Linsey Richtmeyer on horse.
By Linsey Rhynard
If you had asked me about horses when I was little kid shoveling piles of ice-caked equine droppings into a wheelbarrow during one of Colorado's famous snowstorms, I would have probably thrown the pitch fork, kicked the wheelbarrow and testified that my father was a heartless slave driver.
Of course I loved to ride; it was all the extra work that came along with owning horses that I despised. So at 18, after a bout with fence-building and other projects at our family's ranch near Lennep, Mont., I shocked my entire family - most of all myself - and actually took a real job wrangling for a working guest ranch.
There's a short time in life where you don't care where you're going - or what you're doing - as long as it takes you away from where you are. Call it "grass is greener" syndrome, but it changed my life forever.
During this time I learned to love working 15 hours a day covered in dirt, horse sweat, hay and an occasional tick. My grandpa's old batwing chaps would've kept me warm in a freezing whiteout, but I wore those suckers day in and day out, 90 degrees or not, because they sparked conversations with the guests - and at a guest ranch there was no better credential than looking like a genuine cowgirl.
Photo: Lindsey Rhynard on her "work" horse
The other wranglers and I bunked in shacks with little more than cut-rate indoor siding for walls and shared a bathroom with a shower that rained smelly sulfur water. Our weekly reprieve lasted less than 24 hours, but in that time without guests or chores, we consumed cases of shamefully cheap beer and wine, rode horses bareback by Montana moonlight and shared stories from our hometowns which seemed to exist in some other time and place, even though most of us were less than five hours from home.
I was given less than a week to ride with an experienced wrangler and learn the trails. Then off I went with anywhere from five to 10 guests, loping and bouncing across meadows, along riverside cliffs and entangled Aspen groves, all the while praying no one fell off, had to stop for a potty break or realized that "exploring" was my guise for the original course going completely astray.
I found - and still find - that riding with green, unsure and somewhat frightened riders is actually sometimes the best way to explore, although it is definitely not the kind of riding that keeps you to a schedule. Inexperienced riders have an honest kind of resilience that allows them to bang their knees, fall off at a dead run, cry while their horse bucks and even wet their pants without the slightest hint of pride, then charge proudly into camp to tell about it.
The beginner rides were usually the most fun, even though it's very hard to boost an overweight, middle-aged man or woman back into a saddle on flat ground - especially if they wet their pants and need to climb your entire body to reach the saddle. Horses get spooked and usually I ended up with some kind of minor neck or back injury - not to mention an odd smell. Of course adding to the entertainment of these rides was often a language barrier that totally and completely prohibited any kind of reasonable instruction.
But summer was summer and nothing compared to riding a horse through miles of wild terrain and the backdrop of the Crazy, Bridger and Castle mountains of southwest Montana. I learned the country with the guests, explored new routes and went a bit further each week; one guest clocked 24 miles on his GPS in a day of riding. Through buck-offs and tree scrapes, knee injuries, bug bites and one time even a horse and rider floating aimlessly down the river, I somehow managed to get my guests back to the ranch (mostly) in one piece, but always thrilled with the experience - usually more so if an injury was attained.
My years as a professional wrangler made all the manure shoveling, grooming, feeding, fence-building, hole-digging and just plain hard work, not so bad. I worked at a few other incredible ranches as a wrangler the rest of the way through college at the University of Montana and even at my first job out of school. Nothing any office job could offer compared to riding a good horse (or at least fairly-good, somewhat broke horse) under a big Montana sky. Like any great dream job, wrangling landed me my first "professional" position.
Nowadays I'm a media and production coordinator, but I will always be a cowgirl first and foremost; I always love to get on my horses, breathe the unmistakably Montana air at my family's place and just ride. One or two weeks a year, I'm lucky enough to get back to my dream job, brave the Montana elements and wildlife and totally shock a crisp new pair of Wranglers off at least one unsuspecting guest looking for a true Montana experience.