North County's Real Horseman

At 69 years strong, he holds rein on 16 Championship Titles, 4 Saddle Titles and on occasion wears one of his 24 Award Buckles real proud

By: Timothy Moonstone
John Farris, who has lived in the Ranch and North County these many years is certain to be one of the more likable personalities that you will find about town. It just so happens that once in the saddle during a competition, his demeanor is elevated to another realm and be you calf or competitor, you will feel his presence in the ring among the other riders to be rather intimidating, and as often as not, challenging the best in the field for the coveted top honor. We caught up with John having returned from one of his competitions, which takes him to various venues within the country as well as to England to ride the countryside with longtime friends. Photography by Warren Wilson

Q: As a native Californian, how was it that your family settled here?

A; My Mother's family traces far back to England, with the first ancestor of mine to arrive in Boston in 1628. My great, great Grandfather crossed the plains in a cover wagon back in 1864. He settled his family with six children in northeastern California on a large 2,000-acre ranch, later reduced to 400 acres, and that is where I spent my childhood years.

Q: Being born on a ranch likely put you on horseback rather young?

A: I am told that I was on horseback by age 2 and began solo by age of 5. I remember loving every minute of it, and soon began to take it far more seriously than my two brothers. I had my first competition at age 12.

Q: Was there much success at competition during those early years?

A: At age 14 I won my first JYM Khana Cattle roping competition, at age 16 headed the Junior Rodeo and at 19 showed at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. I then went to study at US Davis where I started the Polo Team. My ambition and career goal was to become a veterinarian, servicing larger animals, however, for a variety of reasons that never came to fruition.

Q: When did you eventually move to the North County of San Diego?

A: I first made my way to San Diego in 1983. All of those years I continued to ride and began to focus on the Old Spanish Vaquero (Horseman) style of riding, which has always been the most difficult in competition. It takes a good trainer and a good horseman. Glen Aspinall, my horse trainer has been superb. In the 2004 World Show, I placed 7th and 9th in the nation.

I have no interest in the 50 and over competition. I prefer the title to mean something. Many of the older riders have thanked me for the inspiration. I'm not as certain how the under 50 riders feel when I take the ring, and as often as not wear the Buckle home.

Q: What makes that style of competition so difficult?

A: The competition is styled in the tradition of the Old California Vaqueros of the 1800's. Your horse has to be well trained and the rider in full control. It focuses on reining the horse, cutting out a calf from the herd and controlling its movement down the fence line. You must have near instant response from the horse without spiking the calf, all of which takes mastery of the sport.

Q: Have you had a number of injuries while riding over the years?

A: You would be hard pressed to find a rider who is injury free. I've had no major injuries that show, however, there have been broken bones now and again over the many years.

Q: Would we likely find you trail riding in the North County?

A: You certainly would and I find it to be one of the greater pleasures of living here and I plan to ride the trails for a good many more years to come.