Tue, Sep 18, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Venezuelan women compete in age-old competition

COWGIRLS `Coleo' originated over two centuries ago as a means of capturing runaway cattle without a rope. Now women are showing they too are up to the task


Aliana Herrera pulls the tail of a bull during the women's national ``Coleo'' tournament in San Juan De Los Morros, Venezuela, on Friday.


The crowd screams as a raging bull bursts from a trapdoor and dashes down a gated track. Within seconds, a rider gallops alongside the beast, grabs its tail and yanks, sending the 136kg animal tumbling to the ground.

This rowdy competition called coleo is traditionally a display of machismo, but increasing numbers of women are showing their grit -- and horsemanship -- in the centuries-old sport that predominates in the sun-baked, cattle-ranching plains of central Venezuela.

During heats lasting five minutes, riders compete see who can tip the bull over the most times. All four hoofs must leave the ground for the coleada to count. Once the bull has been flipped over, competitors must quickly get the animal up and running again.

When a bull refuses to rise, exasperated competitors often twist -- or bite -- the weary animal's tail to force it up. Electric cattle prods handled by attendants are sometimes employed to jar motionless bulls back into action. Injured animals are slaughtered.

Between competitions, spectators enjoy the country fair-type atmosphere, drinking cold beer while listening to joropo, Venezuelan folk music played with a cuatro, or four-string guitar, harp and maracas.

Coleo originated on ranches over two centuries ago as a means of capturing runaway cattle without a rope, and it is also practiced in parts of neighboring Colombia and Brazil.

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