Lost Skills of the Buckaroo

The stockmen of the Great Basin uphold a unique cowboy culture.
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The stockmen of the Great Basin uphold a unique cowboy culture.
Buckaroo horse handling illustration

The buckaroo (a corruption of the word "vaquero") culture originated in Spain and was brought to North America by the conquistadors. The horsemanship methods, gear, and style went from Mexico to California before traveling north to eventually become the predominant cowboy culture of the Great Basin. Traditionally, vaqueros (and now buckaroos) started their horses in the snaffle bit and hackamore before progressing to the two-rein, then culminating with a straight-up bridle outfit. Traditional practices such as roping horses with a houlihan loop, branding calves with a spring wagon, and running a cookhouse, also live on at some modern-day ranches. 

Buckaroo outfit illustration by Erwin Sherman

Most modern buckaroos ride in a slick-fork, or A-fork saddle. They always use a slick wrap on their saddle horns such as mule hide, chap leather, or a piece of latigo. Silver bits—spade bits for a made horse—and fancy headstalls never go out of style, and handmade rawhide or horsehair mecate reins are also traditional favorites. 

A buckaroo’s boots can range from low-heeled ropers to custom-made stove pipes with a tall, underslung heel, but one trend remains steady: pant legs always go over the boot tops. 

Chinks are the practical and stylish choice for protection when riding through saddle-high sagebrush. They are often decorated with contrasting yokes and colorful sewn-on fringe. 

Their distinctive hat style traditionally features a flat brim with a tilted rear and an oval crown, though many buckaroos choose to turn up the brim. Regardless of shape, the hat provides protection from the elements when out cowboying. 

Horse Handling
Vaqueros, the predecessors of the buckaroos, lived in mild climates which allowed them to perfect their horsemanship year-round. Buckaroos take pride in riding well-trained horses straight up in the bridle and throwing fancy loops. In addition, a top hand can do any ranch job on any horse, no matter how rank. They get the work done, then add in some style and flair whenever possible.

buckaroo gear illustration by Erwin Sherman