The Oxford Dictionary definition of “cowboy” is “a man, typically one on horseback, who herds and tends cattle, especially in the western US and as represented in westerns and novels.”
But does this definition really sum up what it means to be a cowboy?
I have always thought that some of the most influential cowboys in my life could sell their cattle and horses, and never put on their hat or boots again, but still be a great cowboy in my eyes.
So what really makes someone a cowboy, if it’s not the physical activities that make up one’s day?
I think it’s more about the way you do things than the actual things you do.
Being a cowboy means grit. It means hard work, determination, and humility. It’s being self-made. ‘Cowboy’ is a standard someone holds themselves to, day in and day out, that defines the course of their life.
By this definition, I think there are people in the rodeo arena or ranching industry today who really aren’t cowboys.
And there are top CEOs in suits and ties who have never pet a horse, much less ridden one, who are cowboys.
Some of my relatives grew up ranching and rodeoing, but didn’t raise their kids that way. Yet I see the cowboy way in their children: they are hard-working, good-hearted, humble, and perhaps above all, gritty.
The cowboy standards have been passed down to them throughout the generations despite the fact that they have no agricultural ties at all.
And when I look at my Grandpa, I see one of the greatest cowboys I’ve ever known. But for the time I’ve been alive, he’s lived in town with just a few horses. He’s always been, and always will be, a cowboy in the way he carries himself.
So if there’s one thing I want to tell you, it’s that no matter what you do or where you go, you can be a cowboy. You could move to the city and never wear your boots and hat again.
Live your life with grit. Be hard-working, determined, and humble. Hold yourself to that standard, and no matter what your life entails, you’ll always be a cowboy in my book.
As an industry, we’re almost all guilty of this: we pick on the people who wear the wrong type of cowboy hat, who don’t swing their rope right, or who use the wrong terminology when talking about anything ag-related.
I’m guilty of it myself. In the rodeo world, we can be harsh and unwelcoming to people who don’t have generations of experience to back them up. Why is this?
Maybe we’re defensive of our lifestyle because we’ve put so much into it. We don’t want just anyone to think they can pick up a rope and be a cowboy.
Personally, I’ve got generations of ranching and rodeoing history behind me. Yet at times it’s still difficult to do what we do. I can’t imagine trying to break into this industry with nothing but an open mind and desire to make it work.
Imagine the grit it takes for someone to become a first generation farmer, rancher, livestock showman, rodeo athlete, or even western fashion influencer.
We should be really flattered that people are trying to assimilate themselves into a lifestyle that is notoriously hard to enter.
People don’t need to earn the right to wear a cowboy hat, swing a rope, or discuss the lifestyle. Why are we, as a community, so insistent on keeping others out?
The western community is under attack in today’s day and age. So many folks are dead set against our industry. When someone tries to join our world, we should not only be flattered that they want to be like us, but grateful.
There’s strength in numbers. No matter what role you play in the western world, your industry needs allies. And our lifestyle isn’t as untouchable as we’d like to think it is.
Depending on how you’re involved in agriculture, you need these people. If you’re a rodeo athlete, you need them in the stands supporting your sport instead of opposing it. If you’re a farmer or rancher, you need them to keep buying your products despite the vegan movement gaining speed. If you’re a salesperson of anything western fashion, you need these people to buy your products.
Next time you see that person that doesn’t quite fit in, challenge yourself to strike up a conversation with them. Ask them about their involvement in agriculture. Tell them a story about your farm or ranch operation. Compliment their cowboy boots (even if they’re not your style). And just be grateful that another person is backing you up despite society’s constant war against agriculture.
The western world is not an industry we can afford to gate keep. If our industry is to stand a chance against those who are dead set against us, we’re going to need support. And it all begins with the person wearing the odd cowboy hat, swinging their rope weird, or using the wrong terminology to talk about something ag-related.