Many mornings Sam and I walk the trails in the campo behind the Deportiva, a gorgeous sports complex set against the mountains and the clear skies of San Miguel, about a mile from town. In the early morning the smoke from squatters' campfires, curling up through acacia trees, tall maguey cacti, and now in mid-October, fields of foot-tall marigolds, pale pink anemones, and acres of yellow daisies, makes you feel like some settler, crossing the desert in search of civilization, centuries ago. On the plateau, above the campo, and above the soccer fields, basketball court, and running track, closer to the main highway, there has always been a handful of shabby horses, tethered on rope, without shade, nosing through rubble and sand for a blade of grass. These are the ponies of Lienzo Charro, a small-town rodeo with real-life cowboys.
The cowboy is a charro, lienzo translates as lovely, though I think there's a local idiom I'm missing here. The rodeo events are somewhat stomach-churning, but the mariachi band and its 10-year-old boy singer were absolutely amazing, and the sights in the stands were worth the look. Those horses who spend most of their time tied up at the Deportiva are the animals being roped, along with a couple of cows who have to be prodded to move, and the occasional bull. The horses are chased by a pack of four fitter steeds, with some of the most experienced riders and ropers you'll ever see. The entertainment comes when the horse, finally encouraged to gallop full speed around the ring, is roped by the legs and thrown up into the air, mid-charge. Once he's untangled he has to get up and start running again, chased and whipped by the riders. There are about five ponies that rotate out of the back pens into the ring. Once the event is over and they're back on their tether, looking longingly out onto the fields and the mountains, I wonder where they'd rather be.