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cowboy rubioThe historic American cowboy of the late 19th century became a figure of special significance and legend. A subtype, called a wrangler, specifically tends the horses used to work cattle. In addition to ranch work, some cowboys work for or participate in rodeos.

A cowboy is an animal herder who tends cattle on ranches in North America, traditionally on horseback, and often performs a multitude of other ranch-related tasks.

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hairy cowboyThe historic American cowboy of the late 19th century arose from the vaquero traditions of northern Mexico and became a figure of special significance and legend. A subtype, called a wrangler, specifically tends the horses used to work cattle.

In addition to ranch work, some cowboys work for or participate in rodeos. Cowgirls, first defined as such in the late 19th century, had a less-well documented historical role, but in the modern world have established the ability to work at virtually identical tasks and obtained considerable respect for their achievements. There are also cattle handlers in many other parts of the world, particularly South America and Australia, who perform work similar to the cowboy in their respective nations.

The cowboy has deep historic roots tracing back to Spain and the earliest European settlers of the Americas. Over the centuries, differences in terrain, climate and the influence of cattle-handling traditions from multiple cultures created several distinct styles of equipment, clothing and animal handling. As the ever-practical cowboy adapted to the modern world, the cowboy's equipment and techniques also adapted to some degree, though many classic traditions are still preserved today.

Modern working cowboys.

 

On the ranch, the cowboy is responsible for feeding the livestock, branding and earmarking cattle (horses also are branded on many ranches), plus tending to animal injuries and other needs. The working cowboy usually is in charge of a small group or "string" of horses and is required to routinely patrol the rangeland in all weather conditions checking for damaged fences, evidence of predation, water problems, and any other issue of concern.

They also move the livestock to different pasture locations, or herd them into corrals and onto trucks for transport. In addition, cowboys may do many other jobs, depending on the size of the "outfit" or ranch, the terrain, and the number of livestock.

On a smaller ranch with fewer cowboys—often just family members, cowboys are generalists who perform many all-around tasks; they repair fences, maintain ranch equipment, and perform other odd jobs.

On a very large ranch (a "big outfit"), with many employees, cowboys are able to specialize on tasks solely related to cattle and horses. Cowboys who train horses often specialize in this task only, and some may "Break" or train young horses for more than one ranch.

Attire
Most cowboy attire, sometimes termed Western wear, grew out of practical need and the environment in which the cowboy worked. Most items were adapted from the Mexican vaqueros, though sources from other cultures, including Native Americans and Mountain Men contributed.

• Bandanna; a large cotton neckerchief that had myriad uses: from mopping up sweat to masking the face from dust storms. In modern times, is now more likely to be a silk neckscarf for decoration and warmth.

• Chaps (usually pronounced "shaps"or chinks protect the rider's legs while on horseback, especially riding through heavy brush or during rough work with livestock.

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• Cowboy hat; High crowned hat with a wide brim to protect from sun, overhanging brush, and the elements. There are many styles, initially influenced by John B. Stetson's Boss of the plains, which was designed in response to the climatic conditions of the West.

• Cowboy boots; a boot with a high top to protect the lower legs, pointed toes to help guide the foot into the stirrup, and high heels to keep the foot from slipping through the stirrup while working in the saddle; with or without detachable spurs.
• Gloves, usually of deerskin or other leather that is soft and flexible for working purposes, yet provides protection when handling barbed wire, assorted tools or clearing native brush and vegetation.

• Jeans or other sturdy, close-fitting trousers made of canvas or denim, designed to protect the legs and prevent the trouser legs from snagging on brush, equipment or other hazards. Properly made cowboy jeans also have a smooth inside seam to prevent blistering the inner thigh and knee while on horseback.

Many of these items show marked regional variations. Parameters such as hat brim width, or chap length and material were adjusted to accommodate the various environmental conditions encountered by working cowboys.

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