By Jay Wright
I have spent my adult years raising children and working a full-time rewarding office job. The kids were very active and participated in rodeo events; everything from barrel racing to bull riding. Life was full of driving across the state, spending time with my kids, feeding horses and of course those occasional trips to the emergency room. Such a bonding experience to spend time together getting stitches or a cast!
My tribe grew up, went off to college and became very responsible adults. My job was still good but I was just tired of the same ol’ thing. Fortunately, I had reached the age to retire and had been with the company long enough to be eligible to do so. But after being so busy for many years, what would be rewarding and fun enough to fill my time. I KNOW! Ever since I was a child, I wanted to work at a dude ranch. Now I have reached the point in my life that nothing was going to stop me. Well, except for my age and aching muscles. Who would hire someone my age? Turns out, I actually had a couple of offers. I made a decision and it was definitely the right one. Did I mention most of my friends felt I was in the early stages of dementia.
Goosewing Ranch in Jackson Hole seemed to be the right fit. Two years later, I haven’t regretted the decision to finally be a cowgirl. So I loaded my horse and traveled half way across the United States. It was the beginning of an amazing journey. The road to the ranch provided the most incredible views. Scenery that had only been observed in pictures was now surrounding me. The road was rough so I had to drive slowly, but why would I want to go fast, I might miss something.
Arriving at the ranch, I was greeted by outgoing managers and a friendly group of staff members. I was shown to my room (home away from home) and given the opportunity to settle in to my new surroundings. Every few days more employees would arrive. Such an interesting mix of young people; with a variety of reasons and stories for wanting to work on a ranch in Wyoming. It was like having my kids and family around again. They even picked up on what friends of my children called me, Mama Jay. The employees were from all over the world. Language seemed to be the only barrier between them, which was quickly worked out or overlooked. Communication became easier each day. We all worked together for several weeks to open the ranch and prepare for guest. What would that be like? You form such bonds, with your ranch family, how would it be when strangers arrive! Well, it was great.
Guests were as excited as we were to be in this majestic area. Like the employees, the guests were from all over the world. It was our own United Nations. We shared with them what we had learned about the area, they shared their hopes and expectations from their mountain adventure. Employees brought different skills and were hired for their unique areas of expertise. It was an amazing experience for all of us.
However, let me say my horse Sassy was not quite as enthusiastic about the whole experience as the rest of us. Sassy has never been in a pasture of more than about 10 head of horses. Now she was one of sixty. She was not a happy girl. She was born and raised in the flatlands of the Midwest, climbing some of these mountains was just not as gratifying to her as it was for me. There would be times she would just stop and turn her head as if to say, “are you kidding, you expect me to climb that, WHY”. In her defense, she would do whatever I asked.
In the evenings you could see the excitement in the faces of the guest, as they told you about their day of adventure. The wildlife they had seen, water crossings, climbs to scenic ridges overlooking the Gros Ventre valley. That time was also filled with the eager anticipation of tomorrow. Going on rides, I learned so much from the wranglers. The area is full of history and amazing stories of mountain men, trappers and homesteaders. How their courage and toughness settled this wilderness. For me, as I have gotten older, there is an enthusiasm to learn about this beautiful country and the strong people who forged the trail for me. Meeting new people and listening to their stories, enriches our own lives. This has been an amazing experience, one I’m glad I pushed myself to try. There are no regrets for following my dreams or perhaps marking off items on my bucket list. What an amazing experience, what wonderful forever friends. And when I’m sitting around the old folk’s home, in my jeans and cowboy boots, swapping stories, who will be able to top this one.
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–The Dude Ranchers Association represents over 100 ranches with anywhere from 15 to over 100 of mostly seasonal employees. When a guest stays a full week at a ranch they are able to get to know the crew. This is an insider view of the personalities and experiences they have. There’s more where this came from! Stay tuned.–