When I hear the words fox hunt, I immediately picture elegantly dressed men and women astride muscular chestnut-colored horses waiting for the sound of the horn before racing off behind a pack of hounds to hunt down the crafty fox. Of course, this imaginary hunt always takes place in the hilly farmlands of England. Not in the mountainous terrain of Ibarra, Ecuador.
Every year, hundreds of participants gather at Yahuarcocha, a high altitude lake nestled into the base of the volcano Imbabura, to catch the fox. The Cacería del Zorro takes the traditional English fox hunt and turns it on its head. Last weekend, we were lucky enough to experience the day, from parade to races to the fiesta at then end. This article is about the Cacería del Zorro itself, the actual race.
In the Cacería del Zorro, the fox is actually a fellow rider, the winner of last year’s race. He or she dons a black outfit with a foxtail pinned to their backside. They mount their horse, whose blanket is marked with the red Z of the mythical Zorro made famous in the United States by the Disney television show of the same name. Then, with a 200 meter head start, the fox takes off.
In years past, the race had no track and the fox would only have a final finish line to cross. His path to get there was of his own invention and the hunters not only had to be fast but needed to think strategically so that they could succeed in not only catching up with the fox but actually figuring out where the fox would go in the first place. You can imagine that this race would have been incredibly hard to watch as riders could appear anywhere over a wide terrain.
Today, the race takes place on a track. And though locals tell me it isn’t as exciting as in earlier times, the crowd seemed not to mind. With six races to watch, each provided its own level of excitement and the crowd stood for each and every iteration and cheered for hunters and foxes alike. Below is a rundown of each race. Although I collected information at the race, I have also used El Comericio and La Hora to help get the facts right.
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The first race of the day was for young children. The inexperience of the riders was evident but it provided for a lot of excitement. As the fox, Rafael Cadena, ran directly in front of the audience, a hunter swiftly approached and looked like to steal the tail only meters into the race. However, the hunter misjudged and was riding so quickly that he actually had to put on the brakes in order to slow down enough to reach the fox tail. The fox was able to make a temporary get-a-way and the tail was not stolen for a few meters on.
Congratulations to next year’s fox, Erick Tolagasí!
The fox in this race, Constanza Cadena, had a strong lead and left the pack of hunters in a literal cloud of dust. She had won the title two years in a row so the expectation was that she could possibly win a third. The crowd seemed quite sure that she was going to retain the title but when we looked into the distant track, where it begins to wind around in tight curves, we saw that the fox had lost her seat and her horse was galloping without her.
Even the announcer was unsure what should happen next. There was debate about if the first rider and horse to pass the finish line would be the winner. And then when that happened, that rider tumbled head over heels crossing the finish line. In the end, it was the hunter that thought to jump off his horse, steal the tail from the fallen rider, and continue to the finish line who won the title.
Congratulations to Gabriel Jaramillo!
Amateur, Part 1
In the first race, the fox, Andrés Ayala, began the race looking over his shoulder coming around the first bend. It looked to be a big tactical error as the pack of hunters was quickly on his tail. It seemed likely that the race was lost almost as quickly as it began.
There were several close moments early on but once he reached the winding trail, the fox increased his lead. Then came the slight hill. His horse had given so much to maintain the early lead that the hill slowed him down. It was just the chance a crafty hunter was looking for.
Just as the fox and hunter approached the final length of the track, the hunter reached forward and snatched the foxtail immediately in front of the roaring crowd. This was one of the most exciting races of all! A persistent hunter and a fox that never gave are a great combination!
Congratulations Jefferson Pazmiño!
Amateur, Part 2
We thought this rider must be exceptional because the announcer kept calling him the Eternal Fox, el zorro eternal. But this is why non-native Spanish speakers should always double check meanings… the announcer was actually saying el zorro alterno, or the alternate fox, because he was the second fox in the amateur race.
He may have been a second in this race, but he used considerable skill to push his horse through his paces. Once he gained a lead, he never lost it. The other horses and their riders were merely running the course as they had little chance of catching up. In fact, if Kevin wins a few more races, maybe he will become El Zorro Eternal.
Congratulations Kevin Morales!
The Master’s race is reserved for older riders. The fox in this year’s race was a 67 year old Argentine attempting to keep his title. He and his horse took off in great form but one hunter kept him in his sights.
The hunter used the turns in the race to gain ground by moving to the inside, carefully pushing his horse faster. It was along the first tight turns that he gained enough ground to successfully grab the foxtail.
On his way back, just short of the finish line, the new fox stopped to pick up his very happy son and cross the finish line together.
Congratulations Hipólito Morales!
As the adult race was forming up, we were quickly losing light. The quality of photos at this point are not as good as early races. However, the sunset made up for it all.
The race started with another tight lead and it looked likely that the closest hunter would be able to close the gap. However, the fox played his part well, pushing his horse forward to gain a remarakable distance between himself and the pack of hunters. In fact, as he rounded the turns in the distance, he appeared to be the only rider on the track for many turns. He and his horse cantered past the crowd with hardly a glance to either side, the foxtail bouncing up and down with each stride.
The fox retained his title.
Congratulations Óscar Vásquez!
The beginning of the race appeared to promise a tight competition with the hunters quickly gaining on the fox. However, the skill of the fox and his well-trained horse were no competition for the rest. In fact, he owned the track in a way no other fox had the entire day. Although the elite race is supposed to be one of the most exciting, it was really one of the most mundane. Well run but not exciting at all. Even the fox seemed underwhelmed as he trotted past the crowds, tail still intact.
Congratulations Hugo Pasquel!