Embracing my inner cowboy/taking the plunge!

Hello and of course I’m new to the forum. Just found y’all.
I’m recently retired from a very challenging 30 yr career. I’ve plenty of western experience when my sister showed horses from childhood through her early college yrs. We had about a doz horses at times but mostly just a handful. So I’m entirely comfortable around them and the barn chores as such.
Recently been trail riding and have the desire to chuck it all and head west for a ranch or dude ranch. I’m plenty fit and capable. Doing some research I realize it is required for me to have my own gear.
I question whether buying a used saddle that might work is wise or since I’m able to drop a few K on what I think is decent is the proper thing to do? Looking at a new Wade Rancher from several makers. Do I buy a FQHB in the attempt to be most versatile, not knowing what I might get to ride?
I did look at some of the employment ads and see that so many jobs are seasonal. I’m a worker, so I’ve had the thoughts of looking for this type of job during (their) off season and get some experience to be prepared when thing get really busy…any advise from others that have knowledge would be well received. I’m a single outdoors man that enjoys hunting and fishing. I’m mechanically inclined and fix things that brake. I drive trucks and tow trailers with experience on many tractors and some small equipment.
The unknowns of whether I’m likely to find somewhere that I fit in and find comfort with has me doing more and more research instead of just selling the house and man toys, putting some stuff in storage and heading West! I live in NC.
So I started this topic and I’m anxious to get some input from others and even some encouragement!
Honest input is not going hurt my feelings LOL

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As a hunter/jumper who hasn’t sat on a western saddle In over 30 years, I have not a lot to offer other than encouragement! Go for it! I hope others will chime in.

You sound like a valuable employee that a lot of ranches would be happy to hire. As far as jobs go, maybe wait until you have one to find out if you actually need a saddle for it. Saddles are everywhere. If they are supplying a horse it probably is a quarter horse and probably a “quarter horse bars” saddle would fit it.

I expect it is easy enough to find a job on a dude ranch if you have basic horse skills and especially if you have handyman skills. The pay won’t be great but you will get housing and meals. I expect hiring is done for summer 2022.

I rode Western as a kid, English now as a returning adult rider. English saddle fit is a science :slight_smile: and my saddles get stuffed and tweaked for my princess mare. Western fitting is a bit less precise but I still can’t imagine a one saddle fits all scenario.

Saddles and used saddles are very easy to come by. I doubt a dude string expects workers to bring a saddle. I have no idea about working ranch jobs. I’m going to guess that it varies. I would wait until an actual interview. Then if they ask if you have your own saddle, say you were waiting to find out what type you need.

There are roping, reining, working ranch, as well as barrel racing and pleasure trail saddles in Western, all subtly different. Most everyone I know Western and English shops secondhand with a good saddle fitter on speed dial.

However I have a larger question. What draws you to this job? Do you really want to be a low paid agricultural worker with no holidays or benefits? Or do you really want to be around horses and ride in a beautiful part of the world?

I was perhaps that rare child who never fantasized about getting a job with horses. I watched my high school friends work at the track and be too tired to ride their own horses. As an adult I’ve seen how coaches and barn managers spend all day on the ground. I have always wanted to maximize my saddle time. So I pay my way as an amateur with a good non horse job.

Depending on your career flexibility, you could move somewhere beautiful like Colorado, buy your own horse truck and trailer, find a community of back country trail riders, and go horse camping every weekend. Probably log more hours in the saddle than working as a handyman on a ranch.

If you are interested in getting some more recent horse care experience, it is very easy to get hired as a groom at most TB race tracks. It’s also easy to get hired as a handyman barn help at any boarding barns that can afford such an employee. There are likely to be such jobs in your current area.

I would be hesitant to sell the house or burn any bridges. But it is certainly not unheard of for midcareer folks to decide to take a horsey sabbatical year or two. There have been a number of threads here from women who dropped out of other careers to do things like barn manager or groom with a big name trainer, though usually never ended up doing that forever.

But think about what it is you want. If you really want to ride ride ride and explore the world on a horse, you might just really need to buy a horse and go riding.


I was a guest at a ranch in Canada last week, top notch facility. They provided the equipment for their wranglers.

They are also still looking for additional employees.

Agree with @Scribbler (:thinking:I find myself doing that a lot).
OP: Maybe treat yourself to a dude ranch vacay. There are several that include helping with the actual ranch work - herding cattle and/or horses.
A taste that let’s you find out if this part of the work really appeals to you.


My thoughts have been that and I have been trying to find a week vacation on some dude ranches that look appealing for late season. Haven’t found a vacancy yet. My thoughts were that I sell myself if I’m having a great time at possibly coming back to work.
Me stating that I’m capable of things and a worker, maybe came across that I am looking for a second career! NOT
I have no intention of labor working just to be around a ranch. I see some very interesting family run ranches that appear to have everyone in a saddle most of the time.
Yes to Ride Ride Ride… Outdoors in beautiful country of the mountains is very appealing!
Ideally I would have a small place with a barn and horse and being very close to public for constant easy access to roaming the back country. Definitely haven’t found real estate that meets my desire yet while looking in WY an MT.
That’s why I am seeking something to provide housing and meals to supplement the pay for the work.
I am very comfortable with the social aspect of interaction with customers.
I’m always looking to learn so I know that I will have to be an active participant in tasks such as sorting and roping.
I appreciate the comments. Glad I posted

McGinnis Meadows Ranch in Libby, MT is a guest ranch as well as a working ranch, and it has an internship program.


Good for you! I hear it all the time, “I wish I could do what you do.” but most don’t have the balls to make an effort to go try.

If you go with a dude ranch style job where you are guiding rides, you’ll be in a saddle for most of the day. As someone who’s had to cowboy temporarily in a team roping saddle-buy a saddle that’s meant to be ridden in all day. Most arena style saddles aren’t meant to be ridden in all day and you’ll be miserable and sore.
Cowboy style saddles like wades, associations, Will James, etc.(there’s a pile more) are meant for all day use.
A good quality one can usually be fitted to a variety of horses with different pad/blanket combinations. But you need to know how to fit your saddle to your horse. Not just thinking a thicker pad is going to fix any issue.
I have been using my latest cowboy saddle for 15? years on a big variety of horses on big long days, roping and have never sored a horses back.
If you got a few K to drop find a good quality used. Also if this doesn’t pan out, it’ll be easy to sell and recoup your money.


Maybe it’s just the summer heat and humidity, but I’m not sure I’m understanding you.

Are you seeking employment on a dude or guest ranch in exchange for housing on-site, plus a small stipend in wages?

Do you imagine yourself riding the majority of the time? Like, the ranch is going to provide you a great horse and you’ll primarily be leading a string of guests out on trail rides in season? In your mind, what do you suppose you’d be doing during the off season?

Thanks for clarifying.

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I don’t think most ranches can afford to “carry” someone who is not working 24/7 like the rest of the team, nor paying their way as a guest. And don’t believe anything you see on social media. Running a ranch farm or property doesn’t leave much time for riding in between daily tasks. Horses are still used in cattle farming, but so are ATVs, pickups, tractors, baling rigs, etc.

Most of us with horses live in a normal apartment or house and keep our horses at someone else’s facility or farm, for a monthly fee. You don’t need to own land to have a horse.

I keep my horse in the suburbs but have a truck and trailer to get out to trails or go horse camping. I’m casually on the lookout for a place up in ranch country where I can rent a cabin or mobile home for several months over the summer and just stay up there with my horse. Would need to be near trail systems.

I would suggest you get some saddle time where you live now. Get some lessons. Get a refresher on how to handle horses on the ground. Try some team penning and sorting and roping lessons. See if you really want to be in the saddle every day.

I went back to riding in my 40s unsure if it would still be magical. I started off with lessons twice a week. It absolutely turned out to be as wonderful as I remembered and I am happy to care for and ride my own horse every day. But I also needed lessons for a couple of years until I deemed myself safe to ride independently again. Since then I have learned so much I hadn’t known as a kid, including trailering and groundwork and dressage.

I don’t know where your skills are currently at, but going out and getting some formal lessons in equitation and cattle sorting right now would be a good reality check and would also lead you to horsey opportunities where you currently live.


Not the summer heat and humidity. I’m definitely not very articulate.
My meaning of not being a labor worker was that not being a handyman ground guy just so I could use a horse on occasion.
Oh I fully intend to be expected to carry my weight with chores and get-ups at all hours of the night as needed. Yes I grasp that a ranch hand that lives on the property is working 24/7.
I am looking to live the life not just vacation and step aside. Going on trail rides in my area is very tame. All places that I have gone the staff recognize my horsemanship was not lost from my childhood. I know the roping process but have zero practical application, so yes the suggestion of getting that either as lessons or some friendly exposure would be fun and helpful. I have roped my grandchildren running around the yard, yes gently knowing the rope! LOL

Aces N Eights

Nice, I’ve visited Deadwood !
I’ve been considering a Billy Cook Wade Ranch smoothout. New its about 3K is that not something I would consider for all day use? Yes there is a pile more out there.

To be honest, I’d stay away from a new Billy Cook or any production saddle for that matter. A good portion of them are junk and the resale on them isn’t any where close to a quality hand made saddle.
I’d go used on a hand made, if it were me.
I just sold a cowboy saddle that was built 12 years ago for almost what it cost new then. I had a waiting list if the sale fell through.

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Could you point me in the direction where I would find them listed used?

Late summer is a good time to try to get on at a guest ranch, a lot of the summer help are college kids that have to go back before the season is over. If you are handy and ok with helping with fencing, having, calving, and mechanic work over the winter most places usually have some form of housing for year round employees. Handy and a good attitude are the most important thing. The place i was on let me have my horse there and I had my own saddle. A good wade is a good start, I would do full bars since a lot of the dude horses out here are part draft and run wide. I see that a few of the outfitters that go into the Bob are having cancelations you might be able to catch a trip and see what you think. It isn’t difficult 9 times out of 10 to take out guests (don’t call them dudes to their face or around your boss it’s usually guests) (though sometimes dude is just the better term lol) but that 1 time out of 10 can be a big wreck. If you get in good with an outfitter it’s usually pretty reasonable to catch the next job and come back for the following season. Outfitters run nearly to Christmas around here bc hunting season, if you have that experience even better. Central Montana sometimes looks for night calvers starting in Jan and that can turn into year round work or extended months too, get you through to the summer season. You wouldn’t be the first by a long shot to want to do it usually just takes one good season and then you’re in the loop. Can you throw a diamond?

PM sent.

I can only assume you mean a diamond hitch for packing? I’ve only seen it, no experience is using it. LOL

It’s great your riding skills are still good. However there is a huge gap between being a competent amateur and a pro.

There is also a big gap between being a competent rider on a dude string and being a competent amateur who can school a horse and solve behavior problems.

Riding in our exurban area, the trail loops you’d go on for a dude ride are also tame. But if you have your own horse you can challenge yourself on other trails.

Also the challenge of trail riding is not just in the terrain. It’s very different to go out alone, to ride in traffic and through suburbs, to gallop on mixed use trails and to get your horse used to bikes, dogs, ATVs, power boats in the river, nuns, bears, crop dusters, and blueberry guns.

It’s an accomplishment to be able to quietly and safely load horses and teach them to tie at the trail head. There are so many separate skills that go into making and maintaining a safe trail horse.

I know some folks who bought trail horses off a dude string going out of business, thinking life would be easy. Once those horses no longer lived and moved as a pack in a quiet park , they had huge huge issues and a steep learning curve. One person buckled down to lessons and six months later is starting to ride outside the arena. The other two basically went pasture pet and gave up on riding.

They were all competent riders when they were on the hourly rental rides. They just didn’t have the skill depth to deal with buddy sour, barn sour, prancy jiggy, and running through aids.

Completely appreciate your candor! I’m not and will not be a pro. Yes hope to regain the competent amateur level, won’t be alive long enough to achieve much more LOL