The public’s idea of the cowboy and ranching is somewhat romanticized. The fact is, there are times that ranching is not romantic at all. It is hardship and heartbreak, financial crisis and praying for rain. It is giving it your all, going for broke, and persevering. This is the story of the cowboy and ranching as I know it, and it reminds me of the story of us all.
My ranching story began in the Spring of 1991. I was one and a half and my sister was four the day my parents began moving all their possessions in the back of stock trailers to the ranch they had just purchased in partnership with family. The creek was full that spring, the rains had been good. My mom drove the last car she ever owned through the creek, as water was running through the floorboards, while I sat in my car seat, I was probably crying. I know for a fact my mom was in tears that day. She didn’t know what her and my dad had signed up for, only that it was going to be hard.
Owning your own business is stressful and it didn’t take long for everyone who signed on to the business partnership to feel the stress. Being the youngest person involved, I mostly remember sensing the stress, but not understanding it.
Looking back, now, as an adult, it was worry – worry about cash flow, health insurance, establishing who made the decisions, trust, and how to take care of little kids when taking the risk of a lifetime. Annual ranch loan payments coupled with wild cattle, dated infrastructure, poor wells, and children in tow would have been a lot for any family. There’s no doubt it was a lot for mine.
In time, several business reorganizations took place and my parents kept their forward focus. They got better cattle on the ranch, improved the state lease water lines, and managed U.S. Forest Service allotment trails and drift fences. My mom continued to work off the ranch so we could have health insurance and a little extra cash, and my sister and I fell in line with their moving forward. We always helped. It didn’t matter if it was building fence, checking water, pulling wells, attempting to train horses, branding and moving cattle. We were, for the most part, my dad’s only ranch help. Lucky for him, we didn’t charge, but I am sure we drove him crazy. Actually, I know we did!
Our ranch and business stressors never really went away. With a long-lived drought, the joke around our house was that we were running a non-profit and barely paying rent. Thankfully, my dad’s good business sense to pay on time, all the time, and sometimes in advance earned him a good reputation with our bankers. Even though the numbers barely left us in the black, the bank always got paid. This did mean that there were times growing up that a candy bar was a luxury and vacations were rare. My parents didn’t have new trucks or equipment. To make the ranch a success as first-generation ranchers, sacrifices were made.
In 2015, twenty-four years after my parents chose to make the biggest decision of their lives and their children’s, they made the final payment on the ranch. It felt like it was just as much my success as it was theirs. After all our hard work, the financial stress, relationship strains, and the droughts, we overcame the odds. I know I became my own hero that day, but it wasn’t just because we were now officially ranch owners. It was because we never quit. We didn’t quit on ourselves, and most importantly, we didn’t quit on each other, not even on the hard days or on the days we didn’t like each other.
This idea is more clearly articulated in the words of Jim Rohn, “Set a goal for what it makes of you to achieve it. Do it for the skills you have to learn and the person you have to become.”
Purchasing the ranch was difficult and humbling. It changed my parents and helped shape my sister and I. As we invested in our goal, we became more determined, hardworking, reliable, and in the long run more grateful for each other. Each day, we gave our best. For this, I am immensely proud. This is success to me!