A Painting at a Bar in San Antonio 

While staying in a hotel on the Riverwalk in San Antonio, some years ago, I strolled into the bar and saw above the bar a very unique sculpture of a line of horses, shoulder to shoulder, looking at the viewer, maybe a dozen or more horses. I asked the bartender what it was and he looked at the title plate and said “the formando.” I then asked him what that was, and he said “that, right there.” Well, that didn’t get me very far, did it? But the mystery was soon solved when an article came out in Western Horseman magazine about the cowboys on the great Chaparrosa Ranch in South Texas. The author had visited the ranch, and described how The cowboys caught their horses each morning to work cows in that brushy country. What I read astonished me, and captivated my imagination, and I’ve spent a decade trying to duplicate the technique, with mediocre results.

The Caporal (straw boss) strides down into a pen of cow ponies, and instructs two cowboys to stretch up a lariat rope between them. He then gives a signal at which all the horses come and line up shoulder to shoulder with their butts against the rope. The cowboys simply walk to this line of horses, called “the formando” and halter their choice for the day and walk away, no muss, no fuss, no bother!So what’s the secret? Over time a trainer working with a single horse in an alleyway prods the horse in the butt with a sotol stalk until the horse turns to face him. At that point he strokes it’s neck gently with the stalk. After many patient repetitions the horse learns that when approached with a stick he’s to face the vaquero. Then the horse learns to back up to the gate. Later other horses who have been trained one at a time are added together. If it’s done right, every day, a group of horses will readily back up to a rope stretched between two men in the same way as they did in the alleyway, shoulder to shoulder.In time more trained horses are added together.Certainly this is a big improvement on chasing horses to catch them, and in the daily saving of time and trouble very much worth the time invested to produce this wonder of the south Texas brush!

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