The Cowboy in Us All

Western Stirrup

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.

Some of us still maintain a close connection to this lifestyle. Life on American ranches—while unquestionably different than it was 150 years ago—still manages to hold onto a good deal of the rhythm and pulse of that long-ago lifestyle: branding, calving, the need for a good horse. It isn’t the same as in the “classic” cowboy era, but it’s similar.

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.

Liked this article? Here are others you’ll enjoy:
Texas Cred Around the World
The Near Side: Test Driving a Reining Horse

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


  1. Hi my name is Susan, I have been riding since I was 6. At ages 12-16 I competed in barrel racing and jumping. I alway had trustworthy horses. At present time I have started riding again in last 6 years.u horses were mainly 4-H horses well trained. Currently since May I have a 9 yr old mare that I don’t trust. On arena she is fine I like to ride alone to parks neighborhood areas. She is a head tosser when she has her attitude on trying to get bit so she can run w it. I solved the head tossing. She has terrible ground manners getting bit on takes off etc. I know I need to get her to trust me. Starting work in arena. Any suggestions maybe tougher bit, longer shank? Any suggestions helpful, thanks!!


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