For nearly a decade in the 1980s and early 1990s, Gerardo “Jerry” Diaz wowed crowds at the National Western Stock Show with his roping and riding skills in the style of the charro or Mexican cowboy, so much so that rodeo organizers asked him to stage his own event.
That show, the Mexican Rodeo Extravaganza, celebrated its 25th anniversary on Sunday, with around 180 performers making up the most colorful, and among the more action-packed, spectacles on the National Western schedule.
“I’m proud and thankful to the Lord that he has given me a gift, and that we have been able to make this happen,” said Diaz, who hails from New Braunfels, Texas, where he operates the Three Mile Creek Ranch, a 50-acre spread devoted to horses.
A fourth-generation charro from Texas, Diaz, 58, still can make his horses dance and perform his signature lasso tricks while standing on their backs. His wife, Staci, and son, Nicholas, who just turned 15, perform alongside him.
Nicholas, part of the act since his earliest years, made his first solo performance at the Extravaganza on an Andalusian horse, suggesting things might carry forward to golden and even diamond anniversaries.
“I’ve watched his son grow up at the Extravaganza,” said Miguel Guzman, a mariachi violinist who met Diaz in Texas and has performed with him for the entire run. Guzman performed Sunday alongside local band Mariachi sol de Mi Tierra, which has worked at the event for 17 years.
Guzman said Diaz melds color, music and culture to create a show unlike any other out there. Of the different acts the Diaz family performs across the country, the highlight remains the National Western, both in the pageantry and for the thousands of viewers it draws.
The bilingual show included fireworks, Mexican actress and singer Lluvia Vega, and dozens of colorfully-attired Mexican dancers and riders of all ages. There were speciality performers such as Oklahoman Haley Ganzel, who rides Roman style — a leg each standing on two separate horses galloping at full speed, and two matadors who used their colorful capes to work a bull.
The bull outstaged them in the end by refusing to leave the arena for a long time, delaying the conclusion, as if to make it known the stock show was where everything got its start. Alongside those acts were staples seen in other shows such as mutton busting, the Westernaires and the Overland Stagecoach.
The Extravaganza isn’t a “charreria” or Mexican rodeo in the traditional sense, though it did include charros riding bucking horses and bulls and the Paso del Muerto, where a rider gets three tries to jump from a tame horse to a wild one riding at full speed.
Greeley charro Luis Ramos, the hometown favorite, won the bareback bull riding competition, but not before a rival’s animal crashed through the barrier protecting the bandstand, wreaking havoc and sending the dancers on stage scrambling.
“This happens every four years or so. Nobody got hurt though,” said lead dancer Jessica Sandstead, who climbed onto the gates of one of the pens to get away from the not-so-happy bull.
Sandstead said she has been part of the show from day one, and like Guzman and others, she has stayed with it through the years, while also shepherding younger dancers.
“It is a great show — very colorful and full of Mexico,” said Brighton resident Javier Lopez, who came to the Extravaganza for the first time with his family.
Lopez said his roots are in urban Mexico, not the countryside, but he still likes watching rodeo events. If anything, he wished there had been more bull riding.
“Jerry is a good performer. He loves what he is doing and he is a very talented person. It is entertainment and educational and it is cultural all at the same time,” said Ramiro Rodriguez, a national director with the American Charro Association in Victorville, Calif.
The charro and charreria have a deep grip on the psyche of Mexicans, whether they grew up in the city or the country, and the romanticism still appeals across generations for those born in the United States, Rodriguez said.
They are deeply ingrained into what became cowboy culture. Long before other European immigrants came to settle the West, the Spaniards and Mexicans were moving cattle. The techniques they developed, the clothes they wore and the pastimes they participated in to hone their skills were shared with the newcomers, who made them their own.
“The Hispanic community and the cowboy community have embraced each other. We are both brothers of the horse,” Rodriguez said.
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