Answer: It is difficult to say when rodeos first began in Cuba. It was not originally a sporting event, but an integral part of cattle-ranching in areas of Spanish influence dating back to the 16th century conquistadors. This is the case in Mexico, where ranch hands (vaqueros) early on practiced a mixture of cattle wrangling and bull fighting.
Unfortunately, there does not appear to exist a definitive historical study of rodeo in Cuba. Locally referred to as el más puro rodeo cubano (the purest Cuban rodeo), it enjoyed great popularity in the 1920s and 1930s and is widely practiced throughout the country up to the present time.
Today, the majority of Cuban cowboys and cowgirls are agricultural workers who participate in rodeos as aficionados. They use the same rodeo regulations as their North American counterparts with a few notable differences: Cuban rodeo is strictly an amateur sport, with no professional competitions or cash prizes. Also, bull riders wear helmets rather than Stetsons. Finally, as in the U.S., barrel racing in Cuba is the premier women’s rodeo event.
Cuban cowboys and cowgirls who are interested in rodeo are members of the Sociedad Cubana de Vaqueros de Rodeo (SOCUVAR, the Cuban Association of Rodeo Cowboys), which is an organization linked with the Asociación Cubana de Producción Animal (ACPA, the Cuban Association of Animal Production). Created in 1994, SOCUVAR works to maintain, perfect and extol Cuban rodeo, as well as to promote and execute national and international rodeos organized as part of Cuba’s Agricultural Fairs. They also maintain links with similar international associations. Cuba is also a member of the International Rodeo Association.
To give an idea of scale, during the 2008-2009 rodeo season, SOCUVAR had a national membership of some 3,200 men and women integrated into 146 teams. During the same period, 267 rodeo grounds existed throughout the country, even in the most remote rural towns.
There are several ways to find out the dates and locations of rodeos in Cuba. Since rodeos are usually associated with agricultural fairs, one source of information about the dates and locations of rodeos – specifically at Rancho Boyeros, Havana’s most important rodeo site – is through the Empresa de Ferias Agropecuarias (Livestock Fair Enterprise), specifically their Departamento de Promoción de Eventos (Events Promotion Department). Call them at (537) 683-4536 for information. They also have a website at www.fiagrop.cu which at present is not working, although they anticipate that it’ll be up and running by July 2011.
For the rodeo schedule elsewhere in the country – that is, outside Havana – the best source of information is ACPA. Located in the Vedado district of Havana, their phone number is (537) 833-7802 or (537) 833-8159. Ask to speak with either the administrator, Calixto, or with Anadelio for details. ACPA does not have a website.
In Havana, rodeos also take place at Havana’s sprawling Parque Lenin located in the southwestern part of the city. This rodeo, taking place in the Parque’s Complejo Rodeo (Rodeo Complex), is separate from those rodeos coming under the Empresa de Ferias Agropecuarias or ACPA, so you will have to call directly to Parque Lenin to get the schedule. Their general switchboard number is (537) 644-2722, but be warned that one must be persistent when calling them, as it takes some effort for the number to go through.
For both agricultural fairs and rodeos, the highlight of the year is the Feria Internacional Agropecuaria FIAGROP (International Agricultural Fair FIAGROP), which takes place in Cuba’s oldest showground, the Recinto Ferial de Rancho Boyeros (Rancho Boyeros Showground), located very close to Havana’s José Martí International Airport and founded in 1933 for such activities. This event consists of two important parts: the Feria Comercial (Commercial Fair) and the Feria Ganadera (Cattle Fair), with the latter including the Encuentro Internacional de Rodeo y Coleo (International Rodeo and Bull Tailing Competition). Again, the Empresa de Ferias Agropecuarias can provide details about dates and exact location.
The way it works is this:
In May, a country-wide series of rodeo competitions begin at the level of agricultural enterprises, farms and agricultural cooperatives. Competitive rodeos then take place at the municipal and inter-municipal level, and from these events the provincial rodeo teams are made up based on which cowboys have the most points.
During the months of September, October and November, Cuban rodeos enter the next stage, with competitions taking place between five different zones – western, central western, central, central eastern and eastern – each of which includes several provinces. The province that gets the most points in each zone then moves up to the semi-finals, which occur during February and March in Sancti Spíritus Province. The resulting three best teams then compete in the Campeonato Nacional de Rodeo y Coleo (National Rodeo and Bull Tailing Championship) to determine the national champion. (The National Championship, which usually takes place in Havana, is always held before the International Competition.)
Seven different competitive events are included in the Cuban rodeo circuit: calf roping, steer wrestling, bull riding, bull tailing, team roping, barrel racing and wild-cow milking. At the same time that the national team championship is taking place, individual championships are also being developed with the ten best cowboys for each of the seven rodeo events being selected. These winners then make up two all-star teams: Orientales (East) and Occidentales (West). These two teams compete in eight rodeos, resulting in the selection of five cowboys per event who then make up Equipo Cuba (Team Cuba), which participates in international rodeo events.
Note: Although the Encuentro Internacional de Rodeo y Coleo normally takes place in Havana, as it did last year (the 14th such event), two years ago the 13th edition took place in the Parque de Ferias in Sancti Spíritus Province, the first time that the Encuentro Internacional has taken place outside of Rancho Boyeros. So be sure to check…
A very interesting website about rodeos in Cuba is El Mas Puro Rodeo Cubano at www.elmaspurorodeocubano.webgarden.es Although it exists in both Spanish and English, the English section is not always clear. The site was developed in March 2009 by Cuban Michel Simon Pérez, who was born and grew up next door to Rancho Boyeros and, since childhood, has had a lifelong passion for horses, rodeos and agricultural fairs. In addition to graduating in veterinary medicine, he was for many years the director of the Rodeo Teams for Parque Lenin and Havana. Although he developed the site to fill a gap in Internet, the information about upcoming events and reports on rodeos does not go beyond the end of 2009. Still, it is an informative site with articles on past rodeos, various themes, selected Cuban and Latin American cowboys and cowgirls, practical advice on horse care, different horse breeds, useful links to other sites in the world dealing with horses and rodeos, etc. – and it is full of action images about Cuban rodeo.