AP PHOTOS: Cuban cattle country keeps up rodeo traditions

SANCTI SPIRITUS, Cuba (AP) In the Cuban countryside, many children learn to ride a horse before they tackle a bicycle.

At the tender age of 6, Dariadna Corujo is already an expert barrel racer and calf roper, wearing pink boots as she competes in rodeos on the hot, flat grasslands of central Sancti Spiritus province.

A group of neighboring cattle ranchers founded a non-governmental group called Future Ranchers more than a decade ago to revive Cuba's rodeo culture, which dates back centuries to Spanish colonial times. The group teaches rodeo skills like roping and riding along with more practical education in ranching, veterinary medicine and farming.

The best students can start farm- and ranch-related studies at local universities without passing the difficult national entrance exam. A founder of the group proudly notes the students often know so much that they give informal classes to other students.

In Sancti Spiritus' cattle country, 80 children are enrolled in the association, which struggles to find the funds for basic needs like gasoline for the vehicles taking the students to competitions. Many families save for years in order to buy their children saddles, boots and lassos.

''At $12 a lasso, do you know how many liters of milk I have to sell?'' said Dariadna's father, Donato Corujo.

The children of Future Ranchers have become the main attraction at many Sancti Spiritus rodeos, and a standard at religious processions and Cuba's May Day parades.

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