Cowboys and Knights

Traditional Spanish riding clothes
Traditional Spanish riding clothes

From Donald Chavez y Gilbert

The Middle Ages found the mounted herdsman a frequent fixture of the semi-arid lands of Spain, but rare in countries like England and France. Strong intrepid horsemen were required to deal with the rugged geography of the Iberian Peninsula, and the wild ganado prieto, predecessor to the savage bull ring black cattle. So integral a part of the Spanish culture was horsemanship, that the world caballero (horseman) became, and still is, the equivalent of the English word for “gentleman.” The word for horse in French is cheval and knight is chevalier. The English term cavalry is derived from Italian. In Spanish the word “horse” is caballo and knight or noble horseman is Caballero.

Keeping in mind that many of the first Spanish vaqueros were well heeled aristocratic Caballero (gentlemen), land holders and noblemen, and certainly inextricably integrated in Spanish society with the culture of Spanish knights, it should come as no surprise that the horseman’s techniques used by knights flowed into the work practices back at the estancia / ranch. Getting down and dirty with the livestock was work relegated to the servants. The Caballero/Vaquero rarely ever got off his horse for any menial purpose. He did virtually everything from the back of his steed.

The 13th century knights and Spanish rancher / Caballeros developed a method of rounding up (rodear) and capturing cattle for branding, etc. borrowed from the knight’s skill of jousting with a lance. This heritage of Knighthood was carried from Europe to the Americas in the 15th century. The technique evolved from the Caballeros use of the lance. In this case the lance is called a garrocha. It was a 12-foot long wooden pole with a blunt tip used by the Garrochista on horseback. The garrocha is carried and used in a fashion similar to the Caballero’s lance. But instead of the Garrochista and the steer racing toward each other as in a knightly joust, the Garrochista chases the steer.

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