An Adventure in the Art of Doma Vaquera
Learning the Art of Garrocha
Although I have been home several days from my trip to CA to conduct a clinic and treat myself in my favorite pass time of being a student, I have waited even with inquiries, as to how it went. This experience was something I needed to absorb, relive in my mind, practice and relish while being greedy for myself for just a bit. This is the best way I know to express how it made me feel and this was as special as learning from the elephants in Thailand. The best part is I can keep working, learning and strive for better each and every time in that horses are in my daily life and I’m not having much luck finding an elephant on Craig’s List to hone those skills..
This will be a bit long but I so want to share what I think are some important notes and observations on my part in learning this very challenging skill .
I have always had an admiration for those I have seen conduct demonstrations with the Garrocha but never took it seriously as something I would do, remembering how lethal I was to anyone around me in taking baton lessons as a child. The only times I find rhythm and timing in my own body is when astride a horse and was taught from a very small child in applying and refining that but not holding any extra paraphernalia such as a Long stick!
It became a possible reality for me when Dave gave me as a gift for a birthday the DVD “The Art of the Garrocha” John Saint Ryan released 2 years ago. I think Dave knowing John and in that John helped film and produce his saddle fitting video so long ago, brought it closer to me as a possibility. The Instruction of the video was excellent and as one educated as a teacher myself, I saw how John could make this possible for me through his teaching methods. Doing something well and actually being able to teach it are 2 different things, and John did both fabulously.
So my adventure started, and I started with a simple broom handle working on the ground knowing my past experiences of the baton close in my mind and making sure I would not bean a horse in the head first. Eventually I started carrying that broom handle while astride and working at it, and the horses were great in accepting my fake Garrocha, I was just not very good at it myself. The horses were doing better than I was.
So at my age we start thinking of our as I call it “Kick the bucket list” not just bucket list as I’m going to be kicking as I go. On this list was, one day taking lessons from Master John Saint Ryan. That opportunity presented it’s self in scheduling a clinic for Barb and Chris Ryan also being friends as Dave is with John. On the book it went, lessons for myself, I could not believe this was going to happen!
It was time to get a long, real pole to practice with, and practice I did! I now need to purchase a new DVD as I’ve worn my first one out.
So the big day arrived and I had been on a plane all morning and went from a 45 degree temperature here, to 90 degree temperatures at Red Rose Ranch in the desert. So I know, drink water, and drink more water, it’s so dry you don’t sweat, it just evaporates off of you. We did wait till later in the evening till it did cool down a bit and some evening shade had begun. John asked me many questions getting an idea of what I had done so far and where I was , I simply told him I was no ballerina but had been practicing, but not confident I had done so correctly in any way. I was not hitting horses, myself or other people with the Garrocha so that was a pretty important start.
My lessons started with going through all the ground work exercises which was huge in clarifying and refining how one uses our hands to the Garrocha. It was huge in getting step by step instruction repeated as I needed it do learn all the varying hand positions to move and manipulate the Garrocha around yourself and a horse. There are a lot of great close up photos in the above slide show of John demonstrating these very important moves. The Garrocha in no way is a tool in which you manhandle, one must learn to develop a softness and feel for moving and working around the Garrocha , this was a giant part of the lesson I need to learn. It needs to become almost a part of your own body and one has to find the comfort in, which John demonstrated beautifully.
It was time to now get to know the horse I would be riding and start working astride with the Garrocha and I think you could have pulled my jaw out of the sand when I saw what horse he was giving me the honor to use for my lessons! That being his own competition horse, an 8 year old PRE Andalusian Stallion Siroco who is a son of the great Indiano. Magnificent best describes this horse, personable, beautifully mannered and High School trained. The saddle was a traditional Doma Vaquera saddle so you were instantly put into a level pelvis and balanced seat and how very important it is to have that very seat in doing this work. Bracing in stirrups with legs forward is not going to save you when doing this kind of work; one must ride the horse, not ride the saddle.
Siroco was very patient with me as I call it “ finding the horses ears on their sides” as in each horse they can be a bit different and in a short time I found them and everything I asked he did, even when I asked wrong. The slide show tells pretty much the rest of the story as my lessons progressed and the second day when I thought we were finished with the Garrocha work you will see John shared the treat of learning some Doma Vaquera work with his bull cart. Wow, Wow, Wow, it was fabulous, and of course I do not have the skills to do so with a Garrocha yet but I can envision in the future possibility of doing so here at our ranch, just chasing Dave around with the Garrocha, using him as my bull!
Understanding the history and the purpose of this great art really brought its importance into perspective for me as the Garrocha is a tool in working bulls in a real ranch working situation, very dangerous work where man and horse MUST be a team to get the job at hand done and not being killed in the process. It takes a very trained horse and rider, there are no short cuts in being good at this art, you just can’t “cowboy up”, muscle, haul and hack on your horse to do this and that is even in just the Garrocha work in demonstration and show. Softness, feel, timing, rhythm between rider and horse are a must, good equitation has to be in place. It takes dedicated time, practice, patience, and focus, but the right practice over time, poor practice won’t get you there. I also see this as a great application in teaching horses and riders to excel to the higher levels so many strive for.
A final observation is, I learned I can baton, just need a longer one and have to do so on the back of a horse, easy!
I would like to Thank Chris Ryan for working as photographer, something he is such an expert at from his years in the business.
Also thank you to John and Joyce Saint Ryan for their gracious hospitably, in sharing their lovely ranch with me. I will be going back for continued teaching as John is the perfect teacher for me in this art, and life sometimes is just knowing when you find them, and being like a dry sponge and soak it all up and practice. I am one very lucky gal to have had some of the greatest teachers of my time to learn from.