Father-son ‘charros’ Tomas and Luis Garcilazo put on a show for the riders with their roping artistry

An event that has been interrupted way too often in recent years was back on in Solvang on May 4, as the Rancheros Visitadores riders made their way through town. It was event that was not only a re-creation of an old tradition, but a major fundraiser for the Cancer Foundation of Santa Barbara.

In all, an estimated 750 cowboys from 37 states and six countries came up from Santa Barbara — either on horseback or in horse-drawn wagons — and paraded up Alisal Road past a throng of spectators lining the street and waving American flags given out before their arrival.

It was a welcome sight for those who enjoy the annual ride, because the event hasn’t been all that “annual” lately; in fact, it’s only happened once in Solvang in the previous four years.

Riders carrying U.S. and California state flags lead the procession as hundreds of riders from the Rancheros Visitadores and their horses march up Alisal Road in Solvang for their traditional ride. The riders gathered at Mission Santa Ines for the blessing and ceremony. Photo by Mike Chaldu

The ride was canceled in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID pandemic. The ride made a triumphant return in 2022, but last year it had to bypass Solvang because of the heavy storms in early 2023 that impacted that route from Santa Barbara.

Solvang dentist Dr. Ken Nash was on the sidewalk curb along with his family waiting for the procession and said he was thrilled to see the riders returning.

“We’ve always enjoyed this, and missed it last year,” he said. “But it should be really good.”

According to the website highnoon.com, The Rancheros Visitadores is a riding group that was formed in 1930 in Santa Barbara. The ride was inspired by the early California “Mission days” tradition where Rancheros from the neighboring countryside would gather in the spring time at the nearest Mission with their cattle herds — then advance towards the next Mission working the cattle as they went — branding the calves, cutting out the beef for hides and tallow, castrating the calves and old bulls, and sending the sickly or injured cattle back to their respective ranchos.

The group had the idea of doing that ride and stopping off at Mission Santa Ines, where the priest would bless the herd and the riders before they moved on.

Among the Los Rancheros Visitadores members who would make the ride over the years were celebrities like Clark Gable, Walt Disney, Gary Cooper and Chuck Yeager. And in the 1970s, former actor and future President Ronald Reagan would make the traditional trek.

For the latest ride, the horsemen took their usual route up Alisal, right on Mission Drive/Highway 246 and onto the Mission Santa Ines grounds, where all gathered in front of the historic building face Mission Drive for the blessing of the riders.

After that, leaders of the Rancheros Visitadores reminded the riders a big reason why they were there as Corky Ullman, Peter Oppenheimer, and Kelly Riley presented a large check to the Cancer Foundation of Santa Barbara for $1.53 million, representing the amount the the Visitadores have given to the cause over the past 12 years. Stephanie Carlyle of the Cancer Foundation accepted the check for her organization.

Peter Oppenheimer, the fundraising lead for the Rancheros, mentioned how the efforts to help the Cancer Foundation began with a former member, the late Steve Benito.

Stephanie Carlyle of the Cancer Foundation of Santa Barbara accepts a check May 4 from the Ranchero Visitadores representing the amount the Rancheros have donated over the last 12 years. Behind her (from left) are Rancheros President Corky Ullman, Fundraising Lead Peter Oppenheimer, Cancer Foundation Trustee Kristin Blabey, and Rancheros fundraiser Kelly Riley. Photo by Mike Chaldu

“I co-chair along with Kelly Riley the RV Bucking Cancer Fund that our beloved Steve Benito began 12 years ago,” Oppenheimer said. “Cancer has a very negative impact on his family and so many Rancheros that he knew and he wanted to do something about it. But he also felt that we should support the people that live in this community.”

Oppenheimer gave the example of a woman who was helped out by that generosity.

“[She is] a woman who was battling uterine cancer, who has benefited from your generosity,” he continued. “She has been receiving her chemotherapy and immunotherapy just down the road and saving a drive multiple times a week to Santa Barbara.”

After the check presentation, the crowd was treated to some entertainment as emcee Bob Feist introduced Mexican “charro” horseman and trick roper Tomas Garcilazo and his son, 8-year-old Louis, who, as the crowd would soon find out, has learned well from his dad on how to be a “charro.”

Tomas Garcilazo may be familiar to rodeo fans for his performances at the National Finals Rodeo or for his stint on TBS talent series “Go-Big Show,” where he won the show’s $100,000 grand prize in 2021.

With PRCA Announcer of the Year Anthony Lucia calling the action, Tomas and Louis wowed the group of riders with their expertise and artistry with the ropes while riding and even standing atop the horses.

After the performance, Lucia exclaimed “Ladies and gentlemen, I think we can all come together as family, friends, and fans, as rancheros and mavericks, and show those two incredible cowboys and charros that we appreciate what they showed us today.”

The gathering wound down with the performance of Rancheros member George Stillman, who did his customary rendition of “The Vaquero Song,” in honor of past rancheros.

As the presentation ended and the riders started to exit the area, Ullman had a chance to comment on the proceedings of the day.

“It was good to be able to get back up here,” he said as he rode alongside his son Chad. “It was a good day and a good ride, because it was overcast most of the day, it didn’t get too hot for the horses. Hoping we can do it again next year.”

Some rode in a horse-drawn wagon, and some rode on horseback during the Rancheros Visitadores ride through Solvang on May 4. Photos by Mike Chaldu