Down Sonora Way

Two Northern Mexico ranchos reflect the area's rich vaquero heritage while infusing legendary American bloodlines into their horse breeding programs.

The rain from the night before has cooled the temperature and brought out all the scents of the Sonoran grasslands.

"This rain is quite unusual for the season," Ricardo Platt says as we saddle our horses in front of la Chimenea. "It rarely rains in October."

The 450-acre rancho, which raises registered Quarter Horses and Paints, straddles the Rio Sonora and lies halfway between Ures, a quaint colonial town, and Hermosillo, Sonora's state capital.

Two other ranches owned by Platt's family are home to trophy big game and Charbray cattle operations, but la Chimenea is the center of the horse breeding operation and home to the majority of the broodmares.

"My real passion is ranching and horses," says Platt, a civil engineer whose consulting company provides personalized cross-border assistance to American investors in the state of Sonora, Mexico. Platt shares an affinity for ranching with his grandfather, a retired rancher and civil engineer who designed and installed thousands of miles of PVC, as well as earthen dams, concrete storage tanks and troughs on many Sonoran ranches during the 1980s and 1990s.

This system greatly improved the production efficiency of the ranches by limiting the distances cattle had to walk to reach water. It also allowed better control of grazing by making water available in one area and unavailable in another.

Accompanying his grandfather on many ranches throughout the state helped Platt develop a love for Sonora's ranching culture, which can be traced to the 16th Century.

After being introduced by the Spanish, cattle multiplied rapidly on the vast northern plains of Mexico. The introduction of the horse was also crucial to the development of ranching throughout Northern Mexico. The herdsmen who worked cattle in open country perfected the skills and developed the character of the modern-day vaquero, once considered the true centaur of the New World.

This vaquero culture is still very much alive in present-day Sonora, where it is said that when a group of men go out drinking in small towns, they don't talk about women, they talk about horses.

Horses still play a vital role in the ranching industry in Sonora, which is one of the most recognized beef producing states in Mexico. The state's thriving cattle industry is boosted by the Union Ganadera Regional de Sonora, a state cattlemen's association dedicated to producing safe, quality beef to satisfy domestic and international consumers, and considered one of the best run organizations in Mexico.

Many ranchers rely on solid mounts to run their operation, and la Chimenea and another nearby ranch, la Casita, have established successful horse programs. Both have tapped into well-known Quarter Horse bloodlines to improve the performance and durability of their stock.

To read the rest of this story, pick up the April 2007 issue of Western Horseman.