© Kansas Cowboy Dressage™ Association
Kansas Cowboy Dressage™ Association

Sep 2014 “Katrina Sanders: Channeling the California Vaquero in All of Us”

Article written by Joan Stibal

Katrina Sanders will be bringing her passion for California Vaquero

Horsemanship to Kansas for a clinic Nov. 1 and 2, 2014 at Summer’s

Palace in Auburn, sponsored by the Kansas Cowboy Dressage

Association (KCDA). At the KCDA year-end awards banquet Saturday

evening, this up-and-coming horsewoman will share her research on

“The History of the Early California Vaquero,” a presentation that she

delivered at the prestigious 2014 Light Hands Horsemanship Clinic in

Santa Ynez, Calif.

Sanders, who co-wrote the rules for the Vaquero Division of Cowboy

Dressage, approaches the upcoming Kansas clinic with expectations of

helping people with their horsemanship and exposing them to the

California way of training. “It’s more a philosophy than it is about the

gear,” she says. “It’s a way of working a horse slowly, methodically and

compassionately and preparing them to be handy and soft to work

cattle or for whatever their job is.

“This is why Cowboy Dressage is such a powerful thing,” she

continues. “People are recognizing they want a connection with their horse that can grow and goes beyond a

couple of show seasons. This way of thinking about horses harkens back to the days of ‘horse culture’ where

the vaquero’s whole soul was wrapped around horsemanship.”

If the California vaquero culture seems exotic to us Midwesterners, it shouldn’t. The Californios are the

“grandfathers” of modern western riding. They introduced many of our modern saddles and tools, such as

hackamores, saddle horns for dally roping, and center-fire rigged and slick-fork saddles among others. They

used rawhide to braid bosels, riatas or for repairing wagon wheels and more. “Rawhide was California duct

tape,” Sanders says. “They used it for everything.

“As an amateur historian, I want to be an ambassador to help people understand the culture behind

California horsemanship,” she says. Sanders is bringing some traditional vaquero horse gear to the Kansas

clinic, “Depending on how much the airlines will allow me to take,” she quips. “It’s important that people can

see and put their hands on it to better understand.”

It’s inevitable that any discussion about vaquero tack includes the topic of bits. “The hackamore is where it all

starts,” Sanders asserts. “It’s a gauge that determines where the horse will go. I’ve had horses as soft and

handy as they need to be without ever having a bit in their mouths.”

In the California-style training tradition, horses may transition from a hackamore to a “two rein” - a bridle and

spade bit they are just carrying around in their mouths with a “bosalito,” or small hackamore underneath. At

about 6-8 years, when the horse is ready, they are ridden “straight up” in the bridle without the hackamore


Riding with a spade bit is an art, Sanders acknowledges. It’s never used for correction; it’s all in how you use

it properly and how to be responsible with your hands. Curb bits were introduced from Europe about 100-

plus years ago and became widely used in English and Western riding. But unlike a curb bit that relies on

leverage and pinching the jaws and tongue, the spade bit was never intended as a leverage tool.

Use of the spade was at its height with the pride early Californios invested in having a fine bridle horse that

would fly backwards if you shook the reins or would spin if you just barely moved your hands. “I don’t think

every horse should go in a spade,” she concludes. “But for those who are that special – it’s a matter of

honoring the horse.”

For information on the clinic, visit, Kansas Cowboy Dressage Association on Facebook or


Visit Katrina Sanders Classical Equitation on Facebook; or go to http://www.ksclassicaleq.com/

Permission to republish from the Sept. 2014 issue of Better Horses newspaper.
Katrina Sanders roping a steer with a "riata," a long, braided rawhide rope developed by vaqueros because the "garraochas" (long poles) they used to work cattle with in the old country were too cumbersome in the brush of North America.