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Arts & Culture

Escaramuza: Riding From The Heart

Escaramuza Charra Las Azaleas perform at a circuit competition in Coachella, California.
Courtesy of Jodi Champagne
Escaramuza Charra Las Azaleas perform at a circuit competition in Coachella, California.

Airs Tuesday, October 27, 2015 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

"Escaramuza: Riding From The Heart," a documentary by Robin Rosenthal and Bill Yahraus, had its broadcast premiere on PBS as part of Latino Public Broadcasting’s arts and culture series VOCES ON PBS, in conjunction with Hispanic Heritage Month in 2012.

Every weekend, at rodeos from Illinois to California, teams of young Mexican American women climb onto sidesaddles in elegant charra suits or ruffled adelita dresses and weave their galloping horses through dangerous, high-speed ballets known as escaramuzas, from the Spanish word for “skirmish.” "Escaramuza: Riding From The Heart" follows one Southern California team, Las Azaleas, on their quest to represent California and the United States at the National Charro Championships in Mexico, where “to be Charro is to be Mexican.”

Rooted in the cattle culture of Colonial Mexico, Charrería blends the equestrian skills, handcrafted tack, elegant costumes, music, and food of that rich heritage into a living folk tradition. Between the men’s riding and roping contests, the female escaramuzas charras perform their perilous, precision horse ballets, bending and twisting their galloping, reining horses around each other in intricate synchronized patterns, like weaving a hair braid at warp speed.


Las Azaleas, based in Riverside County and led by Sandy Torres and Maribel Gutiérrez, are one of the most exemplary escaramuzas not only in California, but in the United States. Helping to preserve the traditional equestrian culture of La Charrería brought here by their Mexican parents and grandparents, the members of Las Azaleas have been perfecting their skills in various team configurations for many years. Since forming Las Azaleas in 2005, they have dedicated themselves to excellence, winning California, Regional and U.S. National Championships many times over, and representing California and the U.S. at the National Charro Championships in Mexico.

Their strong ties to the sport are reinforced by having brothers, husbands, fathers and grandfathers who have all competed in charreadas at the championship level. As culture bearers, Las Azaleas not only hold themselves to the highest standards, but have been actively involved in passing their tradition on to the next generation by bringing their daughters and younger sisters into the team, and coaching a team of “up-and-comers” as well.

The film follows Las Azaleas as they rigorously train to compete in Mexico amid growing family obligations and concerns about border violence. For the dedicated members of Las Azaleas, escaramuza describes not only the danger and fierceness of competition, but the tug of war between New World modernity versus the Old World traditions and their own complicated relationship with the culture they love.

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Escaramuza: Riding From The Heart - Preview


"Escaramuza: Riding From The Heart is the story of Las Azaleas