The cowboy has been romanticized in movies and books as the rugged individualist. Rough weather beaten skin, working in unbearable heat or raging blizzards. Always with his trusty horse and his worn leather saddle.
But in 2017, what does it mean to be a cowboy in Colorado? Is cowboy a job title? Or is cowboy just a definition for a way of life?
According to Colorado native Steve Weil, president of the internationally known western shirt maker Rockmount Ranch Wear Mfg. Co., he meets 3 kinds of cowboys shopping for western wear or out on the range:
“Typically the real cowboys are rugged, western looking individuals visiting Denver to stock up on supplies, including clothes. You can immediately tell from their boots whether they are the real deal. Gentleman cowboys are affluent, cowboys by choice, if not by birth. They live the life but are also city people, they tend to treat it as a business they love.”
“Not everyone can own a ranch so most people who embrace the lifestyle are aspiring. We don’t call them Dimestore or Urban cowboys — those were wanta be’s who are posers, changing with the fads. Instead these are people who love the West as a rejection of urban banality and embrace the fashion to reflect it. All over the world people like identify with the American West and many may wear all or part from jeans to western shirts, boots, and hats. It’s pretty cool that this fashion ethos is traced to the Colorado west.”
“Finally there are the cowboys. These are the real deal for whom the entire mythos originated. They likely rode rodeo growing up, lived in rurual areas, came from small towns dotting the West. They work on ranches, or are outfitters leading hunters in the mountains. You don’t end up owing the ranch unless you marry the rancher’s daughter. Its not a well paid life but they love the outdoors and freedom which is a form of psychic income.”But let’s say you want to become a cowboy, what is required?
Here in Colorado, the Colorado Cattle Company and Dude Ranch offers a week-long Cowboy School with professional cowboys. They will teach you the basics of rope handling and how to throw a rope while riding a horse. It also includes cattle penning, team sorting, cutting, branding and a variety of games and exercises designed to improve your cattle handling and horse riding skills.
But what if you want to get a job on a working Colorado ranch?
Most authentic cowboys grew up on a ranch and learned ranching, wrangling, herding and riding skills from an early age and are used to the demands and rigors of an outdoor cowboy life.
There are large and small agricultural and cattle ranches throughout Colorado but most typical ranch jobs for those without immediate cowboy skills will be seasonal jobs for the large guest ranches that provide the cowboy experience to out-of-town tourists. Fishing Guides, Naturalist, wranglers, cooks, guest service, maintenance and even management positions are widely available to those willing to give the time commitment. Usually, your room and board are included when you work on a guest ranch.
According to the Dude Ranchers’ Association:
Each year our 100+ member ranches hire many seasonal employees, and some year round employees, for such positions as wranglers, cooks, wait staff, housekeepers, maintenance workers, children’s counselors and office workers. Most seasonal employees are hired by the Southern ranches for the months of September through May and by the Northern ranches for the months of May through October. Many northern ranches have last minute openings during the months of May and June. Compensation varies from ranch to ranch and position to position but usually includes salary, room and board, a share of the seasonal tip pool and use of the facilities and horses when off duty. Frequently the ranches have more applicants than positions, especially for positions related to the horses. Jobs on dude ranches typically involve hard work and long hours as well as participation in evening guest activities such as line dances, hayrides and staff talent shows. Good people skills and an ability to live and work well with others are required. The more flexible you are in the type of position you would like, the more likely you are to be successful.
A recent job posting at the Focus Ranch, a traditional cattle and guest ranch situated on the Colorado/Wyoming border 50 miles NW of Steamboat Springs, is hiring experienced cattle-wrangler and assistant wrangler as well as a family style cook, guest & ranch personnel. With over 1300 head of cattle, this working ranch offers seasonal opportunities to experience life as a cowboy.
There are more opportunities to work on ranches throughout Colorado and in other western states. Go to http://www.ranchwork.com/ and the Dude Ranchers’ Association at http://www.duderanch.org/employment.php.