Enrique c. Varela
is the son of immigrant parents and is from Oxnard, California. He has a BA in Spanish and a writing minor from The University of California Santa Barbara. His short stories have appeared in Chiriću Journal & The Acentos Review. His debut memoir twisted: Tales from a Crip(ple) is slated for release from Between the Line Publishing in 2023.
El Charro Olympian
The dark brown Württemberger horse prances in place like a possessed gypsy. Up and down, up and down. It lifts two legs at a time, the front left and the right rear, alternates them, proud, strong, never stopping for a second for it thinks its world will come to an end if it stops moving its legs rhythmically. The highly favored German team is at the end of their dressage Olympic exhibition. Their jockey straddles the horse and controls it like a masterful puppeteer from the high position of the English-type saddle and is almost machine-like in her deliberate movements. She is stoic, stone-faced with a pointy chin, and in an unbreakable trance.
She looks straight ahead, pointy chin up, shoulders back like an infantry soldier, confident, almost smug, in her and her horse's superiority over the rest of the field. She stares at a white snowdrop flower bursting from a planter's mouth and has to force herself to come back from the moment. She pulls on the double reigns coming from the bridle in the horse's mouth and her champion steed comes to a standstill.
“Symphony No. 5 in C minor” by Beethoven bumping from the old speakers bolted to the roof ends; whatever whirling dust that was kicked up by the horse in the compacted soil finishes settling. Like an incoming ocean wave, a slow bubbling of cheers and applause begins to manifest itself in the large crowd until it spills out onto the arena floor like a crashing wave onto a beach.
The jockey raises her right, white-gloved hand and acknowledges the crowd like a British royal on holiday. She adjusts her jockey cap, fixes her white collar from the undershirt chocking her, and pats her obedient warmblood in the back strongly. She gives the animal a sideways kiss on its solid miniature giraffe-like neck like greeting a respected foreigner. She guides her horse off stage. The PA system announces the next competitor that surely knows, based on the reaction of the crowd lingering in his ears, he has a massive uphill climb to conquer if he wants to reign in the crowd and judges.
A charro wearing a black charro suit elegantly embroidered in gold stitching running along his wide shoulders and short pants legs emerges from a tunnel at the end of the arena on a solid brown American Azteca horse. His soga attached to his cuero fajo bounces against the horse’s muscular flank as they walk into the crowd’s line of vision. His fully loaded black .45 ACP hand cannon teeter totters precariously in his holster. He acknowledges the crowd with a wave of his huge sombrero and a flash of his brilliant white teeth barely visible under the thick black strands of his bigote.
El Charro has light brown botas on; with his spurs he lightly taps the horse on its wide belly to get it to the center of a hastily built rectangular stage. He holds on to his Azteca's reigns with his left hand, wraps it around his hand tight until it turns pale from the lack of blood flow. He prefers to go gloveless, old school, like his fellow rancheros in northern México. He pushes off one of the grips in the back of his Mexican saddle and sits up straight like a Saguaro cactus. “Sigo Siendo El Rey” by Vicente Fernández blasts from the speakers. On cue, as if Chente's voice was the voice of reason for all that is Mexicano, the horse begins to dance in place, as the German horse had, but with more style. The left front leg lifts and so does the rear right, while momentarily balancing on its other legs. Then they go back down and the others that were balancing start to jive. One can count a perfect second between each alternating hop. The horse continues dancing and hopping in a place like a child's springy horsy with its everlasting enthusiastic rider at the helm.
El Charro pulls on the reigns. The big muscular American Azteca begins to spin like a ballerina. Its big hoofs step over each other and land between its gyrating steps careful not to trample his other hoofs. The horse does three 180 spins then without missing a beat, begins to side-hop across the perimeter of the rectangular stage, skipping like a schoolgirl. The horse sidesteps from one extreme of the stage to the other, hopping as light as a feather, until it is guided back to the center of the stage by a gentle pull of its reigns from El Charro. Once there, at the center of the stage, it snarls, expels steamy mucus from its long snout, and kicks its front hoofs in the air as if striking an invisible punching bag.
Then the horse stands on its hind legs and begins to hop around like a giant Dalmatian begging for a ham bone. El Charro grips the reigns tighter so he doesn't slip backward on his Mexican saddle, pulls his sombrero off his head, waves it in the air like a flag caught in a gust, and bursts out a charro grito from the gut that would put Jose Alfredo Jimenez to shame. The horse's front forearms swing up and down like if they were well-lubed hinges on a door in an attempt to balance itself and make his master proud; it knows he is a good man and will feed him all the sweet tunas his belly can take when they get back to the hacienda.
The big Azteca lets its front hoofs fall to the soil in a sonoro thump. Then the beast begins moonwalking like Michael Jackson. Its shoulders and hips gyrate with every slip backward of a leg. It moonwalks to the end of the stage, slaps his crotch with his tail, spins, and moonwalks back to center stage. It stops. El Charro wipes the sweat beading on top of his unkempt eyebrows with his forearm. He waves off stage and the crowd gasps.
A black mustang without a saddle and reigns takes off like a dart from the tunnel El Charro came out of. The beast cuts hard on the compacted soil and follows the circumference of the arena full stride. White decorative planters with the snowdrop flowers throughout the arena fall over and shatter to a million jagged little pieces of white shinny porcelain from the seismic rumbles quaking from the wild horse. The white small fence outlining the center stage falls over. The mustang zigzags around El Charro, and his American Azteca snarls at it as it rumbles by.
El Charro whispers in the ear of his faithful stead and upon the mustang coming back around, which it predictably would considering the intimate construction of the stage, the horse begins running alongside the mustang stride for stride. The speed at which they run together makes the dual horses look like a brown, white, and grey smudge on an expressionist painter's canvas. The mustang's wild lucid eyes observe El Charro crouch on the Azteca's back. El Charro takes the leap of muerte onto the ungroomed and prickly back of the mustang, landing awkwardly on its back, se acomoda, and holds on to the horse by the neck and the black greñas ticking his neck with all his might.
The mustang bucks violently, hopping around like it has a giant tick on its hide chewing on it. El Charro squishes down his wide brim sombrero rejecting his head. He begins losing grip of the handful of black hair he's clutching. The black mustang wields his head back and forth wildly like a great white shark during a feeding frenzy in a feudal attempt to butt the charro off him. Or at least bite him by his clothes but that is impossible since the suit he wears is well-fitted and clings to his thin body for that exact reason. His faithful American Azteca horse once again begins running side by side with the mustang and his brave charro master. The speakers blurt out the phrase, "Sin dinero y sin dinero...". The Vincente Fernandez song is at its climax. So is El Charro's Olympic dressage routine.
El Charro pats the mustang one last time on his muscular back for buena suerte and with the help of his strong arms and legs fortified from the hard work at the hacienda, pushes off the horse with all his might and lunges back onto the Azteca's saddle.
He grabs the reigns and brings the horse to an elegant dancing stop, this time kicking up minuscule amounts of swirling dust in the brashness of the halt. The mustang continues running its course and comes upon the stalls where the rest of the international equestrian teams are resting up for their next events. The mustang spots the female Württemberger horse, and its eyes grow large like basketballs. It blasts off straight for the Württemberger horse; the German team that was observing the performance of El Charro with envy run for cover.
The song ends. The crowd is dead silent until it wasn't. Bursts of applause and whistles and cheers fluctuate in pitches throughout the crowd. Red roses and sombreros rain down on El Charro. The crowd gives him a ten-minute standing ovation. It prompts El Charro to give them a big hidden smile, a wave of his sombrero, and one last thunderous grito de charro.