“Cowboy up!” reads a sign at the entrance to the riding arena at Rancho Ohaco.Nestled in the backcountry of Ojai, Jeff Ohaco’s horses roam wide pastures, cows kick up dust in their pens, and a dog slinks outside the fence, keeping a watchful eye on the livestock. It is a different world. One that Ohaco doesn’t mind sharing. “The main goal of our Cowboy School is for people to have fun and get out of the city,” says Ohaco, whose cowboy roots run deep.
Mitch Collier and Molly Holm hold on to their hats as they kick up some dust.
Born on a working cattle ranch Arizona that has belonged to his family since the 1800s, Ohaco paid his dues as a Hollywood stuntman in his youth. These days, he prefers to spend his time breaking colts, breeding and selling well-bred quarter horses, and lending a hand at ranches during round up and branding time.
At his monthly Californio Cowboy School, Ohaco draws on a large circle of talented friends— bronc rider Boone Campbell, the well-known horseman Bruce Sandifer, and leather worker, Chris West—who all share Ohaco’s passion for riding horses and handling livestock. All are profoundly influenced by the historical principles of the Vaqueros, sacred traditions brought to California by the early Spanish settlers. These principles are rooted in classical Spanish riding, which is enjoying wider popularity. Sandifer, who is president of the Californio Bridle Horse Association, shares, “I was raised on ranches my whole life, and this way of riding appeals to me because it is the easiest on the stock.”
For Ohaco, the overriding goal is true unity between rider and horse. “If I manage to instill any of the practices and traditions of the Vaquero style of riding, especially the respectful communication and mindfulness needed to work successfully with horses,” Jeff says as he sits by the fire, “it’s been a good day.”