Was Cowboying Invented in Texas?

Over the past couple of decades there’s been a Renaissance of sorts, in the “arena” of equestrian sports. A handful of new events have been “minted” to more or less duplicate stock work or ranch work. In my youth, no one gave us a lot of instruction in equitation. We got on and rode. We “jerked and jobbed” until we “Got’er done”. It didn’t matter what it looked like, or whether it was biomechanically logical, we just rode, and rode, and rode. You learned where to be and what to do to keep from being fussed at. Then one day, I guess it was in the early eighties, someone mentioned that we ought to study western reining, that there was a movement of foot (a’hoof?) to learn from those Californios how to slide and spin a horse with a certain finesse! So we participated in the formation of the Texas Reining Horse Association. We are number 13, lifetime members. But reining seemed a little “dry” for some folks, so along came a group from over at “the college” with an innovative concept to teach livestock handling to new folks in the ranch business. They called it the Stock Horse of Texas, and gave it the motto “ride a better horse”. We joined that, too. We rode in clinics and competitions, and we learned a lot of good horsemanship and had a lot of fun. Then the California Reined Cow Horse Association decided to share their secrets of the vaquero horse training with us here on the eastern side of the Rockies, and became the National Reined Cow Horse Association. About the same time, the AQHA opened up versatility ranch horse classes in their shows, and cowboy dressage became a “new “event, and now we hear about Working Equitation.

For those of us who thought cowboying was invented in Texas, we got a real shock when we found out that this particular stock working discipline actually started with cowboys in Italy, who had been working cattle for millennia horseback. Working Equitation, the competition, has spread to about all the countries who raise cattle and eat meat, such as Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, and now the western hemisphere, Brazil, Mexico, and recently the USofA.Well, I think all this is magnificent. Now people have something real and practical to “do” with their horses. (Like those of us who live on ranches have been doing .) Watching a horse show is no longer to be compared with watching paint dry. Stock work introduces an element of risk and chance. Where once there were “two different worlds,” now we see people in “English” tack and attire working on stock work, while “cowboys” are learning dressage! Livestock work is an ancient art. How ancient do you ask? In Spain, the Doma Vaquera, or training of the cow horse, is centuries, if not millennia, old, going back to prehistoric wild bull and boar hunting. Archaeologists are finding evidence of Scythians riding with saddles and bridles 5000 years ago. And we thought western dressage was something new?

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