Is there anyone who doesn’t find the idea of cowboy life interesting? Whether it’s the drama of a western landscape, the idea of working on horseback in all kinds of weather, the “freedom,” or the al-lure of a long cattle drive, there’s just something about the cowboy life that fascinates people from all walks of life.
For the vast majority of us horsepeople, however, the cowboy life seems inaccessible.
Or is it?
Horse people of all kinds are in the unique position of being closer to the cowboy way than most people can ever hope to be. Sure, we may not all ride off into a sunset each evening (and did that ever happen outside a movie anyway?), but even a hunt seat rider working indoors can still feel a connec-tion to the cowboys and cowgirls of America’s past. How? Just look around you.
The Horse and Rider Bond
Some things—like the horse and rider relationship—never change. A cowboy’s string of horses were his tools—but they were also some of his best friends, and ones that he needed to develop a real trust with in order to do his job. This friendship, trust, and need to accomplish a task isn’t any different for us today. Of course, the “job” you and your horse need to complete may look a little more like an arena exercise and less like sorting cows, but the principles are there. The person who finds a horse they can really connect with is fortunate indeed.
The Thrill of Riding
When you’ve ridden hundreds of times and spent countless hours in the saddle, the nuances and feel of riding can become an everyday thing. But think about it: so many people today never get a chance to ride, let alone ride enough to get good at it. The ability to ride well is something you share with generations of horseman before you, and it shouldn’t be taken for granted today.
Like the cowboys of the past, I think horsepeople today are pretty resourceful. We fix things. We may not know how to fix them, but we figure it out. We tinker, we invent. There isn’t always someone else around to help, so we may have to rely on ourselves. We get the UTV running when the battery is dead on a cold morning. We fix bucket hooks that have been torn down. We repair gate latches, fallen fencing, and stall doors. Like cowboys, we do all of this in whatever weather is thrown at us—it doesn’t matter if it’s raining, snowing, blowing, or boiling. If it needs doing, we do it.
Early Mornings, Late Evenings
The cowboys put in long hours; we do too. How many of us put in an hour or two of horse work before (and after) our “real” work? How many of us have fed horses after dark, fetching hay bales with a flashlight and swatting mosquitoes at dusk.
Daily Glimmers of the Cowboy Life
Don’t forget the little environmental glimmers: dust clouds in the arena…frost on the fence gate…the sound of hoofbeats and snorting noises…spring shedding—so many people never get to experience these things, but every one of these was witnessed by some cowboy over 150 years ago.
So the next time you’re working in the indoor arena, perfecting a serpentine or side pass, give those big mirrors on the wall a second glance.
If you look close enough, you might just catch a glimpse of the cowboy in us all.
Daniel Johnson is a freelance writer and professional photographer. He’s the author of several books, including How to Raise Horses: Everything You Need to Know, (Voyageur Press, 2014). Dan’s barn is home to Summer, a Welsh/TB cross, Orion, a Welsh Cob, and Mati and Amos, two Welsh Mountain Ponies. Follow him at www.facebook.com/foxhillphoto.