With its roots in the Mexican Revolution, escaramuza is a crowd favorite at rodeo
When she was 13, Marisol Villarreal longed to ride horses with an escaramuza team. Escaramuza, which means “skirmish,” has its roots in the Mexican Revolution. Villarreal wanted to be one of the graceful women riding sidesaddle, wearing a bright ruffled dress and a charro hat who rode with the control and power of a warrior.
As vivid as her dream was to be part of the romantic and strong tradition of the all-women sport in which participants display what some observers describe as “daredevil horseback ballets,” Villarreal couldn’t join an escaramuza team when she was a girl.
“We didn’t live on a ranch,” she said.
Now, Villarreal has four horses and leads her own team, Escaramuza Las Arrieras, which will perform in April at the Galveston County Fair & Rodeo.
Villarreal waited more than 20 years to be on a team and even trained in Mexico to learn how to coach other women. Villarreal has led Escaramuza Las Arrieras for 10 years.
At the end of the precision performance, the riders will carry the flags of Texas, Mexico and the United States of America, Villarreal said.
Nine women, who range in age from 13 to 55, practice on the team, but only eight will perform at the rodeo. The synchronized moves require even numbers, Villarreal said.
Escaramuza Las Arrieras performs at other rodeos in Texas and also competes with other escaramuza teams to make it to state and national finals.
Larry Hinze, rodeo superintendent of the Galveston County Fair & Rodeo, schedules the Escaramuza Las Arrieras every year to round out the experience of bull riding and roping, he said.
“It adds a lot of color and excitement,” Hinze said. “The audience gets into it.”
Villarreal recruited a dressage horse rider to join the team about a year ago. The woman, Malinda Edwards de Mata, a Houston lawyer, accepted the challenge.
“I’m a white girl,” de Mata said. “I have a foot in each world. It’s an honor to be representing the Hispanic Mexican culture.”
De Mata became familiar with the sport through her husband’s family. What surprised her the most about escaramuza was how much fun it is, she said.
“The team has to work together,” de Mata said. “You are not alone. The horses have to work together. You have to have the right moves, or you are going to crash.”
The team practices several days a week. With so much rain this year, a challenge facing Villarreal has been finding an arena where the horses could prance and trot and that wasn’t full of mud. The Katy-based team has been practicing its skirmish routines in a Magnolia indoor arena, she said.
One of the team members Villarreal recruited is her daughter, Melissa Guzman. Practices are as special as performances, Guzman said.
“It clears up my mind after a busy day,” Guzman said.
Guzman often gets home late at night after practice, she said. It’s a lot of hard work that includes paying expenses for road trips, training fees and bright, flouncy dresses.
“But it’s all worth it,” she said.
Villarreal rides her horse, Muneto, in each show, living out her girlhood vision, with her daughter and the other precision riders who exhibit feminine power.
Her favorite part of it all is being around horses, she said.
“I love horses,” she said.