The men are shown with sex toys around their necks, doing skits in blackface, dressed in wigs and women’s clothing and consuming copious quantities of alcoholic beverages…[I]t’s the American power elite at play, as photographed by Alejandro Tomas over 26 years of attending an annual horse ride called Rancheros Visitadores in the Santa Ynez Valley near Santa Barbara, Calif.
Tomas, a senior faculty member at Seattle Central Community College, has assembled a startling photo essay on leisure activities of leading citizens — including a former president of the United States. The ride of the rich, in early May, is one of several elite gatherings: Best known is the summer Bohemian Grove encampment in Northern California, where Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon once huddled over 1968 presidential plans.
Tomas’ photo essay begins with solemnity. The Rancheros get a send-off at the 204-year-old Mission Santa Ines, where a Franciscan priest conducts a “Blessing of the Horses” and tells their owners to “ride with God.” Leaving the mission, those in the saddle plan their sins. Tomas’ shots show prostitutes arranging assignations with Rancheros during the upcoming weeklong ride. The hookers come from as far away as Las Vegas.
Liaisons take place away from the Ranchero’s three encampments, in nearby towns where some of the locals call them “Los Ranchero Liquidores.” Of course, no women are permitted on or near the trail ride. The campsites — set up by a largely Hispanic work force — are locked from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. But Tomas’ pictures show much away-from-camp cavorting.
Who goes on the ride? The club is exclusive, white and male, with a membership limited to 600. A couple hundred invited guests and guys from the wait list attend each year. Photos from the 1989 ride show Reagan, an honorary member, on a buckboard beside former Interior Secretary William Clark. Gen. P.X. Kelly, commandant of the Marines, also is pictured.
“Ronald Reagan was known as somewhat of a moralist,” Tomas explained. Hence, we have a revealing pair of shots from the ’89 ride. The Gipper is shown looking on at a male skit. In the skit, a blown-up sex doll has been discreetly clad in a bra and panties.
At least the doll was dressed discreetly.