Roberto Torres, Jr., is a born-and-raised Coloradan who followed his father, Roberto Torres, Sr., into the folds of team roping and charro competitions when he was a young teenager. Today, Torres, Jr., 35, is helping run his family’s business —four Mexican restaurants in the Denver metro area called Las Delicias—as well as competing in charreadas on an international level and pursuing his passion for team roping.
Rodeo and charro culture share some similar beginnings, though charro traditions date back to the 16th century, some 300 years before the first rodeo was held in Deer Trail, Colorado, in 1869. Still, each is rooted in the skills men and women were required to have when working with cattle and horses on large swaths of land. It is worth noting, though, that the original charros then played a significant role in the war for Mexican independence, a legacy which continues to inspire great pride from its members, even today.
For the Torres family, team roping and charreria were a way to work with horses, which had been a dream of Torres, Sr., since he was a young man growing up in the Mexican state of Michoacán—a 22,700-square-mile parcel of land that stretches from the center of the country near Mexico City all the way west to the Pacific Ocean.
“He grew up having horses and animals to work,” said Torres, Jr., of his father’s beginnings. “They grew corn on the mountain in a valley and they used horses to work the ground.”
At 19, Torres, Sr., moved to Colorado in 1969 with aspirations of owning a ranch, horses and having a commercial trucking operation. He spent his first years working in his cousin’s restaurant, learning every aspect of the business. When that restaurant sold, Torres, Sr., chose to put the experience he’d gained to use and, instead of becoming a trucker, opened his own Mexican restaurant in Denver —Las Delicias.
The restaurant, which started with just six tables and a few seats at a countertop in 1976, has expanded not only in the same location to include a full four floors but also into three more restaurants within the Denver metro area, and it just celebrated 45 years of continuous operation this January. It also allowed Torres, Sr., to pursue his dreams of owning horses.
“When he wanted to get horses,” Torres, Jr., said, “it was either the race world or the charro world. The charro world was barely starting, and that’s how he got involved. He started getting involved in the fairs and things like that. I think there was only one team in Colorado, and they started organizing the state finals and things like that.”
For nearly 40 years, Torres, Sr., has captained the Las Delicias team and, just recently, he became the president of the Federacion Mexicana de Charrería en Colorado. The organization hosts two state finals each year, which determines which teams go to regionals. The winners at the regional level will then compete at the U.S. Nationals, where the top three teams will qualify to compete at the National Charro Congress in Mexico.
“In Mexico, it’s over 200 teams that compete for one prize. [My dad] has taken the team down there at least six different times,” explained Torres, Jr., who has also earned opportunities to compete with the team at the event.
Torres Jr., goes on to explain the different events in a charreada.
“It starts with the reining, then there’s heeling mares—you heel the mare and then you smoke the horn … it’s where a bunch of smoke comes out of the saddle horn. Then there’s tailing and there’s bull riding. And then there’s the team roping event, but it’s more like trick roping. Each guy trick ropes and each exercise is a point or two or up to four points and it’s a team thing.”
Unlike in team roping, points and times earned go to the whole team, not its riders. Whereas “rodeo events are scored primarily for speed and tenacity,” reads the website of La Federacion Mexicana de Charrería en Colorado, “in charreadas, points are awarded for difficulty, and subtracted for faults in style and execution.”
In truth, the differences between rodeo and charrería are numerous, from the formal and traditional charro attire to the dinner-plate-sized saddle horns to the bridled up horses and the vast length of rope employed.
“For the saddles,” Torres, Jr., started, “the trees are all wood. The saddle horn is all wood and we burn it down so the rope slides better, but then you rebuild it either with wood or with string, like twine, it’s made out of cactus, also.
“When they’re heeling the mares, you have about a 60-foot rope,” Torres, Jr., said. “You have 14 coils under your leg, and you have about 20 coils in your hand. When you dally, it’s not a complete stop. It’s to squeeze it down. You have to let the rope slide out or else the mare rips the rope or it’s just a hard hit.”
For many, transitioning between dallying a 60-foot rope on a horn designed to let the rope slide and dallying a 35-foot rope on a rubber-wrapped horn in efficient, shut-it-down style might prove challenging, but Torres, Jr., seems to take it all in stride and even finds the differences to be beneficial.
“Our horses are very neck broke. That’s a plus. And the way we handle cattle, it just helps out great. And, we use a lot of our feet, so that’s a plus. When you rope, you’re on your toes a lot. In the Mexican rodeo, you ride a lot on your butt and on your heels, so it’s a plus and a minus. It’s an advantage and also a disadvantage. “There’s things that I use that help us a lot. I’ve taken guys that have never roped before to break in steers, and they pick it up right away just because in the charro world we ride a little different and it helps us when it comes to team roping.”
Torres, Jr., is a 4.5/5 roper who competes regularly throughout Northern Colorado and the surrounding areas, not to mention in Arizona and at BFI Week, which was held at the Lazy E Arena this March, instead of in Reno.
“We went to the BFI this past weekend and … last year we did good. We came back third high call, and I slipped a leg in the short go.”
Torres, Jr., was roping behind Dylan White, also from Colorado, and the pair managed to pull four steers tight in 41.4 seconds to take fih place in the #11.5, worth a team total of $14,000.
“This year, everything went out the window. I was mentally in practice and I didn’t catch but one steer. I think we all try to prepare mentally and when things are bound to happen, they’re going to happen.”
But, between his commitments to charrería and the restaurants, which he’s been managing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s a bit remarkable that Torres, Jr., has time to compete at all.
“It’s a 15-minute drive from downtown to our house where we practice, so, I [work] in the mornings, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., go practice, and then come back for the dinner [service.] So, I’m blessed to have the lifestyle that I do.”
Still, restaurants are hands-on operations.
“With our company, our help is very good with the management. We have good management right now and we can get away a lot. But it is a constant. We have to be around.”
Part of Las Delicias’ good management includes Torres, Jr.’s sister, Naiomy, who is responsible for one of the four restaurants. A team roper before she started her family, Naiomy also captains the Las Delicias escaramuza team.
Escaramuza is the only charro competition in which women are able to compete, and they do so as a team of eight, riding side-saddle, dressed in the historically inspired attire of the Mexican Revolution’s Adelita (a heroine and horsewoman of epic notoriety), performing daring choreography with their horses.
Charro horses can be any breed, but those most suited for the challenges of charrería possess exceptional agility and, currently, the Torres family owns Customized Jersey—one of Mexico’s top reining horses.
“My dad bought him from Tom McCutcheon out of Texas and he was broke by one of the best horse reiners in Mexico. He’s won everything. All the biggest events so far and now he’s standing stud in Mexico and we’re bringing him here to do breedings.”
The 2016 AQHA cremello superstar has lines to foundation Quarter Horse Wimpy on top (with plenty of Docs and Hollywoods in between) and is out of Customized Gunner on the bottom, who’s sired by NRHA Hall of Famer Colonel’s Smoking Gun. In addition to Quarter Horses, the Torres family also has Friesians and Andalusians standing stud.
“We like our horses,” Torres, Jr., said. “We have very competitive horses. We have a breeding program of all those horses—Andalusians, Friesians and our Quarter Horses.”
It’s not hard to catch these horses and their charros in action. When the National Western Stock Show returns to Denver, look to the Mexican Rodeo Extravaganza, which the Torres family has participated in for decades. You may also catch them competing and performing at county and state fairs and rodeos across Colorado each summer, and you could certainly stop in at one of the four restaurant locations for some of Denver’s favorite Mexican eats.
Otherwise, just keep an eye out at the next roping in the area. Roberto Torres, Jr., is bound to be entered up when he can, putting his charrería skills to the test heeling hefty steers in fast time.