A new film, currently in production, takes an inside look at the world of Escaramuza. Escaramuza means "skirmish", and the riding combines an unsettling blend of pretty girls in fancy clothes riding sidesaddle with fast-paced, heart-pounding drill team maneuvers. It is really a unique tradition!
I spoke to filmmaker Robin Rosenthal about the making of the film - read on below to see what she had to say about how she got into the world of Escaramuza and some of the challenges she and her husband faced in making the film.
Escaramuza: Riding From the Heart is looking for financial support to complete the editing and marketing of the documentary. The deadline for pledging your support is July 16th! Even small amounts are helpful. You can view the trailer and find out more about pledging to help support the completion of this unique documentary by using the widget below:
RR: It was a small seed from our horse racing documentary "On the Muscle: Portrait of a Thoroughbred Racing Stable" that got us here. In the first episode of that 3-part series, California trainer Richard Mandella sent the two-year-olds that were flown in from Kentucky out to a training farm in Riverside County. At the farm there were two brothers from Mexico working those impressionable babies with the "softest" hands imaginable. The vision of their amazingly light touch on the reins as they warmed up the fillies and colts in the arena before introducing them to the track never left my mind.
So later, when we were looking for another documentary topic (and horses are never very far from our minds), I remembered those brothers, and also all the other superb riders of Mexican heritage who we saw getting on horses at the track. Since we’d done our own DVD distribution for “On the Muscle,” we also knew that there was nothing out there; that the proud, centuries-old way of life, which had once fed the cowboy culture of the American West, was now overlooked here—unheralded and under-appreciated in every way, except by its practitioners.
GHC: How did you select the team you follow in the film?
RR: While researching Charrería in the U.S., we came upon a wonderful series of articles in The Press-Enterprise online newspaper about the women’s side of the Mexican Rodeo, the Escaramuzas Charras, featuring the U.S. Champions, Las Azaleas of California. We met Las Azaleas one scorching day at their practice arena, and immediately fell in love with the eight team members, and their beautiful Charrería culture. We saw that the effort to keep their tradition alive in this country, as each successive generation becomes more and more acculturated, was a forceful act of both will and heart.
GHC: Were there any particular challenges or crazy moments during the production that stand out in your mind?
RR: Yes. We had journeyed with Las Azaleas to the National Charro Championships in Guadalajara, Jalisco. The competition was taking place at the VFG Arena, which belongs to the much-revered ranchera singer, Vicente Fernández Gómez. We’d nailed down our credentials and had a quick scope of the arena during an early, weekday charreada. Our plan was to do a practice shoot ahead of the Azaleas’ competition to get our routes and vantage points worked out. We work as a two-person team; Bill shoots and I do sound, and we essentially run-and-gun. We intended to be “backstage” as the girls mounted and warmed up the horses and had their final pep talk from their coach, then in position for the performance, then quickly backstage again for what we always call the “post-mortem” after-the-ride discussions and analysis.So our first attempt at practicing our drill was foiled by a bad encounter between our rental car’s bumper and the blown tire of the gigantic trash truck in the fast lane ahead of us. One whole charreada spent standing by the side of one of Guadalajara’s busiest roads dealing with all that.
Next attempt was the night that Vicente Fernández’ charro team, Tres Potrillos, was competing. Unless you are just back from the World Cup soccer games, you have probably never seen such a crush of people, all there for the chance to see their beloved “Chente” do “cala” (the reining event) with his home arena team. Charreada is the national sport of Mexico, and Jalisco is its beating heart. Add Vicente to the mix and you have two filmmakers pinned in place, wide-eyed, wondering how on earth they are ever going to get their shots.
Fortunately that evening turned out to be an anomaly. Las Azaleas performed on a weekday afternoon in front of a smaller but still hugely enthusiastic crowd, and our shoot went fine.
GHC: What's your personal background, particularly as it relates to filmmaking, horses and Mexican(/American) culture? Do you ride?
I was a video artist and studio art instructor in San Antonio before coming to Los Angeles to work in film and television post production. My husband Bill Yahraus began his career in the documentary unit at public television station KQED, and made music and social issue documentaries collectively in San Francisco and Los Angeles. After a long stint editing feature films, he returned to his roots in documentary to form Pony Highway Productions with me.
Neither of us is of Mexican descent, but I would call us aficionados of Mexican and Mexican American culture. I started collecting Mexican folk art beginning with my years in Texas. These past two years immersed in La Charrería have been quite a visual feast . To be surrounded by all the gorgeous artisanry of the horses’ tack, and the costumes and other gear of the charras and charros, has been amazing.
Bill and I both trail ride. We are fortunate to live in the high desert foothills of the Antelope Valley, on the backside of the San Gabriel mountains, about an hour north of Los Angeles, and we have miles of trails heading straight out of our place. My riding horse, Gem, is a Davenport Arabian. Bill’s horse, The General, is an Appaloosa.
Having some horse background has been useful in all three of our documentary projects together. We are less “outsiders” if we can talk the talk. And who of us doesn’t want to talk about horses all day long? If you’re going to spend three years of your life making a documentary, it damn well better be in a world you love.Thanks, Robin, for sharing the story behind this fascinating documentary! Readers, you may find out about Robin's other horse-related documentaries at Pony Highway Productions.