Costa Rica cabalgata - cross-country horseback fesitivals


In Costa Rica, the horse remains the cause for celebration, for fiestas, for sharing.

Near Arenal volcano (the very active volcano, Costa Rica's largest tourist attraction) is the breadbasket of Costa Rica, and home of Centaura.

Every Sunday from November through August one of the tiny villages in San Carlos becomes for one afternoon the center of celebration of horse and rider, offering one or more of the following:


The cabalgata is a cross-country trek on horseback lasting all day -- with stops at farms for food and drinks and amateur rodeo contests and ending always with lots of dancing and celebrating, Costa Rica style.

In many parts of Costa Rica there's a cabalgata each Sunday. The best are near Centaura's home base in San Carlos. From mid November through the end of August the cabalgatas attract avid horse people from all the local farms.

During the larger cabalgatas major farms open their pastures to food wagons which haul all the pleasures of country food along from "station" to "station". Barbeque (the kind that takes days to cook, in buried ovens fired by coffee wood), "picadillo" (chopped vegetables), tortillas and frijoles, Chicharrones (fried pork skin with meat -- something that sounds disgusting but is awesome!) and all the beer or soft drinks or water you can drink. At the end of the day the bands play on, and the local cattle auction centers host dancing and prize giving.


The elegance of dancing horses, high stepping, side stepping, prancing, necks arched, forming a solid parade as far as the eye can see. The sound on pavement of a thousand dancing horses, as stunning as an Irish folk ensemble.

The big Topé in San José, December 26th, is led by Costa Rica’s President, and lasts seven hours as more than 4,000 horses, 15 or more mounted mariachi bands, wagon loads of food and drinks take over the center of the city (effectively closing San Jose for anyone allergic to horses).

Throughout the year smaller Tope events occur all over the country, especially in San Carlos, with even larger impacts on the local economy. Each weekend the chance to parade fine horses draws horse lovers to festivals, always terminating at a party with food and dancing and a chance to see the latest in farm equipment and saddles and veterinary supplies. And, of course, to share the gossip.

Many of Centaura's horses are trained for Topé. It takes riding skills as well, and expert training, to ride a Topé horse. If you'd like to learn, Centaura can teach you. And if you only want to participate in the country parade, we are always warmly welcomed. It is pure pleasure to ride alongside the dancing animals, to admire, to watch in detail as the horses and riders perform intricate dances.

If you are interested in learning the Spanish dancing steps, we offer private instruction. Our trainer is also available to you, to see how the horse is trained for these magnificent steps.


Racing horses at targets, trying to pass a proverbial needle (foot-long stick) through a ring that’s hanging under a tree branch, all at high speed from the back of a steed.

Thirty tiny rings, about half an inch in diameter, hang on a tape ("Cinta") over the "Corredor" (race course). Each rider races separately a distance of about 200 yards at full gallop, carrying a small "dart", about the size of a pencil, and has to thread the needle. The winner is the one who captures the most rings.

The riding skills are impressive -- balance, speed, precision. The horses burst down the Pista with high energy but with a gait so smooth that the darts rarely rise or fall half an inch during the wild run to the tape.


Unlike American rodeos, where the professionals show us how to do it, this is a case of one-upsmanship. Everyone is invited to join in the contests, and there are contests for all ages.

Thoroughly entertaining, to both the kids and the adults, is the art of cattle wrangling, reduced to children size. Using goats, kids up to 10 are encouraged to learn the skills needed for bigger animals for their futures.