The Vaquero valued effort and the quality of time invested. He knew that great horses evolve and time was a necessary part of the evolution. The concept of manana, to take one’s time, created the era’s greatest and most sought after “finished” cow horses – horses that learned in an unhurried environment. It is this legacy and way of working that makes each Vaquero Brand piece so unique. The value of time and work invested proves itself over and over again. Orders to Vaquero, except in rare instance, are all custom orders. Each ordered item is hand made especially for the client and requires from four to six weeks to produce. For example, a bosal takes one braider up to three weeks to make. Needless to say, “Why can’t I get it yesterday?” is the most frequently quoted client request and at the source of much good humor among the braiders.
Vaquero makes his products as they were made a hundred years ago by true Mexican artisans. Working with rawhide or animal hair is among the oldest handcrafts of mankind. Processing and utilizing these materials pre-dates recorded history, when they were already valuable trading commodities. The handcraft is difficult and time consuming. Maintaining a level of superior quality workmanship at the same time requires patience and skill throughout the project. As cattle are slaughtered, the hide and the tail are taken right away, with all the moisture and bacteria intact. This bacteria must be killed promptly by drying or salting. Then the tanning process begins, by treating the hydrophilic fibers of the hide to prevent them from putrefying. Prehistoric men have even chewed the hides to remove hair and flesh to make the rawhide more pliable. The tail is reserved for separate handling. Top quality hides are never dried prior to processing, as this lowers the quality of the rawhide considerably. However, they can be preserved in salt for long periods of time.
To begin the tanning process, hides are soaked in water containing detergents and bactericides which softens them and makes them ready for additional processing. Extreme caution must be used at this stage to prevent the development of bacteria that could ruin the hides. Dehairing comes next, called “liming,” in which the hide is soaked in an alkaline lime solution. This loosens the hair and fibers and destroys epidermis. Then the fatty underside of the hide is scraped away, by hand, in a process called “flensing.” There is a final washing and chemical removing process before the hide is stretched taut on large wooden frames for the final drying and straightening, which takes place slowly in available sunlight. The end result is a hard, unyielding hide that is now ready for cutting, stripping, braiding, or whatever is necessary to turn the rawhide into useable items or artwork. Initially, a large piece of rawhide is cut, in a circular pattern, into one continuous strip of material, which is then cut a second or third time until the width is exactly to specifications for the item to be produced. These strips are then braided into various sizes, shapes, thicknesses, etc., depending on the item being made. In the case of solid rawhide bosal cores, after they are shaped they are again dried in natural sunlight before moving on to the finishing stage where braiders apply the outer covering, from each bosal as to size and shape, and add a final, decorative pear knot. Reins, hobbles, riatas, and other items are constructed similarly, using continuous, unbroken strands of natural rawhide as required before finishing with leather, tassels, buttons, or sterling silver decorations, etc.
(reprinted with permission, Vaquero Brand-2020)