Mexican Horsemen and Inspiration for Art

Artists find inspiration in a variety of ways. We read, observe, wander, dream, meditate, experiment with new media and find ways to immerse ourselves in new experiences. I love horses. A quick perusal of my creative output will demonstrate this deep affection. So when someone invites me to an event with equines under the guidance of local horsemen you know I’m there.

Here’s a recap of the afternoon:

Some background

Gotta Be Careful…..

I’m careful though, because I saw some horse events while living in Kentucky that brought me more duress than joy on behalf of the welfare of the horses in attendance. Scratch the surface of many horse highlighted competitions and you’ll find some horrific abuses and terrible treatments of the equine competitors. Among the worst of all are when greedy horsemen use inhumane practices like the unenlightened, maybe even evil, practitioners of ‘soring‘ in the Big Lick Tennessee Walking Horse shows. Click the link if you’re curious, but prepare to be enraged.

An Afternoon at the Races

I’m sometimes a bit hesitant to expose myself to new equine related competitions for fear of finding out people I want to appreciate as fellow horse lovers are not at all on the same page when it comes to how they treat their equine partners. So when I was invited to attend an afternoon of horse racing here in rural Mexico I accepted with both curiosity and a slight measure of potential trepidation.

In the states, I’m well aware of how thoroughbreds (flat racers) and standardbreds (cart trotters) are often housed, shipped, fed, medicated, over medicated, roughly handled and otherwise treated in less than ideal ways. I am personally acquainted with dozens of people who run equine rescues who try to rehabilitate the damage done in various backstretches and show barns across the U.S. (I compiled a book of these folks a few years ago.) Ad so I wondered, how would these rural Mexicans be treating their horses?

banda plays at the horse races in guanjuato

A pink shirted band, food and cerveza!

The Road Less Traveled For Reals

After an adventurous drive miles up a winding cobbled road, the roadway more resembled a mountain goat path than a proper passage for truck tires. We bounced past a carefully uncovered and restored ancient Aztec temple generously padded by many hectaria (hectares) of land bequeathed by the owners upon whose land we were traversing. Co-owners of Canada de la Virgen Rancho, a most genial brother and sister duo, welcomed we horse loving visitors. It was one of the most glorious of sunny summer days high atop this breathtaking plateau in the Mexican highlands. From here you see the state of Guanajuato spread out in all directions from this lookout point perched high atop Rancho Cañada de la Virgen. I talked a bit about these folks and their mission in this post.

I was invited to this peak experience in any horse fan’s life by the ranchos’s cow spokesperson and my personal friend, Meagan Burns. I recently interviewed her about her own inspirations and drives for another site I run with a focus on creative people. Check that out here.

A+ in Kindness, Competence and Great Horsemanship

caballero and his palomino mount

He didn’t race this time, but I bet he does next time!

My relief elevated to pure delight immediately after I witnessed the first of at least 20 two-horse heats throughout the afternoon. These horsepeople aren’t just competent riders, these guys, and the few gals who also raced, are avid and passionate horse lovers! They were racing their work horses, their daily mounts, the horses who carry throughout their days. At least half were riding bitless, and those with a bit – which looks severe, I grant you that – barely touched their horses’ mouths.  Really just to bring them to a stop at the end of the quarter mile of grass, a former airstrip built by looters of the Aztec pyramid in the distance.

I’ve seen enough natural horsemanship to recognize a skilled and savvy caballero when I see one. These guys were riding a full on gallops and they were stock still on the backs of those galloping mounts. No flailing legs or flapping arms. Bareback. They were mostly racing bareback, in a halter as often as a bridle.

Country guys. Cowboys, most of ’em. Guys doing this for the sheer fun of it. One guy, you’ll see him in the video on several horses and standing posed next to one of his winners, is so quiet with his body when he rides he could teach a thing or two to just about any clinician I’ve shelled out the big bucks to attend their sessions over the years. Actually a bunch of these guys are that good. Look at them with their horses in the photos. Look at the horses’ ears, their stance. These are working couples.

palomino horse racing by amazing horsemen of guanajuato mexico

That palomino? 18 years old. Lost to a five year old…..

Loved Every Minute

Man am I ever lucky to have been able to experience this! And let me tell you, I’ve been to high falutin’ Breeder’s Cup races in Louisville, opening days at Keeneland and with a horse loving racing pal in the backstretch here and there. I have seen the best in horse racing in the United States, but this was the best day I ever had at the races in my life!

Mexican horsemen lined up

Some horsemen came to compete, others came to enjoy…..


The whole afternoon was a pure expression of the human desire to show off the horse we rode in on. It is horse racing in a completely unadulterated state. It was horse and man against horse and man (sometimes horse and woman) simply to see who was the faster! They didn’t practice beforehand, they just showed up on this one afternoon and went for it, and this is how they used to do it back when more people had horses for transportation and work.

Well guess what, these guys are still at it! These horses are transportation for these caballeros (horseman) and vaqueros (cowboys). They help them earn their living. The ride and train every day consequently they have amazing relationships that not only get the job done, but get it done with style! Look at how fit they all are! I have had several opportunities to ride a campesino horse and let me tell you, they are kind, have a great work ethic and are super light to the touch. I literally rode one using my pinkie into and out of a canyon with a bunch of other riders. Compared to the cowpony I created, these horses are pegasus himself.

Ok, so is every horseman here in Mexico as awesome? Nope. But these country horseman right here are the real deal. It was an honor to see them at play, in this stunning location, for a few unforgettable hours. Thank you Rancho Cañada de la Virgen! (They have begun opening up their hacienda to eco-tourism, check out the offerings so far…..!)