Iowa’s new skirmish team pays homage to Mexican culture and embraces change
History of Kassidy Arena. Video by Lucius Pham.
On a windy day on the east side of Des Moines, eight riders challenge each other in a craft arena. The mud is thick and sticks to their boots and horseshoes.
A young woman jumps from her white horse named Julio. Her boots sink in the mud as she walks towards the center of the arena, raising her voice against the wind. She indicates where the runners should be, shouting instructions in Spanish and English. Her name is Alejandra Pina. She is the captain of her charras skirmish team.
Charrería is considered the national sport of Mexico. It is usually male-dominated, or charros, in a series of events. Escaramuza charra is the only official event for women. There can be more than eight riders on a team, but that’s the most common. And they compete on the saddle side.
Piña’s family has a rich history in sports. His father’s side is full of charros from “the era”. They have exhibited at the Iowa Horse Fair for several years.
In January, Piña and a group of young women came together to form a team called Escaramuza Charra Quetzalli. They all chose Piña as their leader. Their coach, Alexandra Casas, is based in California. She connects with the team by traveling to Iowa and Facetime/video.
“It’s a bit difficult, because I knew it was going to be hard work. And it was going to be a lot of work. And the coach even said it like ‘You have the worst job. You got away with it. shot in the foot because if something happens it will go on you,” Piña explained.
The 27-year-old said being a skirmisher was like a second unpaid job.
“It’s worth showing that girls, we’re going to make history, we have a passion and we’re all working on it together,” she said.
Escaramuza charra has some pretty serious judging – right down to the bloomers the contestants wear under their traditional Mexican dresses. Teams spend thousands of dollars to comply with regulations.
“Our rules, the reglamento, are updated every year. And it gets stricter every year. Against men…men are very, very lax,” Piña said. “We’re going back to Mexican machismo, not even in Mexico, but in all Hispanic homes, most of them. But slowly, I think that with the new generations arriving, it’s growing.
A few months ago, Iowa became a member of the Federación Mexicana de Charrería. The Federación lists 15 other US states in its delegation. Piña said she wanted to make history as an Iowa team by becoming the first to compete nationally in Mexico.
But there is another way for Quetzalli to make history. There are seven young women, including Piña, all of Mexican descent. But the eighth skirmish breaks the scheme. This is Tyler de Leon, 14 years old.
“I am a gay, dark-haired man who plays a very traditional women-only sport that literally represents a rich Spanish tradition. And some people don’t like that,” de Leon said. “It’s scary to come out and say, ‘We don’t care what you say. And where we open up this community.
Although they may not accept you, accept yourself… In the end, you are going to rise so much higher than them.
Tyler de Leon, horseback riding
de Leon stopped. Tears began to form around her red-rimmed brown eyes. “Although they might not accept you, accept yourself. You have to go beyond that because they don’t matter,” he trailed off again, nodding to himself- same. “In the end, you’re going to rise so much higher than them.”
De Leon’s mother, Anna Garcia, is a horse lover and trainer. She acts as an informal coach for the team. As she watched her son practice on a rainy day at their indoor arena in Winterset, she admitted she was terrified that Leon would have to break down barriers with no roadmap.
“He’s like indomitable in the face of adversity. He’s who I want to be when I grow up, really and really, because, I mean, there’s all these terrifying things in his daily life that he just manages , with a smile on her face, and love in her heart,” Garcia said.
Escaramuza caught Leon’s attention after watching a sports documentary.
“And I was like, I want a legacy. I want a community. I’m Filipino, but we don’t have a community like that,” de Leon said. “So I’ve always been so amazed at how strong the community is and how much they sacrifice, through the work hard work they devote to it. . And I was like, I want to do something like this.
He told his mother about it and she brought up the recently formed Quetzalli team. de Leon already had riding experience in several different styles, so when he went to see a practice, Quetzalli’s trainer asked if he wanted to ride with them, which resulted in a successful trial.
Back home in Des Moines, teammate Wendy Murillo said she hopes the sport will evolve. She doesn’t know why it has to be split when the real goal should just be to let people know about the escaramuza charra. Murillo said she felt the charro side was better known in society, both in the United States and Mexico, than the escaramuza side.
“I feel like for everyone on the team, it’s just not a sport. It’s more than that. You are, in a way, like a role model for others. You are very brave if you play sports,” she said.
The team will participate on Memorial Day weekend in Chicago. Team captain Piña said she was going to consider it a “practice run” so they can work out what they need to work on for future competitions.