Keeping a Tight Rein on Horses, Crime : Weekend cowboy: 'It's a way for me to keep my sanity,' Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury says of his horseback forays to friend's Ojai ranch.


Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury spends most of his time these days trying to corral criminals.

But he tries to save the weekends for catching cows.

The man known throughout the courtrooms of California as one of the state's toughest prosecutors is also known among the horsemen and cattle ranchers of the county as a top cowboy.

Bradbury rides and ropes regularly on weekends at Harold Parker's 4,000-acre Ojai cattle ranch, where he keeps his horse, Vaminos.

A half a dozen times a year, he joins roundups at other cattle ranches around the county, pitching in on castration, branding, de-horning, vaccination and all the other chores of real cowboy life.

Bradbury also rides with the Ventura County Sheriff's Posse and last year won the all-around cowboy award from the Rancheros Adolfo, one of the county's equestrian groups.

As Bradbury sees it, he's just one of many horse lovers in a county that still has plenty of room for trail riders and even working cowboys.

"This is real horse country," Bradbury said recently while saddling Vaminos at Parker's ranch.

"I think it was Will Rogers who said that the best thing for the insides of a man is the outside of a horse," Bradbury said. "It's one of the best ways I've found to get rid of the stress that goes with my job."

Bradbury, 47, grew up literally surrounded by cattle ranches in the cowboy and logging town of Susanville in Lassen County.

His father was the local chief of police and his uncle was the county sheriff.

As a teen-ager in Susanville, Bradbury worked as a firefighter, a hod carrier, a janitor and a bag boy at the local Safeway store. He was also a linebacker for Lassen Union High School.

He learned to ride and rope at an early age and worked around cattle ranches at roundup time.

Not only did he acquire the skills of a modern working cowhand, he came away from those early experiences with a firm grasp of cowboy philosophy.

"A hippie wouldn't have lasted 30 seconds in Susanville back in the '60s," Bradbury said recently. "It was a beautiful little town with a very solid work ethic."

As district attorney, Bradbury has built a statewide reputation for toughness partly because of a strict policy of refusing to plea bargain criminal cases.

That toughness carries over to the weekends when he is riding the range on Vaminos.

Bradbury recalled an incident two years ago when he was helping on a roundup at Parker's ranch.

"I was trying to get a rangy old cow and calf off the mountains, but the calf was too hard to rope in, so I roped the cow," Bradbury said.

"The cow charged me and broke some ribs, although I didn't know it at the time. I kept working cattle that day, kind of wondering why I was having trouble breathing."

Bradbury was back at his office that Monday. It wasn't until later that he bothered going to a doctor to find out the extent of the damage.

Last year's award from the Rancheros Adolfo was a "big thrill," Bradbury said. This year he will be after another top cowboy trophy from that group and also will compete in roping and cutting events with the Rancheros Vistadores, the Santa Barbara horsemen's group that includes many of Ronald Reagan's closest advisers.

While Bradbury said he looks forward to that outing, his second as a guest rider with the Rancheros Vistadores, he made it clear that he looks forward to just about any occasion when he can put the courtroom momentarily behind him and hit the trails of Ventura County.

"I love horses," Bradbury said. "It's a way for me to keep my sanity."

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