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A Dream Come True

Written by Linda Turner

This article originally appeared in Eclectic Horseman Issue No.71

Early Californios Skills of the Rancho held in Santa Ynez February 8th-10th was the realization of Bruce Sandifer’s dream to form an organization where the Californio traditions could be studied, taught, and kept alive. The non-profit Californio Bridlehorse Association (CBA) became that organization and the Early Californios Skills of the Rancho was their inaugural event.

Weather on the first day of the Skills of the Rancho was frosty and wet but failed to dampen the excitement as Caitlyn Taussig sang the national anthem. Young and old, men and women, professional cowboys and those wanting only to become good horsemen were there to compete and share in the fun.  By the day’s end the vendor booths were packed and more than 120 frigid spectators were still in the uncovered stands, cheering on the last amateur competitor as she rode her stock horse pattern in the rain.

The weather prevented cowboy poet Robert Dennis and singer/songwriter Caitlyn Taussig from a sing-around-the-campfire Friday evening. Instead the performance was moved into the vendor’s hall where people crowded into the bar and around booths to watch and listen to a fine show.

Skies cleared to expose snow-covered mountaintops on Saturday and by early afternoon as many as 400 were in attendance. Sunday came with one common complaint: it was the last day for the event and there was still much to learn. Unlike the old Californios who secretly guarded their knowledge and passed it down within their family, the event became a place where people shared their knowledge and experience.

The Californio system is a uniquely American, historically Californian style of horsemanship and stockmanship where everything is done in a slow and accurate method. Examples of this proud Californio culture were abundant.  Horses reflected their level of training from the hackamore to the spade bit. Vendors sold handmade conchos, saddles, taps, spurs, bits, bosals, mecates, reatas, and romels. Competitors and their mounts were outfitted in traditional handmade Californio finery.

Seventy-eight people competed in Early Californios Skills of the Rancho. They were judged in alley sorting, calf branding, sort and rope, breakaway roping and stock horse. Divisions included pro/amateur, mixed ladies, viejo, and the open class where ropers were required to use a reata. Horses could only be shown in the hackamore, the two-rein, or as a bridle horse. The use of a spade bit was encouraged, as that is the cornerstone of the Californio bridle horse.

In all events, the judges focused on productivity, efficiency, sustainability, safety and workmanship. Judges rewarded competitors who used finesse, planning, and thought. Those who best exemplified the Californio method were awarded 1st in their division. (See list at right.)

I believe those who attended the Early Californio Skills of the Rancho would agree that it was more than a trade show and competition. It was a gathering of skilled proud people who believed in the value and promotion of the pure Californio method of horsemanship and stockmanship.

All the CBA members who participated in the event shared Bruce Sandifer’s passion for the pure “California” Californio tradition.  As the weekend wound down, it was often repeated by those in attendance

that they were part of a new tradition that would keep the Californio system alive. They were proud to be there for the first Early Californios Skills of the Rancho in Santa Ynez, the event that will help resurrect the methods of the true Californio horseman.

This article originally appeared in Eclectic Horseman Issue No.71

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