Friday, April 23, 2010

Suburban Cowboys

Once upon a time, cowboys fresh off the cattle drive or hitting the town after a few weeks hard labor out on the ranch would challenge each other to competitions. Who could ride the rankest bucking bronc?* Rope a calf or throw a steer the fastest? These competitions came to be called rodeos, and the rest, as they say, is history.

So is ranch life for an increasing percentage of the cowboys and cowgirls these days.

There are four kids in my family. We grew up on a ranch just big enough to support one household. We're squeezing out one and half with the help of my town job. Which means seventy-five percent of my parents’ children are no longer ranchers. Extrapolate those numbers across the country and you can see why a fair number of modern rodeo cowboys have never had a home on the range. 

Even the largest ranches can struggle to support a multi-generational family. One cowboy from Oregon told us his share of the ranch settled by his grandparents was 1/64…which was why he lived in Washington and owned a convenience store.

The average rodeo fan imagines all those cowboys and cowgirls heading home to do some brandin' and gatherin' on the home place. Truth is, if you were to wander around taking a poll, you’d find that even if they did grow up on a ranch, the majority of the contestants don’t live there anymore. If they have a spread it’s a small acreage on the edge of town, with a handful of horses and some roping cattle. And a fair number are moseying home to an apartment or neighborhood just like yours.


Maybe one in ten makes a living from the land. The rest will be accountants and school teachers, insurance agents and bankers, electricians and carpenters, physical therapists and even doctors. Pretty much any career that gives you enough time off to get in some practice and hit some rodeos and ropings on the weekends, with a strong trend toward jobs where you get the summer off. Believe me, I didn't choose athletic training for the money. Just ask my husband. 

Of course, you’ll also find a fair number of horse shoers and saddle makers and other forms of self employment that allow you to have four and five day weekends in the summer. And one tradition remains true. For those hitting the pro circuit full time, the most important career is the one your wife has back home.

Welcome to the age of the suburban cowboy.


*That is not a typo. We call them broncs. Not broncos. Those are football players from Denver, or something you were wishing you hadn't bought from Ford Motor Company the first time you hit an icy patch. 

5 comments:

ArkansasCyndi said...

hey! I had a Bronco...Bronco II actually. Rolled and totaled it. But that thing could turn on a dime.

Stan Grace said...

More truth than poetry to the story you tell. I've done numerous other things to make a living but my druthers are still to be back on the ranch.

Kari Lynn Dell said...

Cyndi: Hah! Exactly. My husband says a year after the Bronco II came out every wrecking yard in Minnesota had a handful, and every car dealership had half a dozen used ones on the lot they couldn't get rid of. Spun like tops in the snow and ice.

Julie Weathers said...

This is so true. My ex-daughter-in-law got her portion of the grandfather's place which she sold to her father for a few thousand dollars. Ranches have become one family operations and rodeo is definitely supported elsewhere for the most part.

Good post, as usual.

KLM said...

Well, darn it. I guess I'm going to have to give up bronc bustin'. And here I thought I'd have that to fall back on in the event this writing thing doesn't work out.

What a strange world we live in. We now do for fun what we used to actually do for a living. Strange that.