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Copyright 2011 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor;


The Vaquero Horsemanship Tradition Gains

 Popularity in Montana

By Christie Anderson, Hamilton, MT


August 2011 issue

      The vaquero style of horsemanship evolved on this continent during the Spanish Colonial period (1650-1821), when the Spanish crown granted thousands of acres of land to families loyal to Spain and soon large cattle and horse ranches dominated what is now California and Mexico.

      “Vaquero” stems from the word “vaca” which is Spanish for cow. Translated, it means someone who works with cows. Our American term is “cowboy.” Buckaroo is the anglicized version of the word, because the Spanish pronounced vaquero with what sounded like a “B.” In later years, American cowboys living the lifestyle and practicing the method adopted the word and began referring to themselves as Buckaroos.  


Reed Trexler.


      Vaqueros, buckaroos and Californios using similar techniques were distinguished by the different terms depending on the region of the country where they lived and worked. California , Nevada and southeast Oregon (the Great Basin) are areas of the U.S. most influenced by the Spanish way of developing a horse and working with cattle.

      The “Natural Horsemanship” movement of today is derived from vaquero-influenced horsemanship. In the mid-20th century, Tom and Bill Dorrance of Oregon began sharing their personal knowledge and way of working with horses which was influenced by vaquero concepts and philosophy.

      Real change was instigated when student and friend Ray Hunt started holding “clinics” across the country in the 1970s, teaching the concept of feel, timing and balance. Tom, Bill and Ray suggested a way of working and communicating with horses that required patience and understanding. They introduced the idea of becoming a leader that the horse respects and wants to follow.  


Ty Heth.


      The traditional cowboy way of taking charge by force, in a win or lose situation for the horse, was being replaced. A gentler and more humane approach was taking shape.

      Today’s horsemen will recognize the words of Ray Hunt… “to understand the horse, you’ll find that you’re going to be working on yourself.”

      Tom Dorrance stated, “Listen to the horse, try to find out what he is telling you. Fix things up to where he can find the answer….then it’s the horse’s idea.”

      The three legendary horsemen are no longer with us; the Dorrance brothers and Ray Hunt have passed away, but their legacy lives on in notable, nationally-recognized clinicians such as Buck Brannaman, Byran Neubert, Joe Wolter and Peter Campbell.

      In addition, the message continues to be spread through the other excellent horsemen, and these horsemen are considered the next generation of vaquero horsemen who adhere to the principles and philosophy of those three great men and the vaqueros of centuries past.

      The Bitterroot Valley in western Montana is home to four such men dedicated to the tradition. Brad Cameron Mule Company specializes in mules. Brad was the only man riding a bridle mule invited to perform at the Friends of Tom Dorrance Benefit Ride in 2001. Ty Heth of Vaquero Traditions has a singular focus on horses, how they think and how people can be taught to handle them. Chris Bohenek, has over fifteen years of experience working with horses and cattle, and has developed a low stress approach that helps riders learn to teach their horses to respond to the “release.”

      Reed Trexler of the Trexler Ranch raises and trains horses, Reed has been featured on the cover of Eclectic Horseman in 2010, and won and placed in the two-rein and ranch roping events in the prestigious Californios Ranch Roping and Stock Horse Competition in 2010 and 2011.  


Chris Bohenek.


      Some horse owners have the natural ability to create a wonderful partnership with their horses, but many need education and guidance to communicate with the animal they have chosen to add to their life.

      Applying vaquero or, what some people now refer to as “Natural Horsemanship,” techniques, offer the owner the opportunity to go well beyond the “snub him up and sack him out” and “kick him to go; pull him to stop” mentality.

      Learning to better understand and control the horses mind and then its body, learning to treat each horse as an individual and work with the horse where it is at mentally and physically creates respect and a strong bond between horse and human.

      Look for demonstrations by Ty Heth and Chris Bohenek at the Ravalli County Fair, August 31–September 2, 2011, in Hamilton , Montana , where each will be starting a horse and working with it over the four days.



Copyright 2011 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor;


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