Viva Vaquero – 5th Annual Skills of the Rancho

Skilled horsemen showcase traditional Californios horsemanship and stockmanship methods at annual event.

The Californio Bridlehorse Association will host the fifth annual Early Californios Skills of the Rancho. The event honors traditional Californio horsemanship and stockmanship still used by working cowboys today.

More than 150 riders of different levels–from youth and novices to top working cowboys and professional horsemen–from California and other western states will convene at the Elk Arena in Santa Maria, California, July 6-9 to compete for thousands of dollars in cash and prizes in classes designed to showcase the masterful horsemanship, proficient roping and methodical stockmanship techniques brought to California by the early Spanish vaqueros and refined through time.

Photo credit: Marc Ault

“There was no place to show horses in the California style of riding that promoted learning opportunities for novice and intermediate riders to get involved,” explains Bruce Sandifer, found of the CBA and producers of the event. “We want to create an environment where people can come and share what they know and learn from each other with a fiesta-style attitude.”

This style of riding, still practiced on working ranches, is more than a philosophy to the competitors; it’s a mindset and value system that is reflected in how horses and cattle are handled, and how the competitors conduct themselves. Classes tests the riders’ skills in guiding their horse through a horsemanship pattern with precision, effectively sorting and roping cattle, and working not only with a crew of cowboys but also in unison with their horses. Riders are required to wear traditional Western attire, including chinks or armitas, and show their horses in a phase of the traditional bridle-horse training process, whether it’s the hackamore, two-rein or straight up in the bridle. Tie-downs, bits with broken or hinged mouthpieces other mechanical devices are not permitted. Competitors use a rope or reata that least 45 feet long, and they must dally around their saddle horn, rather than tie on hard and fast as is common on ranches in the Southwest.  Their saddle horns must be wrapped in smooth mulehide that allows them to slip their dallies and run their ropes.

“We’re trying to promote a sustainable way of not only working cattle but also horses,” says Sandifer. “We want to see people riding in a way that is the most beneficial for their horses. We want to bring longevity back into horsemanship.”

The event kicks off on Thursday, July 6 at noon and will run throughout the weekend. The exciting open doctoring finals will take place on Sunday at noon. Vendors of high-quality custom gear and artwork will be set up throughout the weekend. The event is free to the public. For more information visit the Early Californios Skills of the Rancho Facebook page or the Californio Bridlehorse Association website at

Mike Beck Performs Saturday Night!
The Californio Bridlehorse Association welcomes Mike Beck for an evening of musical entertainment during the Early Californios Skills of the Rancho on Saturday, July 7, at 7:30 p.m. at the Santa Maria Elks Rodeo Grounds in Santa Maria, California. The concert is free to contestants and spectators. Beck is a professional singer-songwriter, master guitarist and horseman raised in Monterey, California. He is also the founder and front man of the West Coast guitar band Mike Beck and the Bohemian Saints. As a solo artist, he has recorded eight albums with his distinctive blend of cowboy, rock and roll, and Americana music styles, and lyrics inspired by real cowboy experience and bridle horse traditions. Two of his songs –“In Old California” and “Don’t Tell Me”–were listed in Western Horseman’s “13 Best Cowboy Songs of All Time.” Mike cut his teeth as a cowboy on the Spanish Ranch in northern Nevada, working under legendary cowboss Bill Kane. Bryan Neubert was also on the crew at the time and became one of Beck’s mentors along with highly regarded California horsemen Tom and Bill Dorrance. Beck passes along the knowledge they shared with him in horsemanship clinics he conducts in the United States and Scandinavia. “I think being a horseman and musician are similar in many ways; they’re both about feel,” he said in the article “Roaming Troubadour,” which appeared in the April 2012 issue of Western Horseman. “Feel is not black and white; you can’t put it in a box. It’s so mystical that you fear getting close to it or you might taint it. “All good hands have feel, whether writing songs, playing instruments or riding horses.” For more information, visit

About the Early Californios Skills of the Rancho and the CBA
The Early Californios Skills of the Rancho will be held July 6-9 at the Santa Maria Elks Arena in Santa Maria, California. More than 150 horsemen and –women of all ages and skill levels will compete for cash and prizes in events designed to showcase traditional vaquero horsemanship skills and stock-handling methods. There will also be a trade show with vendors selling traditional Californio-style art and trappings. The event is open and free to spectators.

The Californio Bridlehorse Association (CBA) was formed in 2008 by horseman Bruce Sandifer of Santa Barbara, California, to preserve a style of horsemanship and stockmanship developed during the mission era of early California. The techniques and equipment used by the Californios were passed down within families and so secretly guarded they were almost lost through time. The efforts of the CBA are helping keep these traditions alive in their purest form. For more information, visit

Early Californio Skills of the Rancho Schedule
Elks Arena, Santa Maria, California
Thursday, July 6
Noon: Opening Ceremony
12:45: Classes Begin
Intermediate bridle
Novice bridle
Junior bridle
Youth bridle
Intermediate hackamore
Novice hackamore
Green novice
Intermediate two-rein

Friday, July 7
8 a.m.: Opening Ceremony
8:45: Classes Begin
Open two-rein
Novice two-rein
Junior two-rein
Green Youth/Junior
Mixed/Ladies Doctoring
Open bridle
Intermediate Doctoring

8 a.m.: Opening Ceremony
8:45: Classes Begin
Mixed/Ladies Doctoring
Intermediate Doctoring
Junior Doctoring
Open Doctoring
6 p.m.: Calcutta Bidding, demonstrations
7:30 p.m.: Mike Beck Concert

Sunday, July 9
8 a.m.: Opening Ceremony
8:45 a.m.:  Classes Begin
Open hackamore
Novice Doctoring
Youth Doctoring
Noon: Open Doctoring Finals
2:30 p.m.: Awards Ceremony

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