. The?U.S. nationals?take place over Labor Day weekend, and the grand finale, a competition in Mexico that brings together the top 80 or so teams from both sides of the border, happens in late October or early November.
While scores are based strictly on performance, costumes remain an important part of the sport. “My favorite is the?traje de charra,” Quiroga says,?referring to a two-piece suit usually made in suede, one of many styles that teams can choose to wear for competition. “The woman looks so formal and unique.”?Because?escaramuza?costumes are based on historical uniforms worn during the revolution, there are strict guidelines for all costumes.?Adelita?dresses must be cotton or cotton-based,?and always in traditional colors.?Embroidered details must be sewn by hand, and accessories, like the pins the women wear near their necks, must be sterling silver and pinned in one particular place.?Sombreros worn with both charra and Adelita costumes are also highly embellished, and secured by leather straps that sit on the chin just so.?Dressing for a competition can take more than two hours. The last step before heading out to compete? A spritz of perfume.?Escaramuza?may be inspired by women warriors, but it’s performed by women nonetheless. As a sport, it is equal parts fierce and sophisticated.
It all feels—and looks—incredibly empowering. But there’s one small detail about the competition that feels just a bit out of place in 2018, at least to an outsider.?Escaramuza?teams can only perform as part of the larger men’s?charrería?competitions,?never on their own. For Martinez?de?Heras, however, that’s not an issue of contention. “I don’t see it as us being part of their competition,” she says. “I see it as part of being together. This sport is very family-oriented.”
She continues, “At the end of the day, competing in Mexico is our prize—it’s the experience of being there that’s what matters. It’s nice to see that,?although we have been raised in the U.S., we continue to keep our traditions alive.”