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  1. #1
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    Default The vaquero tradition

    Tell me what you know...

    I've always ridden english and recently have started doing more work in my western trail saddle. For some reason, it seems like my horse likes this set-up and we're doing really good work together.

    A friend gave me names of some people she admired and I looked them up and a couple seemed to refer to themselves as buckaroos/vaqueros and I'm wondering about what this means in terms of training, tack, etc.

    I'm not interested in going to the show ring. I want to develop my horse to be versatile, well-trained, responsive, and a willing partner. I'm intrigued by the bridle horse progression.

    So a couple questions:

    1) Is there a special type of "vaquero" saddle that one would use (vs. a barrel saddle or cutting saddle or whatever)?

    2) Who are respected "trainers" or people to study in this tradition?

    3) What would enable a horse to become or not to become a bridle horse?

    4) Could an amateur make a bridle horse?

    And anything else you can think of to tell me!
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  2. #2

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    1--no, 3--yes, 4--yes
    There are some cool trainers at the Light Hands Horsemanship shindig coming up in CA. Where are you located?



  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lisa Preston View Post
    1--no, 3--yes, 4--yes
    There are some cool trainers at the Light Hands Horsemanship shindig coming up in CA. Where are you located?
    I'm in NorCal.

    And 3 wasn't a yes or no question.
    My Mustang Adventures - my blog!
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    "A horse's face always conveys clearly whether it is loved by its owner or simply used." - Anja Beran


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  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pocket Pony View Post
    1) Is there a special type of "vaquero" saddle that one would use (vs. a barrel saddle or cutting saddle or whatever)?
    Vaquero horsemanship is a working discipline, so you'd need a working saddle (something you can rope out of) with a dally horn (no rubber horn wraps). You can work on the dry work (no cattle) parts in any saddle though, I guess.

    There are saddles more associated with the vaquero traditions, and they tend to be high cantle, centerfire rigged, balanced seat saddles with a reasonable amount of tasteful silver (the opposite of parade saddles).

    Quote Originally Posted by Pocket Pony View Post
    2) Who are respected "trainers" or people to study in this tradition?
    Bruce Sandifer
    Richard Caldwell
    Buck Brannaman
    Josh Nichol
    Joe Wolter
    Sheila Varian
    Martin Black
    Bryan Neubert
    ...many others.

    If you see a levels program, carrot stick, or natural horsemanship claim, run the other way. Buck and Tom were labelled as such, but by OTHER people.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pocket Pony View Post
    3) What would enable a horse to become or not to become a bridle horse?
    Good conformation
    Good temperament
    Bold or willing character
    Good stamina
    Access to cattle and open spaces (can't make a bridle horse solely in the arena)

    Quote Originally Posted by Pocket Pony View Post
    4) Could an amateur make a bridle horse?
    With a LOT of dedication, time, and instruction, sure. There are lots of horses ridden in bridle bits, but very few bridle horses.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pocket Pony View Post
    And anything else you can think of to tell me!
    Do lots of research.
    Don't assume the information will be found easily.
    Don't go in there expecting people to be easily impressed.
    Don't expect to buy tack from the local tack store.
    Be humble.
    Respect tradition.
    Ride to improve your horse, not to prove anything to anyone else.
    If you ever have the thought that any issue is the horse's fault, find another discipline.
    Don't think this is anything less than a lifetime pursuit.


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  5. #5
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    Default

    What is a 'bridle' horse? Is that job specific or way of going?
    Ride like you mean it.



  6. #6
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    From http://www.brucesandifercbh.com/

    "Bruce's Answer: it's a ranch horse that is trained using the Californio (jaquima to freno) method of balance and timing to create a horse that is totally fluid in any movement with minimal input from the rider.

    The Californio bridle horse is an all around good riding horse, cow horse and rope horse. He should be able to do these jobs while staying in perfect balance in any type of ground or terrain.

    It's a horse that is functional beauty personified."

    Or from http://www.tomtra.com/archives/3060

    "It has come to my attention that this is a term that not all people know. There is a big difference in horses and how they are “made”, “trained”, “started”, or finished. So many “horse people” are quick to take a horse from a snaffle to a grazing bit and call them trained. They may ride okay but most are a long way from the refinement of a true bridle horse. Not all horses will make a bridle horse – just as not all humans will be an Olympic sprinter. It takes a longer for some horses then others. But there is no time limit and it is constant patients and practice. Some horseman will even say no horse is ever completely finished as with humans none of us are perfect we all need an adjustment from time to time.

    The end result of a true bridle horse is called “straight up in the bridle”. This means to have a horse educated enough that he can be ridden and work in a spade bit..Although the path may change from person to person the most common sequence is snaffle bit, hackamore, two rein and then straight up .."

    Some of the skills developed:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wFPmKChNrhU
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tSsT_...Cy2p9Q&index=9
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5M2GHf_wq6U (early stages)


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  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by aktill View Post
    Vaquero horsemanship is a working discipline, so you'd need a working saddle (something you can rope out of) with a dally horn (no rubber horn wraps). You can work on the dry work (no cattle) parts in any saddle though, I guess.

    There are saddles more associated with the vaquero traditions, and they tend to be high cantle, centerfire rigged, balanced seat saddles with a reasonable amount of tasteful silver (the opposite of parade saddles).



    Bruce Sandifer
    Richard Caldwell
    Buck Brannaman
    Josh Nichol
    Joe Wolter
    Sheila Varian
    Martin Black
    Bryan Neubert
    ...many others.

    If you see a levels program, carrot stick, or natural horsemanship claim, run the other way. Buck and Tom were labelled as such, but by OTHER people.



    Good conformation
    Good temperament
    Bold or willing character
    Good stamina
    Access to cattle and open spaces (can't make a bridle horse solely in the arena)



    With a LOT of dedication, time, and instruction, sure. There are lots of horses ridden in bridle bits, but very few bridle horses.



    Do lots of research.
    Don't assume the information will be found easily.
    Don't go in there expecting people to be easily impressed.
    Don't expect to buy tack from the local tack store.
    Be humble.
    Respect tradition.
    Ride to improve your horse, not to prove anything to anyone else.
    If you ever have the thought that any issue is the horse's fault, find another discipline.
    Don't think this is anything less than a lifetime pursuit.
    Thanks for all the useful information! After riding in the Buck Brannaman clinic a few weeks ago, I'm finding myself on a different path than the dressage one I had been on. I haven't ridden in my dressage saddle since, but think I need something a bit more than my western trail saddle. Something about what I learned, or the tack, or the exercises, or the "riding for you and your horse, not the goal of getting to a show" really had an impact on me.

    I have no illusions that anything I do would impress anybody! And at the same time, I have a great interest in learning whatever I can. I'll look at the websites you linked to, thank you.

    How do you find the appropriate tack - I wouldn't expect to find it at my tack store, but how/where does one start looking? I did come across a website that had a fancy spade bit for a couple thousand dollars! Part of what worries me is knowing whom to trust, whom to stay away from - I don't like gimmicks and I don't like big egos. Ack!

    Any good books or DVDs about making a bridle horse? I ask not because I think I could go out and do it myself, but to just watch and learn and get an idea of what it takes and what the steps are.

    And this may be a dumb question, but what about the role of women in this type of horsemanship? There are so many men who have made a name for themselves, or who I see when I'm Googling around - aside from the woman mentioned above, are there many women to be found here?
    My Mustang Adventures - my blog!
    Yoga for Equestrians
    "A horse's face always conveys clearly whether it is loved by its owner or simply used." - Anja Beran


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  8. #8
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    Default

    The women work in town and carry the health insurance.

    Read True Horsemanship Through Feel. And read it again.


    Add Jon Ensign out of Montana to that list.
    A conclusion is the place where you got tired of thinking. (Steven Wright)


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  9. #9
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    Default

    Hmmmm, I have a copy of True Horsemanship through Feel and I've found it hard to read (I don't learn well that way); but considering I have a new understanding, I'll have to give it another try. Thanks for the suggestion.
    My Mustang Adventures - my blog!
    Yoga for Equestrians
    "A horse's face always conveys clearly whether it is loved by its owner or simply used." - Anja Beran


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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pocket Pony View Post
    Thanks for all the useful information! After riding in the Buck Brannaman clinic a few weeks ago, I'm finding myself on a different path than the dressage one I had been on.
    I can relate, that's my background too from years ago. The best way I can describe it is that vaquero horsemanship is dressage with a purpose. Need to give a cow some space without pulling your horse's eye off the cow? Better know how to leg yield...etc etc.

    The nice part is that it strips away the lousy parts of dressage that modern competition has inflicted because the cow work shows what works and what doesn't. Style isn't as big of an influence on the riding side, because you need to get a job done.

    There are definitely styles within vaquero horsemanship as well, mainly because of the influence of the snaffle (or lack of use of the snaffle). Buck makes a different looking bridle horse to Bruce Sandifer, for example, and my eye is drawn to the latter. Both awesome horsemen, however.

    When you have a handle on what you like, you can bring your dressage background in with good effect.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pocket Pony View Post
    I haven't ridden in my dressage saddle since, but think I need something a bit more than my western trail saddle. Something about what I learned, or the tack, or the exercises, or the "riding for you and your horse, not the goal of getting to a show" really had an impact on me.
    For sure, and combined with the traditions involved, that's what hooked me as well. If you heard Buck mention the story about Tom asking him to always tie a bosalita into the forelock of his bridle horses and DIDN'T get a catch in your throat, look elsewhere

    Quote Originally Posted by Pocket Pony View Post
    I have no illusions that anything I do would impress anybody! And at the same time, I have a great interest in learning whatever I can. I'll look at the websites you linked to, thank you.
    Read, read, and read some more.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pocket Pony View Post
    How do you find the appropriate tack - I wouldn't expect to find it at my tack store, but how/where does one start looking? I did come across a website that had a fancy spade bit for a couple thousand dollars! Part of what worries me is knowing whom to trust, whom to stay away from - I don't like gimmicks and I don't like big egos. Ack!
    My Haener spade was the better part of $3k, but man, what a bit. That said, you're years away from that sort of outlay if ever (not everyone wants to go to the bridle).

    If you want to use a snaffle, any good fitting one will do.

    If you're drawn to the hackamore traditions, get a Bill Black one or go here and get one of Jason Jaeger's:
    http://www.vaquerohorseman.com/shoponline.html
    Start with a 5/8"'s (email Richard for how to size) and get a mohair mecate to go with (or mane hair, but the prickles take a while to ease off).

    Quote Originally Posted by Pocket Pony View Post
    Any good books or DVDs about making a bridle horse? I ask not because I think I could go out and do it myself, but to just watch and learn and get an idea of what it takes and what the steps are.
    There are lots here:
    http://eclectic-horseman.com/mercantile/
    http://www.vaquerohorseman.com/shoponline.html

    All of Richard's DVDs are must-owns, and Buck's making of a bridle horse series as well. Bruce Sandifer's stuff is great too, there's just not much of it yet.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pocket Pony View Post
    And this may be a dumb question, but what about the role of women in this type of horsemanship? There are so many men who have made a name for themselves, or who I see when I'm Googling around - aside from the woman mentioned above, are there many women to be found here?
    There are plenty of good horsewomen, just not all that many clinicians in this discipline yet. Sheila Varian is a standout there though...awesome horses, awesome horsewoman.


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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pocket Pony View Post
    Hmmmm, I have a copy of True Horsemanship through Feel and I've found it hard to read (I don't learn well that way); but considering I have a new understanding, I'll have to give it another try. Thanks for the suggestion.
    There's lots there, but it's not so much vaquero-focused as it is good horsemanship.

    It's also a little obtuse...the truth is there to be found AFTER you already understand what you're reading, rather than going to the book to find it in the first place.


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  12. #12
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    "Vaquero tradition" is not the same thing as "bridle horse."
    Fan of the Swedish Chef


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  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by aktill View Post
    It's also a little obtuse...the truth is there to be found AFTER you already understand what you're reading, rather than going to the book to find it in the first place.
    Yes, definitely. Much more of a "ah! That's what he was talking about!" many miles down the road sort of a book.

    Mike Bridges has a particularly interesting clinic series called "The Project" that is a 5 year commitment and takes you through making a bridle horse. I know someone that has been involved for a couple of years, and his horse is pretty awesome. Info here: http://www.mikebridges.net/html/clinics.htm

    Richard Caldwell's website has lots of info, and great pictures:http://www.vaquerohorseman.com/aboutrichard.html

    If you want to peruse lots of pictures of working horses in the Great Basin, check out Mary Williams Hyde's photos on Facebook, and her website: http://www.buckaroocountry.com/ There's a lot to be gleaned from looking at details of gear, how the horses carry themselves and how they're being handled by their riders. Not to mention, her photos are gorgeous.


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  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Go Fish View Post
    "Vaquero tradition" is not the same thing as "bridle horse."
    Nope true, valid point. From the OP's experience dealing with Buck, when Buck mentions a bridle horse he's associating that term with the vaquero or buckaroo traditions.

    There are bridle horses made in the Texas traditions, or even arena-only horses have been labelled as such (which I disagree with). Depends on the point of view of the speaker, and what the term means to them.

    Personally, I'd be loathe to apply the term to a non-working horse. Calling a 5 yr old western pleasure horse a bridle horse would be an insult to the concept, IMHO.


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  15. #15
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    So many good links to check out - can't wait to sit on the couch tonight and catch up!!!

    Another question, though, about "bridle" horses. So I see western horses in a "bridle" with a curb bit. Is that called a bridle (as I heard one man refer to such a setup) even though the horse may not be what one thinks of as a bridle horse? I guess I ask because of the rules I've heard about wrt showing (even though I don't do it and don't plan to) that a horse can only be in a snaffle until x years of age and then it has to be in a curb bit. Why is this?

    I saw on Richard Caldwell's website that in his clinics horses are to be either in a snaffle, hackamore, two-rein, or bridle, but no grazing bits or correction bits or other stuff. What is the distinction and why do some people go to a curb bit after a snaffle?

    I am so clueless about western stuff so I really have no idea what all the different bits are for and when/why/how you would go from one to the other!
    My Mustang Adventures - my blog!
    Yoga for Equestrians
    "A horse's face always conveys clearly whether it is loved by its owner or simply used." - Anja Beran


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  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pocket Pony View Post
    Another question, though, about "bridle" horses. So I see western horses in a "bridle" with a curb bit. Is that called a bridle (as I heard one man refer to such a setup) even though the horse may not be what one thinks of as a bridle horse?
    In a nutshell, a bridle bit is a leverage or signal bit (ie, not a snaffle or direct-rein bit). The leather part of what you'd call a bridle is generally called the headstall (or something of the sort based off where you are).

    The difference between a signal bit and a leverage bit is partially structure, and partially philosophy.

    If the bit functions by engaging the curb strap, it's a leverage bit. Leverage bits won't have spoons and braces, though they may have open ports. You'll learn later that horses can't actually pick up and carry these bits, they just hang off the headstall. A bit that can't be carried isn't a signal bit, so that includes some spoon bits WITHOUT braces, or bits with spoons and braces that are too small.

    If the bit has braces and a spoon, and works more off movement of the mouthpiece, braces (the parts connecting the spoon to the cheeks on spades) or bit cheeks, it's a signal bit. A horse needs to be able to carry these bits, like so:
    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-TZJYUFNg9m...pade%2Bbit.jpg

    Note the lack of headstall. By picking them up, any movement of the rein is meaningful to the horse. As such (and this is something most people don't get), a spade doesn't work by jabbing the horse in the pallet, it works by having a huge spoon area to indicate signals. The spoon lifting off the tongue is a big signal. OTOH, signals from a curb bit are more muddled, since the bit isn't being carried.

    Here's where I bring in a philosophical qualifier I used earlier...there are many horses ridden in bridle bits, but very few true bridle horses. Think of it like this - you can slap a double bridle on a 3 yr old, but it doesn't make him a GP horse.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pocket Pony View Post
    I guess I ask because of the rules I've heard about wrt showing (even though I don't do it and don't plan to) that a horse can only be in a snaffle until x years of age and then it has to be in a curb bit. Why is this?
    Shows, specifically futurity type shows. Rules make horsemanship judgeable, but by doing so, often remove the horsemanship part. There's no logic that links a horse's age to it's level of skill, but the rules demand that by age X it needs to be doing Y. Some horses aren't even started by the time the rules say they should be in the bridle.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pocket Pony View Post
    I saw on Richard Caldwell's website that in his clinics horses are to be either in a snaffle, hackamore, two-rein, or bridle, but no grazing bits or correction bits or other stuff. What is the distinction and why do some people go to a curb bit after a snaffle?
    Richard is a signal-bit man, through and through. Grazers are low-port curbs, so don't qualify.

    His opinion of correction bits (which I share) is that they're a tool of the show-pen or of ignorance, and have no place in the traditional progression. Correction bits are either "tongue relief" which lay pressure on the bars (the opposite of carrying a bit), or broken mouth bits.

    The reason we have broken-mouth "curb" bits particularly is because most folks skip the two-rein stage where a horse is ridden in bit and hackamore.

    The western two-rein is conceptually similar to the english double bridle...one bit for lateral requests, one for longitudinal requests. In the western world, that's a bridle bit for longitudinal requests, and a hackamore (mainly) for lateral requests. Note that the english world rarely goes "straight up in the bridle" and removes the bridoon.

    Broken mouth bits are a flawed attempt to get lateral cues from a bit that should be longitudinal only. By two-handing a leverage bit, it tips the bit in a way so as to encourage counterflexing at the poll. A horse should be getting it's lateral cues from the rider's position BEFORE going straight up in the bridle. Though Buck does say he two-hands a spade on occasion, some other folks speak out strongly against this practice.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pocket Pony View Post
    I am so clueless about western stuff so I really have no idea what all the different bits are for and when/why/how you would go from one to the other!
    Getting an intro video sounds like a good plan. Bruce Sandifer's intro is very inexpensive.


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  17. #17
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    I had the privilege of riding a spade bit horse yrs. ago, many yrs. ago in southern Ca. The horse was trained from one book,"Hackmore Horsemen" I don't know if its still in print but its all you need and will be easy for you to follow since you know dressage.
    He was the lightest moving horse and though he carried a spade bit he just moved off my weight,a turn of my head, such a wonderful ride. Actually the only other horse I've ridden that moved like him was a retired grand prix gelding. I've ridden over 100 horses in my life but riding those two horses was like sailing ...


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  18. #18
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    That's one of Ed Connel's books. The full set is available at the Eclectic Horseman link. The only cautions there are they emphasize making a horse essentially using the rein only, not using leg at all, and they're a little old school in terms of breaking a horse in the traditional sense of the term.

    Good books, just frame them in the period when they were written.


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  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by aktill View Post
    That's one of Ed Connel's books. The full set is available at the Eclectic Horseman link. The only cautions there are they emphasize making a horse essentially using the rein only, not using leg at all, and they're a little old school in terms of breaking a horse in the traditional sense of the term.

    Good books, just frame them in the period when they were written.
    What many don't realize is that today's vaquero tradition is light years ahead of the old one.

    The old tradition had very stiff, many upside down horses, as you can see by the pictures.

    I know that years ago there was already controversy between that style and the old, much less technical but more correct way of going of the TX cutters, that would travel to CA and "beat them all", as they told me, to the point that many of the old CA vaquero tradition trainers would come to TX "to learn how they did it", meaning training such light and soft horses.

    Don Dodge is the one that had seen it all, was intimately familiar with many styles of riding and training and had one of the most educated eyes you could find out there in those days.
    He explained all that in a way that made sense.

    You can see that reflected in the old drawings, pictures and the few early movies of those riders and competitions.

    I think that finally, today, the vaquero tradition has changed to incorporate that lightness and softness the old stiff bridled horses didn't generally have, just as the TX trainers learned there was more to competing than just getting the horse to work cattle, that other technical training would improve on that greatly.

    There is so much out there today, it is hard to believe there was a time where people didn't know that much, were rarely exposed to much other than what they could learn in their area or discipline, rarely crossing to other that is out there.


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  20. #20
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    Has anyone read "Those Were The Vaqueros" by Arnold (Chief) Rojas?

    I rode western as a kid and he was friends with the trainer I rode with. He would come and stay for a couple of months every summer and teach us kids in the old traditions. It was a priceless education.
    Kanoe Godby
    www.dyrkgodby.com
    See, I was raised by wolves and am really behind the 8-ball on diplomatic issue resolution.


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