The Costa Rican Tope

Laura Chinchilla at the Tope. Costa Rica’s Next President? Is that a Red Bull she’s drinking?

In Costa Rica, a ‘Tope’ is a horse parade. The big daddy of them all occurs in San Jose the day after Christmas, December 26th. Starting at about 1pm, the main boulevard is blocked off and riders come from all over the country to join in. The riders don their best riding clothes and bring their best horses, often specially trained to show off fancy steps. It’s a big spectator event, with big crowds to enjoy the sight of the prancing horses and their well dressed riders (as well as watching each other!). Add plenty of beer and music, and you have the Tope.
San Jose Mayor Johnny Araya getting his ear pulled as Laura Chinchilla looks on.

San Jose is not the only Tope, but it is definitely the biggest. But wherever you are, from Palmares and Perez Zeledon, chances are there is a Tope scheduled sometime during the year, usually coinciding with an annual fiesta. It’s a Costa Rican tradition that dates back to the country’s colonial days, when horses were a necessary component of life, from providing transportation to pulling plows. Spanish traditions such as horse racing and bullfighting evolved into the unique Costa Rican variations such as the Costa Rican bullfights and the Tope.

Among the participants in the Tope you’ll find farm workers riding alongside farm owners and rich horse fanciers. You will a peculiar gait in many of the horses, a high stepping style that requires some rather peculiar training, which was explained to me one day while visiting a ranch. The young horses are confined to a very small space where they can only move their forelegs and hooves up and down, as they are… shall we say, ‘persuaded’ to move. In any case, the horses develop the peculiar high stepping gait you will see in the Topes.

Mention should also be made of the hand-painted ox carts for which Costa Rica is noted, which form another part of the spectacle. ‘Colorful’ isn’t an adequate word to describe them. They probably deserve a post of their own. In any case, if you missed the San Jose Tope, you still have lots of other Topes available. Here is a site (in Spanish) that gives a list of Topes throughout the country and the dates. Hi Yo Silver!

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