San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Broncos and Bulls and Beer, Oh My!

A tense, eerie quiet settles into the two-storyarena as soon as the blaring rancheromusic stops and the green gate rips open.A fast flurry of man, bull, arms, hooves,cowboy hats, horns and dirt tear out of thegate and whip around the arena in a frenzy.The crowd leans in and holds its collectivebreath. The man on the bull lets go and botharms fly in circular motions as his torso isrocked back and forth by the bull’s bucking.It looks like a violent version of the butterflystroke.Within 10 seconds, it’s finished and therider has scurried out of the ring. The bullpants, flares its nostrils andlooks around with a scaredand rebellious glint in itseyes. Two other cowboystake the place of the rider andare faced with the task ofeither leading the bull out ofthe ring or roping and forcingit out, to get ready for thenext bull.And then it happensagain. At Rancho SantaAlicia in Liberia, the capitalof the northwestern Guanacasteprovince, about 12 or15 times on a Saturday night,young men in cowboy bootsand fringed chaps will climbinto the pen and lower themselvesonto the heaving back of an angry bullor bronco horse to be shot out into the gatedarena and bucked off.THE ranch doesn’t just do bulls, though.Ranch owners also offer horse lessons andriding tours of their 150-acre property.Sundays, they hold horse races at noon and onthe first Sunday of the month there are ringraces. After the Sunday races there is morebull riding with varied entertainment, as insinging cowboys and folkloric dances.It’s hard to imagine that the owners, husbandand wife, Philip and Mary Bookman,had never owned or even ridden a horsebefore buying the ranch, which came completewith restaurant, bar, horses and house,in October.In fact, they were much more of the operaand symphony crowd.“I miss it, but this is a different life,” saidPhilip during a bouncy jeep ride while surveyinghis property and its many riding trails.He says he has even gotten used to theconstant blaring ranchero music, althoughsometimes it gets to him.The retired newspaperman and his artist turned-real estate agent wife not only talk thetalk but they walk the walk.PHILIP bought a thoroughbred racehorseand gets visibly excited talking horses.Mary rides every day and continues takingriding lessons. While Philip can be seen inloafers and jeans, Mary has a whole new outfitincluding horseshoe earrings,white leather cowboyboots and a purple cowboyhat.The ranch’s two mostpopular attractions, horsenight and bull night, arequite different.An old cowboy fromWyoming, Jerry Dalfors,said horse people are showpeople, like people whoshow dogs. The horse and itsrider have a relationship andthey work together, whereasthere is no relationshipbetween animal and rider ina rodeo.“Having a good relationshipwith a horse is like having a good relationshipwith your secretary,” Dalfors said.“She thinks for you and you avoid problemsthat way. But rodeo, rodeo is a carryover fromthe old cowboy days. It’s the same as anyother macho sport. The cowboys had to provethey were better cowboys by riding wild horsesand bulls that had never been riddenbefore.”EVEN with all that macho influence, it’snot just men in the audience. Children, grandmothersand teenage girls in halter tops arejust as likely to show up.“This is great. We come every week,”saidMonica León, there with her lifelong friend,Iris García.The two middle-aged women both wearing conservativegold jewelry sat at one of many white plastic tableson the second floor of the arena.“It’s one of the few places in Liberia where you canbring the whole family and see different things,” Leónsaid.León’s son is a bull rider.“NERVOUS? Of course I get nervous,” she said,sipping a beer on a night when he wasn’t scheduled toride.“We used to get into big fights about whether or nothe should ride. But, what can I do?” she shrugged.In early June there was a fatality at the ranch. A bullstepped on a man’s head after bucking the rider. He dieden route to the hospital. Another bull gored a man andpunctured his lung.The Red Cross is always on hand, but they can’t preventinjuries. On her last trip to the United States, Marybought protective vests and head gear with a face guard.ACCORDING to the Bookmans, this type of protectivegear is not available in Costa Rica. The couplewas worried that with the combination of Costa Rica’smacho ambient and the inherent machismo of rodeo, riders would be reluctant to be seen wearinghelmets and vests.“But, it could save their lives,”Mary said, waving a bejeweled hand.“It’s stupid not to wear it.”The first night protective gear wasintroduced, more than half of the riderswore the vests. A few were seen tryingon the head gear, but the helmets provedto be too small. The Bookmans werehappy with the reception of the protectivegear, hoping it would catch on evenmore in the following weeks and preventfurther injuries.The entrance fee for Saturday nightentertainment is ¢500 ($1.15) and theshow begins at 8 p.m. Sunday’s entertainmentis free. The races begin at noonand the show begins around 4 p.m.AN hour-long riding tour of theranch’s trails costs $15. A tour withlunch, a show including folkloric dancesand marimba concert is $40. A tour,lunch and an exhibit of horses in thering is $25. Lunch and a show costs $20.The ranch is about 15 kilometerssouth of Liberia on the Inter-AmericanHighway.The last weekend of July will beRancho Santa Alicia’s first trade fair.Friday night will be the reception with ahorse show and a ranchero music competition.Saturday will have bull ridingand an exhibition of horses from breederCarlos Adrian Vargas Murillo.Sunday there will be ring races and arodeo championship betweenGuanacaste and San Carlos. Mondayafternoon there will be more bull ridingand an exhibit of Spanish Americanhorses.For more info, contact the ranch at671-2513.

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