Southern Agenda

Dancing With Horses

An illustration of three women, wearing sombreros and capes, riding horses

Illustration: Tim Bower

Not all rodeo contestants wear jeans and Stetsons. In the sport of escaramuza, female competitors perform choreographed maneuvers sidesaddle on galloping steeds, their bright hand-embroidered dresses and shawls, or rebozos, flying in the wind. “It’s like synchronized horse-riding ballet, choreographed to music,” says Dora Tovar, who produces a competition for the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo. A new multi-gallery exhibit at Fort Worth’s National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame celebrates the team sport with displays of costumes, sombreros, and traditional textiles, as well as contemporary portraits. Escaramuza, Spanish for “skirmish,” takes place at charreadas, Mexico’s version of the rodeo. Its roots reach to the Mexican Revolution, when female soldiers would gallop into battle with rifles hidden under their rebozos. “Those dresses aren’t about being pretty—it’s about the guns,” Tovar says. The competition is all business, notes Diana Vela, the museum’s associate executive director. Judges follow a strict rule book, and riders get scored on their clothing, coordination, and equestrian skill. “These women are cowgirls,” she says. “They know how to handle their horses.”