Under a warm sun and a gentle breeze, Montega and Feliki, Danish and Dutch horses, respectively, enter onto the track dancing to the rhythm of "Peter Gunn."
Then comes Severo, a tall and stunning white Andalusian, lifting and extending its long fine legs, one, then another, to the rhythm of "Hungarian Dance." Next to it, Ramon Becerra, its trainer, held its reins as if they were strings making the white puppet move along, which at the end of its routine leaned forward, and on bended knee, bowed to the admiring public.
Later in the performance, much like a centaur, Becerra came astride Jardin, an elegant black Portuguese. With his arms open to its sides, and in his hands a pair of banderillas, Becerra directs the beast with the lower portion of his body.
To the tune of the pasodoble "Las Bodas," by Luis Alonso, as musical backdrop, and employing a Spanish step 7 which requires great coordination between the rider and the horse 7 the horse paces from side to side, dancing to the rhythm dictated by the mariachi, disguising the fact the rider is leading it on. Man and horse, in effect, have become one.
These are but a few of the acts to be performed by Becerra and other riders for the "Dancing With Horses" spectacular, which will take place July 23 at the Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara.
Becerra, who lives in the Santa Ynez Valley, hails from San Julian, Jalisco. That is where his passion for horses was born.
As a child, he would stop by his grandfather Gabino Ramirez/s ranch on weekends and vacations, just having fun with his animals. He was only 5.
Then, at age 10, he developed a love for charrería and, with the encouragement of his grandfather, learned the discipline and respect for horses.
Toward the end of 1979, he joined the troupe of "Caballos Domeq" with whom he went on tour for two years throughout the United States. It was then that Becerra became an expert at horse handling.
"I learned a lot of things that I had no idea of or thought could be done with horses. I learned the different styles and disciplines and developed a greater admiration and respect for horses," he noted.
After finishing the tour, he returned to Mexico, but already he had received an invitation from a mounted bullfighter to join her show in Buena Park (in front of the Wax Museum, which is now Medieval Times). He worked with her for two years.
Later he met actress Bo Derek, who owned Andalusians, and in 1985 he moved to the Santa Ynez Valley. While engaged in horse training, Becerra produced and participated in various events.
For the past 15 years he has worked independently, offering equestrian performances and rodeos. Sometimes he collaborates in films and music videos, and he doubles for actors.
Becerra has 45 horses of his own, including Andalusians. This particular Spanish breed is originally from the province of Andalusia. It is recognized for its elegance and spirit, and by nature and race it is completely black. "Its hair and long bristles make it look stupendous. And for shows it is very special because it has a presence to it that is impressive," explained Becerra.
The Frisian, on the other hand, comes from Holland, and the Lucitanian from Portugal, the latter similar to the Andalusian but with a bit different characteristics. It is a more compact horse, but very beautiful and good to work with in the equestrian arts.
The Aztec is a cross with the quarterhorse 7 the national horse of the United States. It is strong and very good to work with. The Aztec is the national horse of Mexico and it has a special temperament for any type of discipline because of its docility, but at the same time it carries a lot of spirit.
The expert rider also has Peruvians, Paso and miniatures. The Peruvian comes from the country bearing its name and is a breed that originated from the Iberian horse. Its legs move laterally and it rides very smooth, he said.
As far as training is concerned, Becerra explained that every horse has its own characteristics.
"I repeat what my grandpa would tell me, /They/re all good, there/s no such thing as a bad horse./"
And he added that there also are no bad riders except those lacking in experience.
Becerra, who has participated in the most famous equestrian shows in this country, has worked in videos with singer-composer Shania Twain and artist Ezequiel Peña, with whom he did three videos at Becerra/s ranch.
The trainer also doubled for Anthony Quinn in a film in 1989; and acted in the film "The Spirit of the Eagle," the TV series "Hunters of Creatures," and in videos in which he only appears for 30 seconds.
For him, working with horses is fun. It is a job that he sees as a game, but which has its own seriousness and discipline. And in his perspective, horses are priceless.
"When you don/t want to sell a horse, it doesn/t matter how much they offer you." And if you end up selling it, you stay in contact with the owner of the animal. "It/s like a baby. Something that becomes a part of life."
Which is why Becerra enjoys every day. And he thanks God for "giving me the opportunity to be able to do this (training horses) and to have horses and be able to play horsey," he quipped.
Becerra said horses are an incomparable therapy for the mind because there is no stress. No hurry. "You have to be patient and tolerate them. And respect them when they don/t feel up to training," he said.
He added that horses are very similar to people, except that they don/t deceive and can/t communicate verbally. But after working with them and spending time with them, you get to understand them quite well.
The secret is having a lot of patience, he said There comes a time when a horse understands you. And that is achieved through repetition.
Among his next shows is the July 23 performance in Santa Barbara, where he will demonstrate reining, dressage, trick riding and other skills with various breeds. All are trained in the equestrian arts and to perform comical acts.
He said the event will be a fund-raiser for the Santa Ynez Valley Charter School and extended an invitation for "all his Latino countrymen to come and see an wide variety of equestrian acts that promises to be the most stupendous show ever performed on the Central Coast."
Dancing With Horses will take place at 7:30 p.m. at the Earl Warren Show Grounds in Santa Barbara. Tickets are available for ,25 each, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Santa Ynez Valley Charter School. For information, call Charlotte Dicke at 350-1232 or visit charlotte@peruvian classified.com. They are also available at Musica Hidalgo and Gracian Agricultural Co. in Buellton; SYV Charter School and Santa Ynez Feed and Milling Co. in Santa Ynez; Rudy/s Mexican Restaurant in Buellton, Goleta and Santa Barbara; and Jedlicka/s Saddlery in Los Olivos and Santa Barbara.