MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) — It’s a Holy Week tradition in Uruguay’s capital — the most important rodeo of the year.
“Gauchos,” as the cowboys from the plains of Uruguay and neighboring Argentina and Brazil are known, compete by trying to stay on bucking wild horses for 8 to 10 seconds. The rodeos — called “jineteadas” — involve only riding horses.
“This is part of the best tradition of Uruguay,” said Hector Ramos, a Montevideo resident who grew up in the countryside surrounded by horses and other animals. “The homeland was made riding a horse!”
The competitors are easy to spot: They all wear berets and espadrilles, and they drink mate, the herbal tea that is the national drink of Uruguay and Argentina.
“It is pure adrenaline,” said Sergio Jordan, who has been riding in the rodeos for 15 years, since he was 18.
Jineteadas have been a popular spectacle during Holy Week since 1925, and the rodeo was named a national sport by Uruguayan lawmakers in 2006.
More than 200,000 people attend the week-long festival. But the event also often draws angry protests from activists who contend it causes animal cruelty.
Karina Kokar, of the Animal Help activist group, said she met with officials at Montevideo’s mayoral office in an unsuccessful attempt to get the city to halt the rodeo. She contends the horses are mistreated.
Since 2014, jineteadas have been supervised by an auditor from Uruguay’s National Honorary Commission for the Welfare of Animals, the state organization in charge of defending animal rights.
Horse owners say that the animals compete in only a handful of rodeos a year and that their appearances are too brief to harm them.
“It’s only about 40 seconds a year,” said Raul Rodriguez, who crisscrosses Uruguay searching for wild horses to use in the rodeos.