A conversation with the legendary vaquero, Dan Lopez.
By Marie Pierre Agostini
Dan Lopez is the epitome of a true Ojai legend and has many stories to tell.
I had the privilege to meet Dan Lopez about eight years ago and we became friends through our love of horses.
I watched him train and asked for tips and he would tease me, but in a kind, funny way and always with advice. We boarded at the same place, so I able to spend a lot of time with him and his last Appaloosa “Badger”. Wow what a beauty! His last horse that he recently sold was a magnificent palomino named “Shinner” that gave you the sense Lopez was going back to his roots.
A fourth generation vaquero (the english word “buckaroo” derives from the Spanish word vaquero) and hall of famer, was born in nearby Santa Paula on April 7th, 1934.
In the 40’s, Lopez lived with his parents and siblings on a feedlot in Newhall California where his father worked as a horse trainer and wrangler and attended Ojai elementary school and Nordoff High School.
Later Lopez made the move to Charles Perkin’s land in Rancho Dos Rios on Creek Rd. and then moved on to having his own training facilities in upper Ojai.
This was not a hobby for the legendary horseman, but a true cowboy way of life.
As Lopez barely entered his teens, he suffered the devastating loss of his father. This monumental life event propelled him into working multiple jobs while training horses on the side, until he was ready to carry on his father’s legacy and became a full-time trainer in the 60’s.
Lopez won his first world championship in Sweetwater Texas, on an Appaloosa named “Ditto Sid”. At the ranch, he worked and trained a wide variety of horses, but his passion was clearly for the “Appy”, noting they had better feet and legs and were easier to train.
Lopez comes off as rather sweet and shy, which he most certainly is, but don’t let his demeanor fool you. This cowboy has won world titles and more buckles than you can count.
In his approximately 70 years in the saddle, Lopez has won 16 world championships, 15 national championships in a variety of working cow and horse categories.
Lopez remembers fondly how much he “loved a crowd” and enjoyed nothing more than getting the audience excited with his run downs and horse tricks. He also shared fond memories of joining the prestigious Rose Parade.
But before Lopez got the sweet taste of success as a cowboy, he volunteered for the army in 1952 and became a war veteran for fighting in the Korean war.
Lopez tells true old western style stories about becoming a U.S. Marshall and the vigorous background checks he went through to be able to carry a gun in his holster.
His wife Kathleen loves the badge of the US Marshall and jokes “she would love to make them into earrings”.
Back in the day, Lopez tells a story of being caught changing his license plate from one trailer to another by his good buddy, a local Sheriff. Instead of citing him, in true old west style, the Sheriff said “Let me escort you to your next destination, so you don’t have any trouble”.
That Sheriff came to his rescue one again when his truck broke down in Palm Springs after a horse show. Lopez went to the nearest mechanic and after realizing they did not have the right part, he called the Sheriff and said, “Can you do me a favor and fly the part down to Palm Springs”. The Sheriff said “No problem. I will see you in a couple of hours”.
That my friends is some serious cowboy loyalty and respect.
Lopez shared many fond memories of his family and the Ojai community which gives you a strong sense of how much he is loved and respected in the area.
His sister, who was 11 years older and was an excellent rider, chose to follow a career in nursing and moved to San Francisco. She also became a vintage car enthusiast and before her passing, she gifted Lopez her amazing antique Ford Coupe Model A which he cherished and proudly showed at local parades.
Throughout his horse training career he made lifelong friends riding with the likes of Ronny Richards and Clint Haverty, who was a dear friend and one of his main competitors. “The bleachers”, as he calls them, were completely full with horse riding enthusiasts who were loud and excitable. Everyone was very supportive and friendly back in the day.
Sitting with this legendary cowboy you get the sense that Dan Lopez lived the life he wanted and accomplished more than he could have ever dreamt of.
“It’s Judge Judy time” he tells me, which mean “that’s a wrap” for this story, but not for this living legend!