Behind the scenes at the Tope Nacional, the big horse parade

Tremendous effort went into the preparation for the Tope Nacional Thursday.

More than 5,000 riders had to bring their mounts to San José, saddle them up and wait their turn to step into the parade route. And police and Cruz Roja workers also had to prepare for their responsibilities.

The horses had to be well-groomed and eager. Not all were to carry saddles. A miniature pony from Barrio Cuba is a tad short to carry an adult. There also were wheeled vehicles pulled by horses or other four-legged creatures.

Hardly any of the participants live close enough to ride to the parade. Most had to truck in their mounts. Willi Köbe of San Luis de Santo Domingo de Heredia pointed out that his mount, Principe, is 18 years old, a real senior citizen as horses go.

Also at the Tope were the presidential candidates, who claimed they were there for the tradition and not to win votes.  Activists for the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana caused a stir when they walked in the line of march carrying party flags accompanied by a bongo drum. The holiday season is supposed to be free of campaigning, so the crowd reacted with boos and whistles. Police escorted them from the line of march.

Riders assembled at Plaza González Víquez. The horses appeared anxious to get out of the flat-bed and stake-bed trucks that hauled them.

The entire event was carried out under the eyes of nearly 700 police officers, who also used motorcycles and bikes. There were only three arrests, but the Cruz Roja said they treated more than 100 persons, many from falls or from the sun. A handful had to be hospitalized.

The Tope relates Costa Ricans to their rural roots, and many city dwellers also have farms or ranches where they maintain animals.

Johnny Araya, one of the presidential candidates, rode a family mount and talked about his experiences with horses when he grew up.

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