So you want to be a cowboy. If you're not born and raised on a ranch, weaned on horses and cattle, exactly how do you go about achieving that all-American dream? I always wanted to be a cowgirl but by some strange accident I was born in Philly and lived the better part of my adult life in Jersey. Not exactly the Wild West, but I did it- I found a job in Colorado wrangling horses. I would never call myself a real 'cowgirl' because at the age of 49 I'll never get there. And I too much respect what the real cowboys and girls do. But I wrangle horses, can saddle and care for them, and I can teach other folks the basics.
Not bad for a girl from Philly.No matter where you live, the first step in becoming a cowboy (forget the gender thing for a minute if you can) is to get familiar with horses. Take lessons if you can afford it.
If not, volunteer to clean stalls at any barn anywhere. Within driving distance of any major city you'll find stables of some kind. I used to volunteer at the Atlantic Riding School for the Handicapped. This organization used horses as physical therapy for disabled children and adults. There were specially trained instructors but they always needed help cleaning stalls, saddling horses, and walking beside the riders for safety. Do whatever you can to start getting a real comfort level with horses.
Next, start your mind-training. Read, read, read about the cowboy lifestyle, about life in the West, about a "day in the life" of a cowboy. You'll find most "real" cowboys are born and raised in the West, and were on horses before they could walk.
You can't really aspire to this, but you can absolutely become a ranch hand, a wrangler, and a dude horse trainer. "Dude" in the West refers to any city slicker or any non-ranch or horse person. In Jersey, 'dude' was a surfer term of endearment. Not so much out West.
This is what you can learn by reading about the cowboy culture.A "wrangler" is a person ? not always a cowboy ? who has some basic competence around horses. He can groom, saddle, and care for them; he understands tack (horse equipment, saddles, blankets, bridles etc.
) and is committed to safety on a horse and when teaching others. Cowboys do wrangle, but they do a whole lot more than that. They are usually responsible for an entire herd on a ranch (and you can't imagine the trouble horses can create) and they do tons of general maintenance involving tractors, fences, hay, and any structure on a ranch. It's a hard life.Start to explore areas of the country where you can work outside with horses.
Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana do the lion's share of dude ranching so these are a natural fit for cowboys-in-training. But anywhere you live in this country, there's probably green space somewhere, with someone working horses. Do you research and find it. If you can afford to travel, go West young man or woman (or in my case, middle-age woman). Take a horse pack trip ? they're not that expensive ? and get familiar with the process of horse-related travel. This is where I met the folks I work with now.
I took a five day pack trip into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. When I came down from the mountain, life would never be the same.If you are young, you're probably not yet saddled (sorry) with debt and family responsibilities. Even with little experience you can get a job on a ranch as a hand or a beginner wrangler.
You have to be eager, and willing to work hard. There are a few places ? including my ranch, through Mountain Spirit Adventures (http://www.mountainspiritadvnetures.com) where you can actually attend a Wrangler School.
Our academy is a six-day intensive program designed to give folks basic competency in the horse adventure industry. These courses are enormously beneficial and surely look good on a wrangler resume.If you really want to be a part of the cowboy or wrangler culture you have to be willing to work very long hard hours, outdoors, in any weather. Summers in the dude ranch industry are incredibly busy ? 16 hour days, and many nights spent sleeping under the stars (not a bad perk, huh?) There are a few great websites for outdoor jobs, like www.coolworks.com and www.
ranchweb.com . You won't believe what's available. You can also do a Google search for dude ranches in Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana.
You may need to start out as a cook one summer, and work your way up to wrangling.I was a high school teacher and (gulp) a litigation attorney for 16 years before my dream of being a wrangler came to fruition. If this nearly-50 year old Jersey girl can ride the range for a living surely you can too. Good luck, and come see me at the ranch..
Phyllis Coletta co-owns and operates KB Mountain Adventures and Mountain Spirit Adventures at Bear Basin Ranch in Colorado. Feel free to contact her through either website, http://www.kbmountainadventures.com and http://www.
By: Phyllis Coletta