Ranching in Florida; Florida Cowboys
- October 13, 2023
- Marisol Tarango
If you took a cowboy from every region of the United States and lined them all up in a row, they would all look like a group of cowboys. Of course, on closer inspection you would notice differences in the style of their clothes and gear, and if you listened to them talk about how they go about cowboying, you might notice that they all do the same thing a little differently. These differences occur for many reasons like environment, culture, and what is available. Cowboys from warmer climates will not be seen wearing woolies, and cowboys in northern climates do not wear their straw hats as often as cowboys in warmer climates do (they can probably get away with wearing their felt hats all year long). Just like all cowboys, Florida cowboys have their own quirks that make them unique.
While cow whips are used by cowboys in many places in the south, Florida cowboys are probably the most famous for it. These whips used to be braided out of leather, but they are now mostly made of parachute cord because it lasts longer in the humidity, with a general length being 10 feet long. On a Florida cowboy’s saddle his rope will hang on one side of the horn and his whip from the other. When gathering cattle, noise from the whip is used to drive cattle out of the woods or to urge a bull along that is having other thoughts than going along with the herd. They can also be used to signal where you are in the woods when everyone is to far apart for yelling. Nothing quite says it’s going to be a good day than when you are riding through a pine flat ringing with cow whips and lowing cattle as the morning sun shines down through the branches.
Most cowboys wear straw cowboy hats in the summer, but in Florida they are often worn all year long, except on the coldest day of the year. The heat and humidity make it unbearable to wear a felt hat during the summer, and with no way for the air to move around it just traps the heat and moisture right on top of your head. A straw hat is light enough and has enough airflow that it doesn’t feel like you are riding around with a sauna on the top of your head. Not only are straw hats cooler, but over the summer they are exposed to so much rain and moisture it is cheaper to buy a straw hat in the spring and throw it away at the end of shipping season instead of ruining a felt hat.
When working in the cow pens you will probably see several cowboys wearing rubber boots while on the ground, especially during the wet season. With the amount of rain that we get in the summer and Florida’s ground not being the best draining ground, things can get muddy pretty quick, especially if you add a herd of cows to it. Often, cowboys start out in rubber boots while catching their horse in the morning, so their boots don’t get soaked from the dew. Then after the herd is penned and everyone is assigned their position in the pens, the ones bringing up the cows to the chute will put their rubber boots back on until the pen work is done. It may not be the most flattering or the most cowboy look, but it’s better to wear rubber boots than to have wet socks all day.
One thing that you will find lacking in Florida is hard ground and rocks. To find rocks when we were little, my siblings and I would have to go to certain spots in the pasture where rocks had been left from phosphate mining or go to the creek. Because of this we were always shocked when we went out of state and there were rocks just laying everywhere. Since the ground is so soft in Florida, this also means that we do not have to shoe our horses as often for protection. Most cowboys’ horses can go their whole lives without being shod. This can also make things interesting on the rare occasion a cowboy does have to shoe his horse for the first time.
What works great for Florida cowboys everyday to get the job done, works for them because they have adapted over the years to use what works. Just like cowboys from Montana, Texas, California and anywhere else in the United States have for generations. Cowboy ingenuity may be questionable sometimes, but it is one of the trademarks of cowboys everywhere and is what gets them home at the end of the day.
About Marisol Tarango
Marisol lives on her family’s ranch in Central Florida where she grew up working cattle and horses with her dad and four siblings, while being homeschooled by her mom. Today she balances her life between working on the ranch, working as a church secretary in...