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Ranch VS Rodeo

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Mountain Cowgirl

Well-known member
Mar 19, 2021
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NE Oregon Banana Belt
Over the years I have been asked the question of why is ranching different than rodeo. Don't they both involve the same disciplines involving cattle and horses?

The answer is yes and no.

Some ranches have beef cattle and may or may not have horses. A horse isn't necessary on most of today's ranches. Some ranches are all sheep and dogs, no horses or cattle. Where I live, large wheat farms are called ranches. It isn't uncommon to hear someone say they were raised on a wheat ranch that may or may not have had any cattle or horses. It isn't uncommon for a barrel racer to be raised on a wheat ranch with NO CATTLE!

With all the modern equipment and technology, a girl will have more time for recreational horse riding on a wheat ranch than a working cattle ranch girl. The cattle ranch girl in practical use approaches roping from a different perspective than the recreational girl roper that seeks to become a pro and perform in rodeos. A working cattle ranch girl may also seek to be a rodeo roper, but when she practices for such, it differs like night and day.

If one visits a working ranch using the rope and drag method for branding, etc., as they did in the days of old, you won't find anyone leaving a chute like a Kodiak grizzly is on their tail. Let's pause for a moment. The essence of TIME is the difference.

A working ranch is concerned with getting branding, etc. done with the least excitement to the cattle. There are no buckles or cash prizes for time or even efficiency. The reward is pride in a way of life, community, family and getting the job done regardless of weather, or disability, and seeing your cattle, your investment, protected by brand and vaccination with bull calves converted to steers. It is a livelihood and a business.

My grandpa always said he could evaluate a "cowboy's" skills by driving down a gravel road after a cattle drive. If the road was covered in cow manure and it was evident that it was ejected with force, then those cowboys would be fired and they could go to rodeo school because that is where they belonged. Running cattle is a no-no on a working ranch. This is why many ranchers use dogs. A well-trained dog doesn't excite the cattle like a horse-mounted "cowboy" hell-bent on playing rodeo at the cattle ranchers' expense. Running cattle lose weight.

Cattle usually break away and stampede when pushed too hard. My dad always said this is why cowboys of old sang so they could keep themselves calm. No one could sing, "yippie tie ya yo, get along little doggie," if thundering after cattle like they were getting a bonus for making a 12-hour drive into a 4-hour one.

How do rodeo stock contractors differ from ranchers? First, their objective is to have horses that buck, bulls that twist and leap with great extension to push the "cowboy" backward and send them flying or maybe just get them so off balance they fall off or touch rendering them a no-time. A cattle rancher has no use for such a bull. Most stock contractors buy their stock from ranchers that raise stock purposely for the rodeo. That rancher is not the one that trains the animals to perform, just does the selective breeding. That rancher will buy the semen from a championship bull or stallion, that the stock contractor owns, but the work and disciplines of the stock contractor and the rodeo stock ranch breeder differ vastly.

To most working beef cattle ranchers, the stock contractor is not considered a cattle rancher anymore than a recreational horse breeder is. Cattle ranchers may jest with the sheep ranchers and they both may jest with the goat rancher which is the butt end of the jesting. Stock contractors are not included in the conversation. WHY?

Because the cattle, sheep, goat, and even wheat ranchers are providing a food source and a real product, and not a recreational product that if it disappeared would have no effect on feeding mankind.

That is the difference in a nutshell. One is essential the other is NOT.

With that said, the real cowboys, pokes, or hands of old developed rodeo for fun. No one rode a bull or a bronc on a cattle drive. No one was timed on how long it took them to rope a calf. Rodeo was a day off, not a ranch discipline. These old cowboys knew the difference between working cattle and rodeo. Sadly today with all the Hollywood stereotypes that started back in the days of silent movies, the real meaning of cowboy has been lost except for a few ranchers such as we have here on Ranchers. Net.

Any real deal rancher or ranch hand whether past or present can have fun taunting each other over their differences in ranching lifestyles and it is all in fun. Pro rodeo doesn't even enter into the same conversation.
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Well-known member
Feb 11, 2005
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Cabin Creek, Carlile,Wyoming
Was on the predatory animal board for many a year as a beef produce, even though I raise sheep too. The Sheepmen on the board were big migratory operations Wintering on Rock Springs grazing, to Springtime on the Cumberland grazing, to summers on the high mountains., these stockmen ran from 6000 ewes to over 20,000. They had place on their operation with better grass for cattle so they each had a side operation of 200-400 head of cows. Now their herders and camp jacks put more time horse back then most any cowboy. packing camp into the mountains, pulling sheep camp wagons out on the desert with teams. They are horse back almost every day, and at time every day for weeks. Where I am growing up, we never really had time to rodeo with farming, haying, moving pastures, roundups, feeding. maybe a few Fridays' night with a local roping club. Usually most the kids that rodeo every weekend, worked Constuction.

leanin' H

Well-known member
Nov 8, 2007
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Western Utah Desert
I wrote this one today. After contemplating what is a cowboy to me. Ain’t saying my opinion matters much to everyone. But this is what I came up with.


If you counted up the buckles that he won, well, it’s a number, a little smaller, than one.

Never won a trophy saddle, or heard his named called out.
Nobody ever clapped for him, or stood up, and gave a shout.

He never rode up at the front of a grand parade.
He never signed one autograph, and the money that he made,

Would barely buy a tank of gas, or make him friends down at the bank.
Had just enough for tack and such, caused that’s what turned his crank.

He cowboy’d for the freedom, and for the horse.
Never wore a suit and tie, and hated town of course.

Wanted nothing in his view, but tall bunch grass.
Wanted long days in the saddle, and to live like times long past.

He started out as green as grass in spring.
But he listened, and watched the old hands, and slowly picked up everything.

Horses couldn’t duck him and his rope, it just didn’t miss.
He’d flick his wrist and it would gather up two heels, as soft as a Mothers kiss.

Soon, other men were watching him, and he always lent advice.
He was happy being a horseback, and and ya never had to tell him twice.

When they sold the cavvy horses, his string always topped the sale.
It just came to him, kinda natural, but then, he also worked like hell.

To teach each pony something, and bring out their very best.
At turning colts into using horses, he ain’t got many equals, I’d guess.

Soon he was the cowboss, and it came naturally as air,
For him to ramrod any outfit, as they notched some ears, and burnt some hair.

So when you ask me what a cowboy is, we’ll it sure don’t take me much thought. Cause that old man there, knows things about cows, that even God forgot.

Don’t you ever try and compare him, to any feller with boots and hat.
Cowboy is a way of life, and even goes deeper than that.

It’s a commitment to the cattle, to horses and the land.
It’s doing what has to be done, without people watching from a shiny grandstand.

And while them boys who chase the rodeo trail, have talent in what they do.
They couldn’t hold a candle, to the that Ol man there, that I knew.

And if you counted up the buckles that he’s won.
Well boys, it’s a number, just a little smaller, than one.

Darrell Holden September 22

Mountain Cowgirl

Well-known member
Mar 19, 2021
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NE Oregon Banana Belt
Here is something I threw together this morning thinking about the oldest boy that lived on the next ranch over when I was growing up on a cattle ranch in the Colorado Rockies. His family was horse breeders and trained horses mainly for recreation. He and his two brothers always wanted to be ranch cowboys, but they simply had too much piss and vinegar according to one of my grandpas a cattle rancher and workhorse breeder. Since the days of using horses for field work or transportation were gone, he specialized in cow horses. "Easy does it" was his favorite saying.

The Wrangler

His folks ranch had no cows only horses with heads down did browse
He went to school in a pickup truck on weekends he rode a bronc with buck
He said he was a cowboy with his horse and mechanical pickup toy

He never worked cattle I hate that I tattle
But fact is fact regardless of bronc rodeo tack
And no cattle equals no cowboy I am ready to battle

At eighteen he left home and was excited to be all out on his own
Drafted and said he didn’t give a damn that was until he arrived in Vietnam
I remember the call I got on the phone his mama was crying he won’t come home

Some said he was a rodeo cowboy I said no he was my neighbor a wrangler boy
I remember the funeral in the grange it all seemed lonely and very strange
I no longer would tease no cowboy but horseboy if you please

Now in my second year beginning with seven I realize it doesn’t matter when you get to heaven


Well-known member
Apr 8, 2008
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NE Oregon
I got to thinking about this. Probably 35-40% of the ranchers and cowboys here where a rodeo award belt buckle. They range from smaller rodeos to one man who wears a buckle from a bigger mid sized PRCA rodeo. He is the only one of the younger generation to stick on a long term family ranch. The next youngest person after him is in their 60's. So you can guess who all the cowboy work falls on. And they run cows on ground that requires cowboys.

Read "The Last Cowboys" by John Branch. It is about the Wright family. A description of the country they run cows on it counts as a day off to ride NFR broncs. It sounds to me like they learned to be cowboys before they ever went down the road to rodeos.
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