A La Garrocha

Compiled by Donna DeYoung, Pure Spanish (PRE) Andalusian Horse Breeder

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 "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.

In the Middle Ages knighthood was a very high station in society. By his vows, the knight was required to swear to advocate justice and the protection of women, elderly and the weak. The noble knight was a protector of the common people guided by a code of conduct and etiquette; an interesting parallel to the modern day social worker, only without all the glory and romance. As part of the knighthood ceremony, the knight was required to adopt an identifying coat of arms insignia, (in ranching culture later evolving into the "brand"), ride to all the villages in the kingdom, and publicly recite his vows of knighthood so that all would witness his devotion to the King and his people. This part of the ceremony was to enable all in the Kingdom to recognize the knight, and if the knight faltered in his duties, he endured public shame and dishonor. A knight's honor was a virtue for which many knights defended to the death. 

Keeping in mind that 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 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 after the steer. An Emparedor, a horseback assistant, rides alongside the steer to guide the steer toward the Garrochista. 

Emparedor is derived from the Spanish word meaning to hobble, or tie. The Garrochista lunges at the side of the rump of the steer with the blunt Garrocha and knocks the steer off it's footing. The steer or other livestock tumbles, enabling the Emparedor to leap off his horse and hold him down or tie the animal's legs. This was, at best, a difficult maneuver that begged for innovation. During the evolution of the Cavallero / Vaquero in New Spain in the Americas, a vaquero revived the ancient Scythian method of using a lazo (loop). Hungarian Hussars and Asiatic nomads also used a similar method without throwing the lasso. The loop was placed at the end of the lance, and the lance was used to place the loop over the animal's head. The home end of the rope was tied to the horse or saddle, (see chapter on saddles). Of course livestock does not stand still for this procedure so the vaqueros chase the steer with lance and lazo in hand. This method worked better, but was also difficult and time consuming when the animal was missed. 

Again, an enterprising vaquero, perhaps more frustrated than inventive, who dropped his lance, grabbed the lazo, threw it and got lucky - snaring the animal. A new step in the evolution of cowboy technique was born. The technique was refined by Mexican vaqueros who learned to accurately lasso livestock, then dally the home end of the rope to the saddlehorn.

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