Meet Doug! When Doug fills out his taxes, he puts ‘Cowboy’ as his occupation. This is a story about Doug and what it means to be an American Cowboy. However, before I begin to tell his story, I thought I would share with you what I did to prepare for this assignment. You don't just show up to one of the most storied ranches in Colorado with a couple of cameras and hope to learn as you go.
I decided I needed to take a riding lesson. As I looked around for an instructor someone suggested Cliff to me. After Cliff told me he was bucked off a horse, broke his leg in 4 places, and bruised his heart I was pretty sure he was a true Cowboy. When he told me he was 75 when it happened, I knew he was the right guy for the job. We spent an hour riding with Cliff and he did his best to teach us everything we needed to know.
My day with Doug started early, earlier than I normally do anything. Doug and Jan asked me to show up at the ranch by 6:45 which meant I need to be up at 5, load the gear, and grab a cup of coffee at the General Store. No kidding, I had breakfast at the General Store before a cattle drive. The plan was to ride into the hills and move a large herd of cattle to a staging area where they would be pushed to their winter pasture the next day. Before I go into the details about driving cattle and 'lane-ing bunch quitters', I thought it would be interesting to share with you how a typical day starts for Doug.
At first I was taken back by how different the start of Doug’s day is from most people I know. However, what I really thought was interesting is how excited Doug is about getting his day started. The guy is happy to go to work. I mean really happy! Who wouldn’t be? It starts with a quick call to coordinate, as Doug says, a pile of Cowboys, followed by the horse selection and preparation. Once the team is assembled, it’s off to the trailhead where we would begin our ride into the high country.
One thing I learned from Doug is that Cowboys don’t work alone. They might not always be working with people, but one thing for sure, they are part of a team. Their team consists of a couple horses, a good dog or two, and the occasional helping hand of another cowboy. Before we get into what I learned from Doug about the members of the team, I thought I would share with you what it is a cowboy does.
A cowboy is a long range cattle manager. They are part doctor, part herd psychologist, part handyman, and a good part horse whisperer. During the summer when the cattle are out and about grazing on federally leased land, a cowboy is solely responsible for the health of up to 2000 animals. Doug rides this range nearly everyday of the week. He keeps detailed logs on every animal, administers medicine to cattle that require it, mends fences, and moves them to and from fertile ground as outlined by the federal grazing permits. Finally, in the fall, a group of cowboys will get together and move the herd from the high mountains to lower pastures for the wintering. With all of that said, let’s take a look at how the team works together to achieve this goal.
Even with this team of super animals, Doug needs to call in the cavalry every now and again. Remember when I said that this ranch is one of the most storied ranches in Colorado and it was established in 1860? All that is true, and to this day three generations of the family still work on it. Lee, Andy, and Manny. Lee has been cowboyin’ his entire life and is still doing it today. Andy, after recovering from a near fatal broken leg, manages all that is mechanical on the ranch. He is also responsible for growing all the hay that is used to feed the herd in the winter. Manny, although not directly related, has been a range rider on this ranch for 28 years. Manny's father, who is now in his 70′s, was a cowboy here until he retired. This is more than a business, ranching at this level is a family tradition that has been passed on for generations.
When we finally mounted up and started to ride up valley, I told Doug that is an unbelievable day. I think I might have actually said something like…”Holy $#!+ Doug, this is so F-ing Awesome!“. Doug laughed and said to me, “Yup, this is a good day to be a cowboy”. I have no doubt that I’ll never forget this experience. Hopefully they’ll have us back next year. Well, until then, I hope you enjoyed this story and learned a bit about Doug, a true American Cowboy. I leave you with this image from the day when it was a ‘good day to be a cowboy’.