SPRINGFIELD, Ore. — If you’ve been to the Eugene Pro Rodeo, you’ve seen the modern cowboys using ropes.
But one Springfield man practices a traditional form of roping that he learned growing up in Mexico.
Antonio Huerta was born in a small village outside Guadalajara in central Mexico. He started using the rope, or soga, when he was 6 years old.
“I grew up around horses and cattle and part of everyday life involved using the rope, riding horses and doing some cattle work,” said Antonio Huerta, who competes in charreada.
Now, as a 40-year-old living in Springfield, he competes in the sport of charreria, a traditional Mexican rodeo with roots that go back to the days of the conquistadors.
“It’s the only sport that was born in Mexico by Mexicans,” Huerta said.
With shifting demographics and more Americans claiming Mexican heritage, the charreria is gaining popularity in the U.S., and it’s a tradition Huerta is proud to share.
“I also think it is our responsibility for adults to pass on the traditions and culture to our youth,” Huerta said.
During the day Huerta works for the University of Oregon, performing outreach to Hispanic youth and their families. But his love for the charreria takes him and his wife and son to many destinations throughout the West.
“So this is a hobby and a passion, and most of the time I perform on the weekends,” Huerta said.
The rodeo itself, or charreada, consists of 11 events, from horse reining to bronco riding. Huerta competes in team roping, plus an event called fore-footing in which he lassos a horse’s front legs while it circles the rodeo ring.
Hueta’s favorite rope is a 25-foot nylon soga from Los Angeles. With proper care, he says it will last about five years.
Huerta knows that rodeos are controversial in the modern world, but he says it’s all part of the Hispanic heritage.
“This all evolved out of the work needed to be done in the haciendas way back in the 1500s,” Huerta said.
Hispanic Heritage Month kicks off Sunday and runs through October 15, a national celebration that Huerta says goes hand-in-hand with his performances.