The tope: Celebrate Costa Rica’s National Horsemen Day

December 26, 2019

At midday on December 26th, the streets of Costa Rica’s capital city, San Jose, from plaza Viquez all the way to the Sabana park, get crowded with spectators waiting for the grand rider’s parade, better known as el tope. The tope is a yearly national event characteristic of the Tico’s folklore that brings together thousands of equestrian lovers to celebrate National Horsemen Day.  The tradition dates back all the way to the past century, about 80 years ago, when the United Fruit Company used to import the cattle that would be ridden in the banana plantations. The workers would take on the lead as riders and would go with their horses all the way to the port in Limon to meet up, or, as said here, topar, the cattle. With the passage of time, more neighbours gathered on the sidewalks for the occasion and nowadays, the tope is all about the riders parading through the city, showing off their best costumes and their finest horses. 

In 2018, there were 3200 people signed up to parade either with their own horses or with rented ones. The three most common breeds amongst the horsemen are: the Costa Rican Creole, the Latin American and the Pure Spanish bred, all of which have a value that oscillates between $17K to $62K. To ensure adequate treatment for the horses participating in the parade, the owners and riders are asked to follow a series of guidelines and recommendations. The horses must not be sick or injured, mares may not participate if they have an advanced pregnancy or are in heat, all of the animals must be well fed and hydrated prior to the activity and they must be transported in a suitable and safe space. The animals must be supervised at all times and the armor that is worn by them, like the saddle or mouth break, must not hurt or injure them in any way. The horses and mares may not be beaten in a rude or abusive manner, horsemen are not allowed to stand on the saddle, only one person, the rider, may be on the horse, and the boots worn by them may not be hurt the horse either. 

Street vendors seize walks offering food, drinks, hats, sunglasses, and all kinds of items for the people watching. People bring chairs and blankets to lay out on the street while others make barbecues and blast music for people to sing and dance along to. During the tope, there is never a dull moment for anyone.  The national tope that takes place on December 26th is the last one of the year and it is said to be the biggest and most important one but, riders continue to gather year-round. The first tope of every year takes place in Palmares and then these continue to take place in Alajuela, San Carlos, Santa Ana amongst others until it all ends in the country’s capital every December. Maybe Christmas is over but why don’t you visit us and continue to celebrate life and enjoy the parade?