The day of the annual Cacería del Zorro horse race is guaranteed to be action-packed from morning until night. The excitement begins with a parade down city streets, continues on to the race track at Yahuarcocha, a high altitude lake nestled into the base of the volcano, Imbabura, and ends with parties in bars and clubs all over town.
What is the Caceria del Zorro?
The Caceria del Zorro in Ibarra, Ecuador is an annual event. The name implies an English-style foxhunt. Although a few parade participants may show up in traditional English riding gear, the race itself is pure Ibarreño.
A single rider plays the fox or the zorro. He dresses all in black, can wear a mask and cape, and will remind many readers of the character in the Zorro television show of old. But this Zorro wears a foxtail.
The rider who catches up with the Zorro and snatches his tail wins the race. He also becomes the Zorro for next year’s race. If no one catches the Zorro and he finishes the entire course with his bushy tail intact, he retains the title for another year.
The Cacería del Zorro is multiple races
After the parade finishes in Ibarra, the horses and their riders approach the racetrack by the Mirador del Arcangel. At this point, the path drops off onto a trail of dust and dirt and the horses dive down a steep hillside. Cameras film the action and it can be watched via television screen from the stadium where the races will be held. It is considered an essential part of the Cacería del Zorro but isn’t a part of the race.
There are actually several races that take place in a single day. There are divisions for different ages, sexes, and abilities. The youngest riders start first, tackling the winding course with a wild energy matched by their steeds. The excitement builds throughout the afternoon as each new group that races displays more skill and ability than the one that raced before.
Be warned, schedules advertise races starting at around 1pm and ending at around 3pm. The day we attended, the schedule might as well have been thrown out the window. It is pretty safe to assume that nothing will start on time.
More Than a Race
The crowd passes the time in between each race eating local food, like hornado, and drinking lots and lots of beer. Families and friends use this time to visit. Many Ibarreños live in Quito or further afield and use the Cacería del Zorro as an excuse to come back home.
Be warned that many folks in the stands will have been drinking all day. We saw more than a few succumb to what looked like altitude sickness but was probably dehydration from drinking a lot of alcohol, sitting in the hot stands without protection from the sun, and not drinking any water.
Despite the heat of the day, everyone waited for the final race. And I imagine this is true no matter the weather. We watched as the sun slowly descended behind the mountains in the distance and the lake changed from a bright blue to a slate gray. I actually doubted that I would get a single good picture as the light faded. The race, however, was worth the wait.
The Last Race
The last race is the most important of the day. Professional riders on thoroughbred horses maneuver the track with style and grace. These horses are absolutely beautiful to watch. They are also lightening fast and stream by the stadium seating so quickly that they are a blur. Dust rises in huge clouds as their hooves beat the track into submission. For some, it seems that just being in this race is enough. For others, it is almost an insult that another horse dare to pass.
It’s anticlimactic after the race is done. It seems like a party should take place right there on the racetrack itself. But everyone starts to file out and walk towards their cars or the single shuttle bus making its way back and forth to the parking lot. Like any sporting event in the United States, it takes a long time to leave. Many are headed to a party on the lake itself at one of the well-known riding clubs. Others are off to different bars in Ibarra. And some are just headed home, probably to sleep off the drinks they’ve enjoyed all afternoon.
Tips for Enjoying the Cacería del Zorro
- Bring your own water.
- Bring an umbrella to make your own shade.
- Wear a hat.
- Bring a jacket for quick changes in weather conditions.
- Bring small bills or change for vendors.
- Plan to stay the night in Ibarra or nearby.
This article was originally published on September 23, 2016. It has been updated to fix grammatical errors and improve formating.