In ranching, we use many words and phrases that might confuse someone who doesn’t begin a day’s work by catching a horse in the dark. Here’s a basic dictionary of common cowboy terms.
Horse (n): A horse is a beast of burden, tool of the trade, partner and buddy all in one four-hoofed package. A cowboy will sometimes spend 10 hours riding a horse through the sagebrush, hills, draws, flats and back to the barn. The horse a cowboy catches for the day can determine if he enjoys his circle, gets a sore back, cusses the ranch and the dumb SOB who homesteaded it in the 1800s, or would like another 10 hours, please.
Circle (n, adj): When a cowboy crew gathers cattle in a certain area, the cowboss drops them off in strategic locations. Each cowboy has his own circle, which sometimes ends back at the starting point and sometimes ends at a distant gate or the next allotment. Some circles are more circular than others, but no matter what, you should always stay out of your neighbor’s circle.
To ride a circle, you catch a “circle horse,” a “knot head,” or a “Rock Creek colt.” Circle horses don’t need to be show horses; they just need to be rideable.
A note to cowbosses: you should never change the circle as you’re dropping cowboys off. If you do, just plan on gathering the allotment by yourself and collecting your crew later, because they will have no clue where you are, where their neighbor is, or why the cattle you were supposed to be gathering are drifting slowly down the draw they’re supposed to be going up.
Cowboy crew (n): A group of cowboys working together can generally get more work done than one cowboy working alone. This sounds obvious, but it’s important. Horses can be dangerous and cows are the enemy, and nobody wants to go into battle alone. The antonym of “cowboy crew” is “cowboy individual,” which is a very lonely feeling during a run-back or while moving bulls who won’t stay together.
Cowboy (n, v, adj.): These days, a cowboy can be either a male or female person who takes care of cows. Just because a guy is wearing a cowboy hat does not make him a hero, a worthy subject of ballads, or deserving of a free drink at the bar. But, I don’t know any who would turn down that last one.
Cowboy people take some (okay, a lot of) liberties with the English language and use the word “cowboy” as a verb. Example: “We cowboyed all over that country when we were younger.”
“Cowboy” can also be (surprise!) an adjective slash verb, as in “He sure is a no-cowboyin’ son-of-a-bitch.” This is not a compliment; it is an invitation to take up truck driving, fence building, school teaching, underwater basket weaving, or basically anything besides cowboying.
Buckaroo (n, v, adj.) A buckaroo is a cowboy-type person who…this one is kinda tricky to define, really. The most general and widely-accepted definition of a buckaroo is a cowboy from the Great Basin, although since buckaroos became so dang trendy and popular in the ’80s, nowadays a lot of people traditionally assumed to be buckaroos prefer to be called cowboys. In any event, a buckaroo is not, as my grade school friend once thought, a pirate.
“Buckaroo” can be used as a verb much like “cowboy” can. Example: “We got our buckarooin’ done in the morning so we could ride colts in the afternoon.” It can also be an adjective, as in “Get in the buckaroo truck and shut up.”
Rain (n, v): This is the lifeblood of cattle country. Without rain, there is no grass, there are no cattle, there are no ranches, there are no cowboys/buckaroos/whatever you want to call them.
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