The Hispanic vaquero is and was the finest horseman to ever grace a saddle. This is what every vaquero will tell you. And I must say, there is substantial evidence to support the claim. The origin of what Anglos called “Mexican Cowboys” goes back hundreds of years.
Their evolution was a result of a perfect storm. European conquest of the New World, Spain’s desire to expand its influence in the geography they called “Alta California”, and a confluence of cultures; Spanish and that of the indigenous people ( knowns as Indios in the Spanish language) within what is now Western United States.
Spain was insistent on converting the indigenous people, called Indians by Anglos, to Catholicism. In order to accomplish that task, Spanish soldiers were employed to protect priests assigned the conversion process. These soldiers, expert horsemen, brought their elevated equestrian prowess to the New World.
The evolution of the vaquero goes back even earlier, however. The Moors who overran parts of Spain from North Africa centuries before, brought exemplary horsemanship which the Spaniards absorbed. The Moors brought Arabian horses, an incredible breed along with them. Strains of the Arabian horse were evident in the animals exported from Spain to the New World, as well.
All these elements created an amalgam of talent, blood lines and practices that forever changed the nature of horsemanship, particularly in California. By mid 19th Century, the vaquero was in his prime. It is said that if a vaquero could sleep in his saddle atop his horse he would. That is how the vaquero viewed his deep association with his caballo.
To disclose all the unique traits of a vaquero would require hundreds of pages of explanation and praise. The following illustration reflects the precision and detail followed by these colorful men. An apparent trivial but revealing practice the vaquero performed every morning was to select the horse he would ride that day.
A taunt rope was stretched between two stakes and then a group of horses were coaxed to the apparatus. Each horse, meticulously trained, backed up against the rope and waited for the rider to choose his mount. After the horses were selected, the remainder were turned out to pasture awaiting their next assignment. What preparation, discipline and pomp and circumstance.
The vaquero is explored extensively in my novel, Equal and Alike. Come join me in the adventure. The book is available at Amazon.com, Bookbaby.com, Barnes and Noble, and other purveyors of fine books. Or visit my website; jmkirklandwords.com