Held every other year, Vaquero Heritage Days immerses the public in history, horsemanship and gear-making heritage.

Vaquero Heritage Days
Vaquero Heritage Day’s commemorative poster features the artwork of well-known California artist and vaquero Jo Mora.

In the early years of California, before it became a state, herds of cattle dotted golden hills and grazed under the watch of horseback vaqueros. Highly regarded for their stockmanship and horsemanship, the vaqueros passed down traditions that are still practiced in California and beyond. The legacy of the vaquero is alive and celebrated during Vaquero Heritage Days being held this weekend at the Franciscan Friars at St. Francis Retreat Center. This year’s event has a special focus on the Morgan Horse’s influence on vaquero culture.

Produced by Jan Merrill, owner of Southwest Roundup Gallery in San Juan Bautista, California, the event began in 2010 and has been held every two years since. In 2012, it moved from the Old Mission San Juan Bautista to the St. Francis Retreat, on land that was part of the old Mexican land grant Rancho San Justo.

Jeffrey Mundell
Bridle horseman Jeffrey Mundell makes a return appearance to discuss how vaquero traditions influence his horsemanship and stockmanship on Rancho Cienega Del Gabilan.

The three-day event kicks off on Friday afternoon with a ticketed event that allows guests early-bird opportunities to shop the trade show featuring the custom trappings and art of more than 25 vendors and a concert beneath the swaying oaks with California cowboy singer-songwriter Dave Stamey.

Ray Ordway
Guest vaquero Ray Ordway will be at the event with his wife, Laverne, celebrating his 94th birthday.

On Saturday and Sunday there will be discussions and demonstrations of vaquero horsemanship and traditions open to the public during the day, plus more shopping opportunities. Guest speakers include Jeffrey Mundell, manager of Rancho Cienega Del Gabilan in San Juan Bautista; Jeff Derby, a workshop instructor and horseman in the California-style of riding from Colorado; Native American vaquero horseman Buddy Montes of California; Jo Johnson, breeder and trainer of Morgan Horses at Jaquima a Freno Morgan Horses in California; and Heather Kornemann of Montana, who practices vaquero horsemanship and stockmanship traditions with her husband, Wacey, on a ranch in eastern Montana. The special guest artist of the event is Canadian painter Shannon Lawlor, whose work is known for its authentic portrayal of the bridle horse.

spade bit
The finest vaquero gear is on display and in use during Vaquero Heritage Days.

Throughout the weekend academics, historians and vaquero horsemen and –women will have a chance to learn from the speakers and visit one-on-one with them in a historic setting where this culture originated. California vaquero Ray Ordway will also celebrate his 94th birthday during the event and is always willing to share his experiences working on old ranchos with the public.

Dave Stamey
A Friday evening concert with Dave Stamey is a tradition.

Proceeds from the event benefit the St. Francis Retreat. For more information on the event, visit vaqueroheritagedays.com or call 831-623-1128.

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