Jeff Sanders

Jeff’s next clinic in WA will be in May 2020.

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Jeff’s Background and Philosophy

Jeff Sanders is a sixth generation California, born in Merced California and raised on the Central Coast, right in the heart of Vaquero country. He is one of the very few teaching the California Vaquero style of horsemanship who was raised in the traditions and is truly a Californio himself.

Jeffʼs family has a long history of running cattle and riding stock horses in California, starting over 160 years ago. Jeff’s great, great, great grandfather started working as a vaquero in Petaluma California when he was a teenager in 1854, over a decade before the first big Texas cattle drives. This tradition followed down through Jeffʼs family and he can trace his horsemanship all the way back 160 years on one side of his family and over 100 years on the other side.

Having been raised in the California horsemanship traditions since childhood, Jeff’s parents passed the knowledge down to Jeff the same way it had been done for a couple of hundred years. Staying true to the Vaquero tradition of passing knowledge from generation to generation Jeff learned his horsemanship directly from the source. While books are good, nothing can replace learning both the oral traditions and the practical application directly from those who had it passed down to them from the old time California Vaqueros.

Jeff and his parents took the skills of the old time Vaqueros and applied them, not only on the ranch but also in the competition arena. Jeff credits his as well as his parentsʼ success in competitions to the fundamental principles of old style California horsemanship.

He has also been fortunate to have had the opportunity to apply the skills and philosophies of the old California Vaqueros while day working on ranches in California, Colorado, Wyoming and Nevada.

Jeff still day works when he is home but is steadfast in his dedication to spreading the traditions of the California Bridle Horse throughout the world. Traveling throughout the US, Australia, Western and Eastern Europe and even Israel teaching this style of horsemanship, Jeffʼs hope is that this proud tradition that respects the rider and honours the horse will not just survive but will once again flourish.

Jeff is a fierce advocate of the classical Vaquero tradition which is grounded in finesse, respect and empathy for the horse and building a solid foundation to enable incredible lightness and communication between horse and rider. Vaquero principles are more akin to classical dressage than to modern western riding and Jeff’s students come from all disciplines and backgrounds.

More information about Jeff can be found on his website

What to expect from a Jeff Sanders clinic

Attending a clinic with Jeff is like taking your horse and your Horsemanship journey to University. He has been coming to WA for several years and is gaining a growing number of dedicated students from a variety of disciplines including dressage, western and pleasure riders.

Typically, Jeff holds 4 day clinics where you can expect to learn historical and practical applications for rider position, body control and lateral work. Participants will be able to see how the movements and manoeuvres we ask of horses directly correlates with the jobs we ask of them to perform and the horse’s biomechanics. Jeff’s clinics are limited to 12 riders. Riders are split into two groups, each group participating for a morning and afternoon session. On the last day of the clinic Jeff spends time with each rider individually.

The following articles about Jeff Sanders’ clinics have been published in Hoofbeats and Perth Rider magazines, written by Debbie Dowden.

Jeff Sanders Clinic by Debbie Dowden

If there was ever a professor of horsemen, Jeff Sanders would be him. The Californian horseman not only looks a little like a professor, but teaches what amounts to university level horsemanship. He teaches the best of the best. He recently visited Geraldton in Western Australia, Blanchetown in South Australia and Monegeetta in Victoria to pass on his skills to some enthusiastic groups of Aussie riders.

Jeff teaches horsemanship in the Californian Vaquero style, knowledge that has been passed down through his family for generations. He is a holistic horseman who combines his deep understanding of equine biomechanics with his passion for horsemanship and the traditions of the old masters.

The horsemanship of the Californian Vaqueros has its origins in the war horses of medieval Europe, when the life of a man depended upon the training of his mount. Spanish horsemen brought their battle skills with them when they colonised the Americas and the traditions and skills were passed down through the generations. Over time the horsemanship that began during the wars developed into two branches; dressage and working cow horses. For the Vaqueros the split was not quite as clean; they stood out from the ordinary cowboys in America in the sense that they not only got the job done, but they did it with great style.

Because of the great history of the Vaqueros that Jeff brings with him, his clinics are unique in the fact that they could be about classical dressage, they could be about working cows, or they could seamlessly combine the two. Jeff has trained with Bent Branderup, a leading authority in Baroque horsemanship. Branderup consults with Jeff about working his classical dressage horses in a hackamore (bosal.) He has held clinics with Pedro Torres, arguably the world’s greatest Working Equitation rider. He consults with Eitan Beth-Halachmy for the Vaquero style Cowboy Dressage competitions. Jeff is a sought after clinician in over fifteen countries including Europe, the USA and Israel.

Jeff’s horsemanship style seeks an exquisite level of refinement. His training methods and regime aim to lighten the horse to such an extent that it can ultimately be ridden in high school dressage movements with a mere whisper of a command. Like the old masters, Jeff takes years to train a good bridle horse, (called so because it has the degree of training required to be ridden in just a bridle as opposed to a bosal.) It can take up to twelve years to train a good bridle horse, the same amount of time it can take to train a grand prix dressage horse and the end result is not as dissimilar as one might imagine.

During the clinic in Geraldton there were some cattle available and so riders were able to experience the Californian Vaquero way of working. They use the cattle to train their horses. If a mistake is made then the focus is on the horse and rider getting it right. What the cattle did was not as important. According to Jeff, the use of cattle in the training process helps to keep the horse alert and fosters better overall movement and collection. At this clinic there was a focus on lateral work. Riding a horse laterally towards the cattle provides a bigger visual picture for the cows and helps them to move where they need to go with a minimum of fuss. For the horse, lateral work encourages the horse to be soft and balanced and come more easily into collection.

Jeff Sanders challenges riders to aspire to new heights with their horsemanship. He carries with him messages from the old masters and brings with him the deep traditions of the Californian Vaqueros. He is one of the modern day great horsemen and we are privileged to have him visit us in Australia.

© 2017 AMT Equestrian Services.

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