Ranch Diaries: The peculiar confines of cowboy culture

I see my 19-year-old self in our new intern, as she builds her skills and learns the ropes of ranch etiquette.


Ranch Diaries is an newtowncarshare.info series highlighting the experiences of Laura Jean Schneider, who gives us a peek into daily life during the first two years of Triangle P Cattle Company, a new LLC in southcentral New Mexico. Installments are every other Tuesday.

When I headed west as an 18-year-old, I wasn’t aware of the term “flatlander.” I didn’t know about “cowboy etiquette,” and had never heard anyone use the word “punchy.” I was just eager to combine my life-long interest in horses with my fantasy of the West: mountains, a horizon uncluttered by Minnesota foliage, cowboys.

Transitioning into Western culture was harder than I’d expected. I got a lot of knowing smiles when I said I was from the Midwest. “Flatlander” seemed to imply a peculiar deficit, and immediately identified me as an outsider. Although my local Minnesota community had been tight-knit, I realized there were some deep-rooted opinions about anyone not from the West.

  • Bright, beautiful Indian Paintbrush.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Heels in the dirt, firmly grounded.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • The new 12 x 14 wall tent Kiki will call home for 8 weeks.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • We wished Maybell the best of luck returning to the herd and her mother after recovering from near hypothermia.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Working on making a photogravure print from a drawing by artist Mel Preston.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Kiki, our first intern at Triangle P.

    Laura Jean Schneider

I was 19 when I graduated from wrangling for a kid’s camp to a job as the guest wrangler on a working cattle ranch. While the ranch community was welcoming, my entire persona was scrutinized. The oilskin hat I’d just purchased brand-new had wire in its brim. That was a decided no-no, the ranch manager’s ten-year-old daughter pointed out. The boots I’d worn happily for years weren’t good enough either: lace ups, with a walking heel? Not punchy at all, the cowboy term for sharp or stylish. The analyzing went on, conducted by the ranch manager’s three children on a rainy spring afternoon in the guest tack room. As I pulled out item after item of my training tools and equipment, each were met with a degree of criticism. I was clearly unsuited for the cowboy life as it was redefined to me.

Cowboy etiquette was also mysterious. No one bothered to share that I had violated the unspoken code until the act had already been committed, the sullen silence of the party I’d inadvertently wronged was my only clue something was amiss. Without foreknowledge, how would I to know to never ride in front of the person who was in charge of the cattle? Or, to turn my horse around to face the gate after going through, and wait until all riders were mounted before continuing? And, to always hold the position you were told to ride in.  After several offenses, someone finally told me that it wasn’t acceptable to touch anyone’s horse, hat or dog without his or her permission.

Kiki, our first Triangle P intern, arrived yesterday. As we looked for a hat and new boots for her in Ruidoso, I relived my past (alleged) faux pas in this department. I’m a living example that superimposing a particular style on a person or their tack has nothing to do with how effectively one can communicate with a horse or handle trotty cattle. While it’s true there’s a practical reason for most items that comprise the traditional cowboy outfit — like wearing boots with a taller heel to keep a foot from going through a stirrup, or a wide brimmed hat for sun protection — there’s a lot of room for variation within those parameters.

And there should be. While it’s taken me awhile to get comfortable with my own cowboy style after feeling such shame, I’ve decided the right saddle, a specific brand of boots, or following a certain aesthetic doesn’t define my skills. It’s my hope that Sam and I can share our knowledge and culture with Kiki in a nurturing way that allows room for uniqueness. It’s both exciting and intimidating to know our words and actions can have such long-lasting affects. I’ll do everything I can to make sure Kiki gets the experience I wish I’d had. 

NewTowncarShare News Classifieds
  • Boise-based Winter Wildlands Alliance is looking for an experienced and highly motivated individual to organize our annual Backcountry Film Festival and Tour and coordinate additional...
  • SUMMARY Leads, administers and manages the land conservation, conservation easement stewardship, and property management activities of the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department within...
  • Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is seeking a Staff Attorney who is passionate about Western communities and the protection of the natural environment to...
  • Deschutes River Conservancy in Bend, Oregon
  • Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates seeks a passionate Water Policy Analyst with knowledge of western water issues to join our Healthy Rivers Team to strengthen...
  • 9+ acre inholding. Passive solar strawbale off the grid and next to the Continental Divide Trail in ponderosa pine/doug fir forest at 7400.
  • Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • Verde River Exchange - Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • Teton County Planning & Building is hiring! Our ideal candidate is a team-player, a problem-solver, pays attention to detail, and can clearly communicate technical material...
  • Studio Architects is seeking a full time Architectural drafts-person/project manager with1-3 years of experience to join our firm. At Studio Architects our mission is to...
  • needed for 16,000+ acre conservation property in south central Colorado. Qualified candidate would have experience working on a ranch or wilderness property, general forestry/fire management...
  • Nanny for 18-mnth-old. Yearly salary, vacation, health insurance. Spanish/other foreign-language native spkr prefrrd.
  • Washington Association of Land Trusts seeks an ED to build on WALTs significant success & to lead the association to new levels of achievement. See...
  • Secluded, energy efficient Southwestern home on 40 wooded acres. Broker - Rand Porter - United Country Real Colorado Properties. 970-261-1248, $425K
  • 57 acres in Skull Valley, AZ, 17 miles from Prescott, year-round creek, swimming holes, secluded canyon, hiking/meditation trails, oaks, pines, garden, greenhouse. House, office building,...
  • Historic 1893 Ranch Headquarters. 4 Bdrm, 3.5 Ba, 4000 ft2. Remodeled 2002. Includes 2 studio apts, stables, arena, workshop, 5 RV hookups. Chirachua & Peloncillo...
  • The Vice President of Retail Operations will provide overall leadership and accountability for purchasing, product development, merchandising planning, visual merchandising, retail operational excellence, oversight and...
  • Grand Staircase Escalante Partners seeks an experienced fundraiser with excellent communication and organizational skills.
  • position in Phoenix with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy.