Monday, September 15, 2014

Trail Ride--Mexican Style by Gordon Rottman

Houstonians are familiar with the 13 trail rides into Houston for the Livestock Show and Rodeo Parade at the end of February. We see them on the freeways prodding toward Memorial Park, their destination prior to the big Go Texas Day Parade through downtown the next day. Some of these are almost 400-mile long trips. They continue the traditions of an older and more romantic Texas.

Years ago I was introduced to another kind of trail ride through my wife’s family in Mexico. The Cabalgata Revolucionaria Morelos is an annual November event. A cabalgata is a cavalcade or procession taking many forms. In ranching towns, this is called a “circular procession”—cabalgata revolucionaria—celebrating ranching traditions and a time for families and friends to bond. By “circular” it means that it begins at a ranch hosting that year’s ride and then the trail winds cross-country through other ranches and ends in the town of Morelos. Some towns’ ride begins and end in the town.
Morelos in Coahuila State is a small ranching town 35 miles across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas. It’s not the Mexico seen by tourists nor was it troubled by the border violence until recent years. It was a quiet, laidback town in which we did not hesitate to take night strolls on unlit streets. Things got bad a couple of years ago, but the Mexican Marines have settled things down and it’s getting back to normal. Regardless, cattle ranching is the focus here and the traditions and values are more fitting for the 1880s.

A recent cabalgata was hosted by our family’s Rancho el Consuelo and riders began assembling on the 36,000-acre ranch on a Friday afternoon. A bonfire-lit mini-rodeo was held that night followed by dancing in the corals by firelight accompanied by blaring car radios. By dawn Saturday over 3,000 riders were assembled. Its one thing to organize 3,000 people, but there’s as many horses too and each extended family and ranch has its supply wagons for little kids, and oldsters and for hauling food and drink.

The start is always surprising smooth with everyone cooperating and helping out. The priest blesses all of the riders and horses and the possession sets off stringing out into a miles long column as it ambles across the range-land over dirt roads. Most noticeable are the number of mounted kids wearing big Stetsons and denim jackets. They’re treated as equals and are expected to pull their load. It’s all part of the bonding and they learn the time-honored skills and traditions.

Mid-morning finds the riders and wagons in a clearing and forming a huge circle for the first rodeo’s “coral.” This year it’s a horse obstacle course in which riders demonstrate both their skills and their mount’s. Riding on, there’s a strong sense of a mobile community as we visit with friends and families, meet new friends, and carry on long conversations as we ride. Food and drink are shared in the saddle being handed out from the wagons without halting.

The mid-afternoon rodeo finds us in another massive circle. Its bull-riding time and this is when young vatos—dudes—display their pride and skill before all. These are just roped, range-wild bulls. Watching the boys trying to mount the bellowing critters as they attempt to leap and literally climb out of the six-foot high chutes is a sight to see. You can tell they’re having second thoughts, but they can’t back down in front of the entire town. Some charging bulls break trough the “corral” with horses and riders scattering in all directions and the announcer saying maybe we’ll find the rider tomorrow, maybe.

The end of the long day finds us winding into the village of Los Álamos for an impromptu parade with the entire town turning out. Horses are unsaddled, fed, and watered. Campsites surrounding the town are set up and fires kindled. For the kids it’s a time of excitement and learning. Around campfires with the grownups, they learn to tell tales, cuss—politely, drink coffee, play Pokar, take part in adult conversations and learn a rough, but very valuable etiquette. It may sound rancorous, but they learn about being as good their word, trusting family and friends, and being responsible for their actions. They also do all the camp chores, but that’s part of the deal. It’s a long, nearly sleepless night of visiting with talk of old times, old friends and future hopes.

After a quick breakfast of arroz, frijoles y tortillas—rice, beans and tortillas—we saddle up and start for Morelos just a few miles away. This is the big day, the final. The beery-eyed riders perk up as we approach town. The high school band is playing and CD players blast music over PAs. We ride through town waving and throwing candy to the kids with thousands cheering. Even the neighboring towns are represented as the riders come from all over the area. Three of the five towns of the Cinco Manantiales (Five Springs) area have an annual ride and many take part in all of them.

The parade breaks up; hundreds of horse trailers and pickups appear on side streets. After taking care of the horses our extended family adjourns to a relative’s home for a massive breakfast that runs into lunch and beyond. On the patio, chairs are pulled together and there’s endless conversations and planning for the next cabalgata. Hundreds of such get-togethers are occurring across town.
In the evening, we all walk to the dance hall where three different bands will provided the dance music into Monday morning. We ended the dance with a conga line winding through the rooms, even the kitchen, out the back door, and through the parking lot. Passing cars and pickups honked and folks cheered us on. A couple cars pulled over and the occupants joined the line.

We don’t have family reunions, the cabalgata—along with quinceañeras and weddings—serve in its place with families traveling from all over Mexico and the States to attend this annual tradition.


  1. Its quite an experience, a whole different life style. You feel you've been time-warped back to the 1880s, except for the cell phones and ring-pull tabs.

  2. What a wonderful community experience. Mardi Gras on the hoof, except for the camp chores and learning etiquette/responsibility for your actions! May I borrow a horse and tag along? (something broke to ride, thank you)

    As usual, thanks for the enlightenment. V

    1. Oh, that's the fun part. Most of our horses are not exactly fully broke. First you have to rope one...

    2. Reckon I'll pass this time, Gordo. My bronc riding days are over. I only rode one and that's enough for me. (He didn't tell me he was a bronc until I got on him...bareback.)

  3. Wow, what a wonderful way to celebrate and connect with neighbors both old and new. Great tradition. Doris

  4. What a wonderful tradition! It sounds like a ton of fun as well as having the benefit of integrating the children into the adult community--something that's very lacking in most places.

    1. The first time I went on one of these rides I was astounded at how the kids were treated and what was expected of them. When I saw a nine year old girl expecting the horse hoofs of all the family members, she said she was responsible and did it to protect the family and help the horses.