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The American cowboy in the 21st century may seem like a bit of an anachronism.

Changing methods of food production and distribution, along with urbanization and economic pressures are forever altering  the way ranchers and cowboys live and work.

For example, the art of twirling a rope to snag cattle with a lasso is being replaced with cold, mechanical chutes and newfangled contraptions called branding tables. Horses are also being replaced with all-terrain vehicles…or as some call them, “Japanese quarter horses.” And experienced cowboys, who have for more than a century represented the true spirit and grit of the American West, are having their ranks thinned by inexperienced hired hands and school kids who have spent more time riding around in the back of a pick-up truck than they have on the back of a horse.

Yes, ranchers will still raise cattle, but make no mistake about it; the old-school traditional lifestyle of the American cowboy is changing.

Over the years while photographing Montana’s cowboys I have collected a few western proverbs and maxims uttered by the cowboys in these parts. And contained within these words and sayings are life lessons and nuggets of wisdom I think all of us can learn from cowboys. Below is a list of some of the better ones.

Let me know what you think about them with your comments below.

1.)  If you are riding ahead of the herd, take a good look back every now and then to make
sure it’s still there.

A cowboy makes a tight turn inside the corral on a western ranch. → Buy a Print

2.)  Keep your eye on the path in front of you. The path is often more important than the destination.

3.)  Don’t use your gun when some howling will do.

4.)  Always drink upstream from the herd.

5.)  Never let your yearnings get ahead of your earnings.

6.)  If you hang with the herd always watch your step.

7.)  Never approach a bull from the front, a horse from the rear, or a fool from any direction.

8.)  Sometimes silence is the best answer.

9.)  The only people you need to get even with are those who have helped you.

10.)  When in doubt don’t be afraid to let your horse do the thinking.

11.)  There is no such thing as a day off.

12.)  Never pass up an opportunity to go for a ride.

13.)  Never try on another man’s cowboy hat.

A couple of Montana cowboys roping cattle as steam rises from the animals in the corral near Cleveland, Montana. → License Photo

14.)  Work hard, play hard, love harder, and stay humble.

15.)  Good fences really do make good neighbors.

16.)  Don’t believe all you hear, spend all you have, or sleep all you want.

17.)  Never kick a cow chip on a hot day.

18.)  Every skilled horeseman was once a beginner.

19.)  The cemetery is full of chaps who pulled their triggers without aiming.

20.)  Do no harm, but take no shit.

21.)  Never squat with your spurs on.

22.)  Don’t worry about roping two hocks when one will do.

23.)  Never slap a man while he is chewing tobacco.

24.)  Every horse has something to teach you.

25.)  Never drop your gun to hug a grizzly.

26.)  A man who isn’t patient with his horse is seldom patient with his wife or kids.

27.)  It’s always smart to steer clear from a horse’s ass.

28.)  Every path has a few puddles.

29.)  When a cowboy is too old to set a bad example, he hands out good advice.

30.)  Sometimes you just have to let go when your ride is out of control.

31.)  Never sell your mule to buy a plow or your horse to buy a saddle.

A cowboy riding his horse during a roundup on a ranch near Havre, Montana. → License Photo

32.)  After eating an entire bull, a mountain lion felt so good he started roaring. He kept it up until a hunter came along and shot him. The moral: When you’re full of bull, keep your mouth shut.

33.)  The only sure fire way to double your money is to fold it over and put it back in your pocket.

34.)  When you are going to get thrown from a horse make sure you relax before you hit the ground.

35.)  Never corner something meaner than you.

36.)  Eating crow is easier when it is still warm. The colder it gets, the harder it is to swallow.

37.)  When you ask for free advice you get exactly what you paid for.

38.)  When you fall off your horse pick yourself up, dust yourself off, learn from the mistake you made, and then get right back in the saddle.

39.)  When you’re over the hill, you begin to pick up speed.

40.)  One day in the country is worth a month in the city.

2015 Western Horseman Calendar
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