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History of the American CowHorse

The modern horse was reintroduced to the Americas by the Spanish conquistadors. By the time the Spanish missionaries were making their way into California in the 1700s, the Spanish vaqueros (cowboys) were well established in other parts of America and came with them.

The King of Spain granted large tracts of land to loyal subjects, which were the basis for the "Californio" ranches and lifestyle common until the mid-1800s (and whose eventual owners were the source of the names of many California communities, including Irvine and Pacheco). These vast ranches raised range-bred beef for Mexican and other markets. The cattle were half-wild and dangerous, requiring a fast, well-trained horse that could intimidate an individual cow, turn it back from the herd, separate it for branding and other handling, and do it all effortlessly.

Over time, the "Californio" cowboy or vaquero developed a system of training working cow horses that became famous for its elegance, precision, and difficulty of training the horse. The roots of these methods are in European dressage, a system to train horses for war. Adopted by the pre-Moors and Moors in Spain, and transferred to the Spanish conquistadors, the Californio methods created horses so sensitive to their riders' signals they were known as "Hair-trigger" or "whisper" reined horses.[1]

At the time, a finished reining horse (as it was called) required at least seven years to train: three to four years to train the basics in a bosal hackamore, then at least a year carrying both the bosal and the high-ported spade bit (named for the spade-shaped port which was from 1-3" high) to help the horse learn how to carry the bit, then several years refining techniques in the spade until the horse was a "made" reining horse. The training could not be done by just any Californio, and reining horses were valuable because of the difficulty of training and scarcity.

A finished reining horse could be controlled and directed with minute movements of the fingers of the left hand, which hovered above the saddle horn. (Compare to the grazing-bit style of Western riding developed in Texas, where reins are split between the fingers and the hand moves in front of the saddle, controlling the horse by neck reining.) Because of the potential severity of the spade bit, chains added to the ends of the reins to balance the bit in the horse's mouth, and knotted and braided rawhide reins which prevented the reins from swinging unnecessarily, even at a lope, the "made" reining horse seemed to run, stop, spin and handle a cow on its own, with little communication from its rider.

For almost 150 years, the Californio's reined cow horse was famous throughout California and into the West. They helped work the huge herds of longhorn cattle driven from Mexico to California, and performed the day-to-day chores on the vast cattle ranches.

In the early-to-mid 1800s, the Gold Rush changed the complexion and future of California. The influx of newcomers into the Golden State helped to dissolve the vast cattle ranches of earlier days. On the ranches that did remain, modern livestock management techniques and machinery eventually eliminated much of the need for a well-trained, versatile working horse.

By the early 1900s, the reined cow horse had gone from being a necessity to a luxury, and there was little activity to sustain the history or background of this training tradition. Most ranchers were struggling to survive the Great Depression. This trend continued through World War II; few people had the time to be concerned with the history, the horses and the training programs of "the old days." Only a handful of horsemen who remembered the old Californios or worked with them on the remaining California ranchos learned the old ways of training a "made" reining horse.

Among those who maintained the tradition in its purest sense is Ed Connell, author of the definitive spade-bit reining horse training manuals Hackamore Reinsman and Reinsman of the West. Trained in the 1940s by some of the last of the original Californio reinsman, Connell recorded this knowledge that provide an overview of the methods of training a "made" spade-bit horse resembling the famous horses of the past.


See full article at Wikipedia

By Juan Valera-Lema, Ph.D.

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The art of bullfighting on horseback, as currently practiced in Portugal, where it is called toureio equestre and in Spain and Mexico, where it is called rejoneo, has a more direct and recent origin in the Iberian Peninsula, since it developed from the war exercises of the middle ages.

As it is well known, the Muslims occupied parts of Portugal and Spain, the Iberian peninsula, for over seven centuries, from 711 AD. until 1492. During this time the Iberians were involved in a constant struggle to overthrow the invaders from their land. Horses were the principal war implement and both horses and riders were specifically trained for the martial arts. Out of the war exercises evolved the intricate movements and maneuvers that gave origin to an equestrian science which would eventually influence the creation of several European riding academies in the Renaissance. The modern Spanish Riding School of Vienna and the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art are relics of those academies.

Since the origins of the fighting bull are also in the Iberian Peninsula, the Iberians had since Carthaginian times recreated themselves by running bulls from horses in open fields, before lancing them. When the two activities, running of the bulls, and equestrian war exercise were combined within the confines of an enclosed spaces, the equestrian bullfight was born.

Bullfighting bulls in confinement will not run away, but instead will defend themselves and charge the riders. Therefore when facing brave bulls, the cavaliers had to perform intricate maneuvers on their finely tuned war horses in order to avoid being gored by the bulls. When the wars against the Moors ended, and the conquest of America was completed, the cavalrymen were left idle for war. The martial training became more a leisure and competitive activity, and then in the XVII and XVIII centuries, a feast increasingly joyful and polished.

Celebrations of great importance such as the coronation of a king , a royal birth or wedding were opportunities to conduct a bullfight. As the Iberian cultural influence expanded to the Americas, so did equestrian bullfighting and it is said that the festivities associated with the founding of Mexico City and Lima, included bullfights in which Hernan Cortes in Mexico and Francisco Pizarro in Peru were enthusiastic participants.

Rejoneo in Spain had a period of splendor during the reigns of Felipe III (1598-1621) , who built the plaza mayor and Felipe IV(1621-1665)) who converted it in the center of gaiety and social events of his court and thus the center of bullfighting on horse back. In Portugal, there are a many written records dating back to the XIII century, which mention the participation of Kings and other noblemen in equestrian bullfights.

A Portuguese nobleman of the XVIII century, Dom Pedro Alcantara y Meneses, fourth Marquis of Marialva, Master of the Horse to the royal court, emerged as one of the most influential horsemen of post renaissance Europe. His influence in laying down the modern day rules of Portuguese equestrian bullfighting was so great, that this type of bullfighting is also referred as the Art of Marialva.

Rejoneo remained identical in both Portugal and Spain as a nobleman's activity until the end of the XVII century, when Carlos II (1665-1700) of Spain died childless. The throne then passed to a grandson of Louis IV, Felipe V (1700-1748) and in this manner, the Bourbon dynasty entered Spain with their French influence and their dislike for bullfighting. In the mid 1700's, the Bourbons, decreed the prohibition of bullfighting, and most noblemen complied with the royal order, but the common people disdained it.

The disappearance of bullfighting on horse back could have signified the end of bullfighting in Spain, if the masses had not taken ownership to transform it into bullfighting on foot, giving it new life. War which had fomented the equestrian bullfights also gave origin to an auxiliary body of pages, horse trainers and horse grooms who assisted the cavalier and were in the shadow of the horse. When the horseman left the ring, the foot assistant emerged with great importance and has remained so until now.

Spanish rejoneo was then relegated to the cattle ranch work and did not emerge again as a spectator's spectacle until the 1920's. In Portugal on the other hands, and to cite the distinguished Spanish horseman and rejoneador, Don Alvaro Domecq y Diez, "Portuguese equestrian bullfighting was fine tuned and embellished to reach its actual level of specialty."


In Spain, a charro is a native of the province of Salamanca, especially in the area of Alba de Tormes, Vitigudino, Ciudad Rodrigo and Ledesma. It is likely that the Mexican charro tradition derived from Spanish horsemen who came from Salamanca and settled in Jalisco.


In Mexico, charro is a term referring to a traditional horseman or cowboy of Mexico, originating in the State of Jalisco. In the rest of Mexico the equivalent term was "vaquero". In Texas, which defeated Mexico, and won its independence in 1836, "vaquero" was the term used by the Spanish speaking citizens of the new Republic. The term was also prevalent in what are now the U.S. states of California, Nevada, and New Mexico.