The Cowboy And His Horse

Posted in: Featured, Ranch Life

The horses a working cowboy rides probably have more impact on his daily happiness than any other aspect of ranch life. A good cowboy carefully notes everything about his string of horses – their ages, level of training, physical size, length of stride, temperament, willingness to work, and surefootedness. He selects a horse for each day depending on what the work is supposed to be.

I write “supposed to be” because sometimes unforeseen things happen, like the cows won’t move or they all run the wrong way, and a quick, simple job can turn into an all-day, horse-killing job. If that happens, a cowboy needs enough horse sense to know when to let the cows get away or reduce the workload while on the job because his horse is spent.

If the cowboy crew is branding calves, a guy might pick a colt that needs experience in the roping pen. Or, he might pick an older bridle horse if he knows many of the other guys will be riding colts who could use a seasoned horse to help them. If he’s making a big circle gathering cows, he’ll pick something that is in shape and tough, without much preference given to mounts with refined cowhorse abilities. If the crew is shipping calves, picking a horse that responds quickly to bit signals and is cowy becomes a higher priority.

Here, Conor Leveille ropes a horse at the Spanish Ranch in northeastern Nevada. Matching a horse to the day’s work is important not only to ensure that the work goes smoothly, but also to the cowboy’s physical comfort. Long-trotting all day on a short-strided horse can wreck a person’s back like none other.

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Here, Jim Young (my husband) heads a calf on Shorty, his personal bridle horse, while Junior Harney picks up the heels on a Spanish Ranch cavvy horse. Coincidentally, the horse Junior is riding is the same one that is pictured above.

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Shorty is aptly named, but he’s as wide as a barrel and doesn’t consider himself to be small in any way, shape or form. If Jim slides a little rope on his mulehide-wrapped horn, Shorty will pull around big bovines and even other horses. He is gentle enough for the wife and kids to ride, plus he looks like a cartoon character. We love Shorty.

Cowboys aren’t always roping and riding, though. Here, Jim rides one and leads three from the West Split corrals on the O RO Ranch in northern Arizona to our nearby camp, the Triangle N. On a ranch with few trailers, tying a string together and leading them across the open country is a necessary skill for both cowboys and horses.

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While Jim bridled and warmed up his riding horse, he tied the string of three together and left them loose in another corral. Here, they seem to be quietly conspiring. Or maybe they’re just exchanging gossip about the mare next door, perhaps chit-chatting about who hasn’t lost their winter hair yet. At any rate, they were content to stand together with the lead rope of each tied to another’s neck.

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Little cowgirls like horses, too, (of course) and horses typically like little cowgirls (or anyone else) holding a chunk of alfalfa hay.

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“Never pass up a chance to buy a piece of silver,” is an old buckaroo adage. Here, Jim’s silver headstall on Junior’s gray horse demonstrates that shinier is always better.

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Like cowboys pulling a double circle, ranch horses get tired, too. Here, a gray horse on the O RO Ranch dozes in the sun. His rider hobbled him and let him hold his leggings while he helped work the ground for a bit of afternoon branding.

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Horses are a tool that cowboys need to do their jobs, but their bond runs deeper and stronger than that of a carpenter and his hammer. They don’t talk about it much out loud or in public, but it’s an actual fact, every bit as true as the fact that a horse with a long, sloping shoulder will have a long stride and be comfortable to ride from sun to sun.

Posted in: Featured, Ranch Life


About Jolyn Young

Jolyn Young lives on Mann Lake Ranch in eastern Oregon with her husband and their two small kids. For more, visit www.jolynyoung.com....

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