What It's Like to Compete In Escaramuza, 'Synchronized Swimming On Horses'

Just like ballerinas, we pirouette and stick to a choreography — just on a horse.

paola pimienta riding horse on beach
Photo: Diego Huerta

In my Mexican family, the charro rodeo tradition goes back to my great-grandparents, and I started learning the maneuvers of escaramuza charra — an all-female team equestrian sport — at a nearby stable when I was 11. Flash forward a decade, I now compete in championships across the country and represent the sport as the U.S. National Escaramuza Ambassador, juggling it with college and my restaurant job.

You can think of escaramuza charra as synchronized swimming on horses. Two to four hours multiple times a week, my seven teammates and I train the horses to gallop, spin, and perform choreography in sync with one another and the music. We'll do a routine of 12 exercises, all at a galloping pace or faster, as anything slower results in deductions during competitions. It has roots in the Mexican states of Hidalgo and Jalisco, and has become one of the most representative traditions of the Mexican culture.

paola pimienta portrait in rodeo outfit
Rodrigo Cervantes

On competition days, we'll wake up at 5 a.m. and slip into attire that can weigh up to 15 pounds. It took me a couple of years to perfect my makeup so that it would last through all the sweat and even tears we experience. But the sport is inspired by adelitas, the women who fought in the Mexican Revolution, so we keep it as traditional as possible to honor them. (

Tradition holds that these women were decoys during revolution; they'd ride off to raise a cloud of dust to make it seem like an attack would come from that direction, allowing the revolutionaries would then attack from the other side.

I've owned my horse, Barbie, for almost a decade, and these animals are just as much of athletes as we are, so we ride them two to four times a week, feed them specific diets and supplements, and take them to massage therapy to keep them in tip-top shape. Still, it takes a lot of work and emotional intelligence to have your horse reach 100 percent trust with you. When you do, it feels like nothing is impossible.

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