TicoNuevo experiences his first Tope in Costa Rica
As my practice riding sessions continued on schedule, I recalled the team’s uniform requirements mentioned weeks ago during our get acquainted dinner (a black cowboy hat, white dress shirt, black jeans, western belt and buckle, and a pair of black boots).
I realized that if my participation in the tope or horse parade in English, actually took place, I had a bit of shopping ahead as the only piece of attire I owned on the list was a Stetson western hat, and it was brown.
I acquired a used “Kirkland” brand white dress shirt at a local Ropa Americana store. A pair of black jeans in my size was a little harder to find, but a new pair with the right waist size was purchased in San Jose and the legs shortened by my local seamstress. I found a western belt and buckle at the feria in Grecia. Hosting visitors during a trip to Montezuma produced a custom ornament for my hat made from an old silver Costa Rican Colon coin.
The boots were the biggest challenge as my difficult-to-fit feet had prevented me from ever finding a pair of boots I could wear. My neighbor made a call and sent his brother with me to San Ramon where I was measured for a pair of custom boots. The cobbler also made a custom black leather band for my brown Stetson. The boot maker said he would call me when they were ready in about two weeks. My uniform was almost complete except for a bolo tie that my neighbor said he would loan me on the day of the tope.
The team’s uniform consisted of a black cowboy hat, white dress shirt, black jeans, western belt and buckle, and a pair of black boots
Riding alone unobserved and returning to the stable became the norm and after several “lessons,” I asked one of the brothers, “when am I going to get some instruction?” “Don’t worry Bronco’s been in many topes and knows how to do it,” I was told. My response, “I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but I’ll be happy to put my hat on Bronco, then you really won’t need me at all.” My neighbor’s team had ridden together many times, but never with me in it, and I was concerned that this was a necessary step if for nothing more than to increase my comfort level. As it eventually turned out, our first practice ride together as a team was the tope.
The day of the tope arrived and I walked over to the stable at 8:45AM to help prepare and load the tack, load other gear and water into the trailers, groom and shampoo the horses, and get them into the truck and trailer. I left for home to get some lunch and get into my uniform. Looking in the mirror I must say that I really looked the cowboy role. Borrowing from a Smothers Brothers parody, “if you get an outfit you can be a cowboy, too” or from who knows where, “clothes make the man.” In any event fully decked out in my horse parade uniform, I hitched a ride with one of the brothers down to our own private staging area just outside of town.
We saddled up at a site in the southeast of the city
Depending on who you asked, the tope was to begin at 12:00, 1:00 or 2:00, the official contacted at city hall said it is supposed to start at 2:00, but it should likely get rolling probably closer to 3:00. (I think event start times in this country are a lot like Costa Rican traffic laws—merely a suggestion.) We saddled up at a site in the southeast of the city and were on our way just after 2:00 to the tope staging site at the city’s feria location way on the other side of town.
Now, as far as I have been able to observe, my neighbor is a fairly important person in the community and pretty well known. Our route to the horse parade staging area was anything but direct. We had the route and the crowds pretty much to ourselves as we took what was essentially a reverse of the actual tope route. Our travels included a number of detours and stops where we were greeted by friends, acquaintances and relatives that spotted us. We even got pre-announced at the grandstand in front of the church as we rode through in the opposite direction headed to get signed up.
We made our way on horseback to the sign up tent on a street that during the weekly Friday feria was barely wide enough to squeeze one car between cars parked on both sides of the street. On this day, there were trucks, vans and horse trailers parked on both sides, traffic trying to head in both directions and 300 horses with riders all vying for space on the same narrow thoroughfare. It was what I could only describe as organized chaos.
The officials pinned entry numbers on their legs or backs
In the middle of all of this, there were “officials” in the street collecting the ¢10-mil ($20) entry fee from every rider and trying to pin entry numbers on their legs or backs. Our “team manager” neglected to mention the entry fee and luckily I had enough colones with me to cover it. Digging out your wallet while mounted on a horse was a challenge I had never experienced, but it paled in comparison to catching a bottle of Coke thrown to me. It came from out of nowhere, I’m not certain from whom, but I’m sure it was meant only as a considerate gesture. However, catching, opening and trying to drink a cola while atop an equine, was the biggest challenge of my day. Tucking it safely away was not an option as there was no storage compartment on my saddle.
Drinking it while reining my horse in the middle of the street and avoiding traffic, small children and being nipped or kicked by a passing horse was no simple feat, but my only option. With one hand I guzzled it until empty and am happy to say that my white shirt did not become the “before” photo for an OxiClean ad.
It’s taken a month of blogs, but next week I’ll actually cover my first tope from my perspective aboard my horse, Bronco.
The author of this blog, Ticonuevo, is a US expat who moved to Costa Rica and used the services of GoDutch Realty to purchase a property in Costa Rica. In his blogs, Ticonuevo describes his own experiences of taking the step of moving to Costa Rica and getting a new life started.