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EXHIBITS : 'VENTURA COUNTY'S EQUESTRIAN LEGACY' : Blazing Saddles : Riding tack and photos show how horses were entwined in the lives of area families about 1900.

June 21, 1990|KAREN McKEAN

When Paquita Burket Parker of Ojai was 9, she and her sister Susana, then 10, donned Mexican clothes and sombreros and rode their matching black Shetland ponies in the 1939 Santa Barbara Fiesta parade.

Following closely behind them on magnificent white horses were proud family members, including the girls' grandfather, Adolfo Camarillo, after whom the city was named.

The history of the Camarillos, one of the most famous equestrian families in the county, is part of a new exhibit at the Ventura County Museum of History & Art.

Titled "Ventura County's Equestrian Legacy," the one-room display covers at least a hundred years of vaqueros, rancheros, cowboys and cowgirls.

Included are stock saddles, richly adorned parade saddles, hackamores, horsehair reins, bits, chaps, blankets and even the vest and spurs worn by Parker during her childhood on her grandfather's 10,000-acre ranch.

Parker, now 60, has been married for 37 years to Harold, and together they work a cattle ranch in Ojai. But on a recent visit to the equestrian exhibit, she reminisced about her family and its famous white horses.

"My grandfather bought his first stallion, Sultan, at the Sacramento State Fair in the early 1920s," she said. "He started breeding him, and got another true white horse with pink skin and black eyes."

He eventually developed a herd of what came to be known as the Camarillo white horses, but he used only the stallions and geldings in the numerous parades in which he and his family rode, Parker said.

One of Camarillo's silver-embellished saddles is on display in the exhibit, along with an enlarged picture of him on Diamante, one of the white horses. Also shown is his daughter, Carmen, who became the keeper of the white horses when Camarillo died in 1958.

Other prominent Ventura County equestrian families are represented in the exhibit, including the Hobsons, the Clarks and the Yanezes.

Pictures in the display are accompanied by information cards that provide history and colorful insight into what the county was like at the turn of the century.

The exhibit was compiled by guest curator Karen Schultz Anderson, who called on Bambi Clark of Ojai for help in locating display pieces.

"Bambi really helped because she knew a lot about who would have the saddles," said Anderson, 30, of Santa Barbara. "It was one of the most interesting and personal exhibits I've done because people had great stories to share."

For instance, the card that accompanies the exhibit's only sidesaddle tells of the furor that erupted at the turn of the century when women started wearing voluminous split skirts and riding "cross saddle."

According to the exhibit, "one prominent citizen threatened to take his wife or sister off their horses and spank them if he caught them riding 'astride.' "

The exhibit appeals to equestrians and non-equestrians alike, because it allows a peek into "a bit of social history of the county," Anderson said.

In choosing which saddles to use, she said, organizers picked "the ones with the tightest personal story tying the item to the county."

Some of the pieces, while having great historic value, have not yet been relegated to the back of the owner's barn or the attic.

Paquita Parker's childhood saddle, cleaned and on display, was pressed into service when she taught each of her four children how to ride years ago, and it was just recently used again.

"I put my 4-year-old granddaughter Carmela in it," she said "but she was a little small."

WHERE AND WHEN: "Ventura County's Equestrian Legacy" runs through Aug. 28 at the museum, located at 100 E. Main St., Ventura. Museum hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. For more information, call 653-0323.

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