Cowboys, Rodeos, and Trail Drive Training

Working Cowgirl in Action

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21st Century Cowhands

Cowboys and cowgirls are still active in the USA, - one reason that Americans still wear 10-gallon cowboy hats in Olympic Games Opening and Closing Ceremonies. They will likely do so again in the Vancouver Winter Olympics of 2010.

America is not the only country that supports working cowhands, though. Friends and I visited British Columbia and one wore a cowboy hat. Passersby asked him if he was from Alberta, a Canadian province known for cowboys and their hats.

Argentina also has cowboys. Cowboys and cowgirls likely work in many countries south of the US and all over Country Music as a genre. This is evidenced - in attire, at any rate - at the Country Music Awards each year.

The history of cowboys in America may be different than most people think. In a then-new traveling presentation at the Ohio Historical Society in 1995, we learned that the first cowboys in America were likely African American. They worked even before the Civil War, escaping early slavery to live with various Native American Nations and to work with bison and then cattle.

Later on, after slavery was abolished, some became tenant farmers, some moved East and some moved West to become cowhands on trail drives and ranches. Mel Brooks parodies this situation in a famous film featuring Don Cheadle: Blazing Saddles.

(Note: To clear up some questions, the black cowboys I reference were even observed by some of my ancestors that moved from UK to America and then immediately westward from 1800 onward.)


Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and Congress of Rough Riders of the World, 1899.
Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and Congress of Rough Riders of the World, 1899. | Source
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Branding steers.
Branding steers.
Branding steers.

What is a Cowhand - Boy or Girl?

Briefly, a cowhand is a person that helps take care of cattle. A cowboy is one that performs this work in North America (including Florida and Hawaii) by some definitions, but South American cowboys certainly exist. Australian cowboys work very hard at their trade as well, even in a different hemisphere. Cowgirls are often rodeo participants or singers associated with rodeos. However, women and teen girls are active in the US on cattle ranches and as horse trainers and riders in Western Style.

Many historians believe that the concept of the job known as "cowboy" as a cattle herder came from Northern Mexico in the 1800s. The job called "wrangler" involves working the cattle drive horses, and "breaking" and training new horses to the team. Cowboys and wranglers work on working cattle ranches, on cattle drives, on dude ranches, in rodeos, and in film and on TV as actors and consultants.

Cowgirls have done the same work as cowboys, starting about the same time, in the pioneering spirit of the women that helped settle the West when whites first moved in to former Native American lands. Not as much documentation exists about the cowgirls as the cowboys, and the original cowboys were Mexican - and in the US territories, black.

Stepping back another distance, Native Americans handled bison herds in North America before the whites and Southern Hemisphere Natives learned to handle horses after their introduction by the Spanish. However, it was Mexican, whites and African Americans that were first called cowboys.

Film & TV Cowboy Roy Rogers

Roy Rogers on TV Show "This Is Your Life."
Roy Rogers on TV Show "This Is Your Life."

The Cowboy Humor of Will Rogers; 19th and 20th c.

Will Rogers, great American humorist and writer, was part cowboy and part Cherokee. He entertained audiences with provocative thoughts such as these:

If you're riding' ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to make sure it's still there.

If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

There's two theories to arguing with a woman. Neither one works.

It don't take a genius to spot a goat in a flock of sheep.

Will Rogers Before 1900

Cowboy Training Today

Training on working cattle ranches today takes the shape of OJT (on the job training), sometimes after college graduation with a degree in business, farming/ranching, ranch management, agriculture, animal science or a related subject.

As another Hubber has mentioned, the candidate really does need to know how to ride and train a horse, usually needs to own his/her own gear and tack, and may even need to own a horse. Regardless, cowhand and ranch hand training take a lot of physical work and physical fitness is of primary importance to this work.

There is a difference between work and exercise. I ran hard for 10 years as a restaurant manager, but that was not exercise. In fact, without exercise, that type of physical work will only break down your body. The work won't build it up.

Anyone that does physical work would benefit from a physical fitness program, along with an effective diet, proper nutrition, and relaxation in addition to adequate sleep. For example, construction workers could benefit from stretching before and after the work day and from a regular regimen of exercise in order to prevent injuries and to increase productivity.

Japanese business encourages and even require exercise form workers and the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s demonstrated that required exercise and relaxation markedly reduced both employees' industrial injuries and off-duty driving accidents (Ohio Bureau of Worker's Compensation, Rehabilitation Division, Andrew Hinkle, PhD, 1986).

Working with cattle and horses requires physical fitness and it should be a part of the life of every cowboy long-term.

A modern cattle drive in 2005.
A modern cattle drive in 2005.

Additional Training Programs

One commercial cowboy school is Bob King's Cowboy School, Inc. Class size is small and prices are expensive, up to $5,000 for 4 weeks. Montana Cowboy School is similarly priced.

Training on a ranch for 2 or 3 days is available at Cowboy John's Tours in Nevada and no prices are listed onsite, but an inquiry may be made. All of these types of programs are in the nature of vacation activities and self improvement courses. Pictures of participants often depict retirees.

Typical Job Description in a Cowboy Want Ad:

  • 60 hours per week, education not specified.
  • Competitive compensation package; possible housing.
  • Ranch needs experienced employee for diversified cattle/farming operation.
  • Duties: riding pens and pastures, processing cattle, reparing fences.
  • Excellent horsemanship skills are required, must have own tack.
  • Prefer strong cattle health and herd health skills.

Typical Ranch Hand Ad:

  • 40+ hours per week, $18,000 per year.
  • Break colts, rope & doctor yearlings, calve out heifers, feed cattle and horses, fix fences,
  • Should have skills in auto mechanics, welding, woodcutting, etc.
  • House/utilities provided, with insurance for hand and family.
  • Not interested in drifters or alcoholics.
  • Need someone who is serious about what they do long-term.

On AgCareers.com, I found that a Bison Ranch Manager in Alberta can make $60,000 - $100,000 a year with an advanced degree and 15 years' experience.

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Source

Ranch Management Training programs

Top Ranch Management Training in the US is offered by

  • King Ranch Institute - http://krirm.tamuk.edu/ - associated with Texas A & M University.
  • Texas Christian University - http://www.ranch.tcu.edu/
  • Otero Junior College - La Junta, Colorado - http://www.OJC.edu
  • Dawson Community College - Glendive, Montana - http://www.dawson.edu
  • Northland Community and Technical College - Thief River Falls, Minnesota - http://www.northlandcollege.edu
  • Iowa State University - http://www.iastate.edu

Cowboy Poetry

Cowboy poetry is a well received genre of literature and the spoken word, but it is becoming more popular with the media coverage afforded by the Internet and Cable TV.We formerly heard such things only on the late night talk shows, but now it's everywhere.

Yearly contests are awarding increasingly larger prizes that are perused by cowboy and cowgirl poets across the nation and all of North America.Several US States also hold their one state or regional contests.

Some interesting links that explain the genre and offer good examples are given below.

A Real Cowgirl Poet, Georgie Sicking

Georgie Sicking at National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame

Cowboy Poetry Gathering - Oscar Auker recites Larry McWhorter's "Cowboy Count Your Blessings."

Cowgirls in the Golden Age of Comic Books.
Cowgirls in the Golden Age of Comic Books.
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© 2009 Patty Inglish

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Comments and Opinions 32 comments

Philipo profile image

Philipo 6 years ago from Nigeria

Pls train me.


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

That was interesting to me because I just wrote a hub about the 'Wild West' and 'Get 'Em Up and Move 'Em On' Thank you very much for an enjoyable read and I learned a lot from it. The only thing I couldn't understand is '10-gallon' cowboy hats. It is the wording 'gallon' which confuses me.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

@Philipo - I can barely ride a horse myself, but I might take the class one day. :)

@Hello, hello - "10-gallon" is a particular hat size in Texas, I believe. It's a slang term for cowboy hat, at any rate. I will make sure to read your Hub.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

The "Cowboy" is a major part of American folklore, although the term used in books and movies is seldom really about cowboys, but rather about outlaws, gunmen, and other adventurers. I do recall reading a book many, many years ago about the West and how the Cowboy owed much to the Spanish-Americans. What I remember most is that they were both horsemen and would never walk if they could help it. Much of the equipment--lariats, wide brimmed hats and other things came from the contact with the Mexican culture.

You have a very nice and informative hub here.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

Thanks very much, dahoglund - It's still very hard work today, from the sounds of it.


Shelly Bryant profile image

Shelly Bryant 6 years ago from Singapore and/or Shanghai

Wow! That's a really nice, informative hub.

Thanks for the fun read!


ngureco profile image

ngureco 6 years ago

This is a very good read. I had the idea that cowboys and cowgirls are very wealthy people who spend most of their time as outlaws, gunmen/gunwomen, adventurers, untouchables and casually dressed in very expensive clothing. Why do movies like glorifying them when they are just servants employed to look after cattle?


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

@ngureco - Movies make a lot of money from those images, don't they? People pay to see them. LOL

Thanks, Shelly!


Dim Flaxenwick profile image

Dim Flaxenwick 6 years ago from Great Britain

That was a most unusual hub, but as always a great read.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

Thank you,Dim. Ranch hands can often receive free living quarters, which is a great help during hard economic times. These are a careers I think a lot of people do not realize exist. Thanks for reading.


lisadpreston profile image

lisadpreston 6 years ago from Columbus, Ohio

I love this hub. I didn't know a lot of the information on here concerning cowboys. Im a big fan of cowboys and the wild west, along with the Native American half of me, history. This was an enjoyable read, thank you.


dusanotes profile image

dusanotes 6 years ago from Windermere, FL

Patty, an interesting and informative Hub. I really believe, however, that our cowboys learned more from the Indians and Mexicans than they ever got from the blacks. I'm talkin' about the wild west - Utah, Texas, Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado. Cowboys developed along the Oregon and Mormon trails westward. They helped drive the cattle and help the wagons find the best route, scouting the territory for Indians, and then using their guns to ward off attacks. My Great, Great grandfather was an American cowboy. After the Latter-day Saints reached Utah in 1847 they sent him and men like him back to herd horses and cattle to the Great Basin. I believe this was before the blacks got involved. Oh, I'm sure there were some blacks involved, but not in the numbers that the white cowboys operated in. I never heard of a western town dominated or taken over by black cowboys. They were on the sidelines of American history in this area of life. Hollywood, especially of late, has rewritten a lot of cowboy lore and you have to be careful who you're listening to and what you rely on as real history and what is Hollywood history. the Ohio Historical Society in 1995, we learned that the first cowboys in America were likely African American.


Sandyspider profile image

Sandyspider 6 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

Another informative hub!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

My great, great, great grandfather on my father's side and his several brothers came to America in 1800, having worked a number of jobs in England and Ireland but some being horse trainers. The g-g-g-uncles immediately went westward and saw black cowboys even in the 1800s to 1820s in what is today Arizona and Colorado. These ancestors and their descendants later worked on the railroads and then Route 40 and they always wrote in journals/letters that they saw a sizable number of black cowboys and black railroad workers, and blacks living among Native Americans and even saw some Mexican cowboys. I'm writing what they saw and reported for 100 years, not what Hollywood says. The film at the Ohio Historical Society was not from Hollywood, either.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

Hi Sandy - even more interesting is the history fo the whole western US and all the legends attached to it! Merry Christmas!


Ginn Navarre profile image

Ginn Navarre 6 years ago

Oh Patty, this really brought back memories for me,for my parents brought me into this world on one of those ranches in Arizona. The old adobe shack was free to live in for the work my father did---breaking horses and my mother milking cows. The shack had no floor--just dirt.

I rode fence with my father and uncle many times growing up.

Then with the hopes of better survival we followed the Redo circuit--sometimes we ate and other times not!

Yes, they were the true--meaning of COWBOYS and the women and children that endured the journey have a special place in their heart with this history.

That ole saying---(you had to have been there!) rings loud and clear for me at age-78. Thank you.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

Thanks, Ginn Navarre -- Like Don's story, I like yours too because it's ture and let's us know about real cowboy life. Not as glamorous as Hollywood, to be sure. Happy New Year!


loves ranch life profile image

loves ranch life 6 years ago from western North Dakota

Interesting article and information.


Rickrideshorses profile image

Rickrideshorses 6 years ago from England

Cool hub, very in depth. I'm even considering Cowboy training after reading it!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

Hi Rickrideshorses - Glad you found it helpful. I was happy to find jobs open in these lines of work - something different.


Dona Rosa profile image

Dona Rosa 6 years ago from Tennessee

Hand in the air, want to go and get training, too :) GOod read. Western fan!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

Thanks Dona!

Well, in Vancouver, USA wore slick outfits that included a horse via the Ralph Lauren Polo logo. No 10-gallon hats, though. :)


stars439 profile image

stars439 6 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

I was born on a farm. I am a natural born cowboy. I rode horses, mules, took care of Herford cattle, chickens, and helped farm vegetables and fruit like strawberries. I worked in fields. Rode horse and mules bareback or with saddles on horses. I rode those that bucked also. Burried dead cattle.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

stars439 - I never thought of burying cattle; what a job! Thanks for enlightenment and visiting.


rcgal profile image

rcgal 6 years ago

Hi, wow you've put lots of work into this hub and it looks great. I love Will Rogers' advice: "If you're riding' ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to make sure it's still there." Hah! I enjoyed the descriptions of the training programs and job ads for cowboys.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

Thanks a million, rcgal! I wish Will Rogers and Mark Twain were alive today.


RNMSN profile image

RNMSN 6 years ago from Tucson, Az

wonderful and informative article Patty as always/makes me smell the good horsey smell just reading it!!


conrado farias 6 years ago

I will like to be a menber


epigramman profile image

epigramman 6 years ago

....man oh man now that's a hub - no wonder you have 38,000 followers - I just felt like I entered an amusement park or wonderland when I saw all of your hubs - I am so very impressed to be frolicking here like a little boy in a candy store - how much is a day pass?

I would like to come back and have some more fun, knowledge and enlightenment - and like I said I love the effort and knowledge that you put into this one ......so you get epigramman's rating of HUBTREMENDOUS!!!!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

That's quite a comment! Thanks for reading and enjoying this Hub and I hope you like several more that I have crafted.

Johnny Carson's show used to present Cowboy Poetry once a year; I don't know if any of the talk shows do that now. But, an association of Cowboy Poets does a tour from time to time across the nation. Pretty entertaining!


nitish 6 years ago

u r earning a lot


Cowboys:hard work on the trail 5 years ago

Cowboys:hard work on the trail

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