Horse parades are a central part of life in Costa Rica. Usually referred to as ‘tope’ by locals, they consist of festival which is centered on horsemanship, color, enthusiasm and tradition. Thousands of horsemen and women come from all over the country to show off their skills, horses and flamboyant cowboy outfits. It is almost like a Latin American version of the Kentucky derby race, in terms of its importance in the local equestrian calendar.
The tradition began when the island was still under Spanish colonial rule, with El Tope marking the beginning of the Fiestas de San Juan. This fiesta celebrated livestock and other agriculture, and featured bullfighting as well as a live horse race. The fusing of Spanish culture and equestrianism with local tradition has helped to create the wonderful spectacle that tourists and other visitors can see today. No wonder that many Americans are choosing to move to Costa Rica at the moment.
Horse racing today remains a central part of the event, which occurs on December 26 each year, the Day of the Horseman. This is not the usual kind of ‘racing’ which fans of sports wagering may enjoy though. This is a long way away from the kind of wagering that you might see at sites such as http://www.Kentuckyderbybetting.com. The kind of bet America offers on which horse is first past the post cannot be found here.
Instead, the horses perform a series of steps, much more like horse dressage featured in the USDF website than racing. Making ox-drawn carriages remains an important part of local tradition too, and the odds are that visitors will see some of these wonderful, ornately decorated vehicles if they decide to attend El Tope.
The other spectacle which forms a huge part of this festival is the people. The Costa Rican people love to show off at these fiestas, especially in how they dress. As well as the riders showing off their skills as horsemen, many of the local women dress in extravagant cowgirl outfits, trying to make themselves as noticeable as possible. The men are not far behind them either, as everyone tries to outdo each other with the vibrancy and style of their outfits.
The Tope traditionally takes place alongside the Festejos Populares, a massive fiesta which is important to everyone here. It generates the kind of excitement seen in the United States when it comes to betting on the Kentucky derby.
The parade usually begins at 1pm, and covers a four-mile route. There is no motor vehicle traffic through the streets of San Juan on this day, as there is simply no room for any other vehicles.
Music blares out throughout the day, and television cameras throng the streets, focusing in particular on capturing the people, in their vibrant costumes, as well as the dancing horses. Visitors should make sure that they arrive early in order to get a decent viewing space, as the crowds thronging the noisy streets make it incredibly difficult to find anywhere from which it is possible to spectate.
It can therefore be seen that there is much more to Costa Rica than simply great beaches. Some of the best beaches in Central America are located here, but there is so much more to see too. Great cultural events like the horse parades reveal a culture that is all about excitement and celebration. That should never mask the fact that the fiesta celebrates agricultural work and graft though.
No wonder tourism is growing so quickly in Costa Rica, with such a wonderful spectacle on offer. Anyone lucky enough to visit this country and see one of the horse parades will also marvel at the skill and work which goes into the spectacle whether in terms of training horses and riding them, painting the ox wagons, or creating the vibrant costumes which characterize the ‘topes’. The tope is all about the soul and spirit of this wonderful island, sums up the spirit of a people.