Cowboy Terms

Talk the talk.
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thehorsewrangler

arroyo (n.) An intermittently dry creek bed that only flows with water after sufficient rain. 

Usage: “Make sure to check up the arroyo; the cows sometimes stray there.”

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drag rider (n.) A cowboy who rides at the rear of the herd. 

Usage: “Billy spent the entire drive riding drag and choking on dust.” 

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dry-gulch, (v.) To ambush or shoot someone in the back—considered the method of a coward. 

Usage: "That yellow-belly dry-gulched the sheriff!"

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cavvy (n.)Used primarily in the Northern Plains and Northwest, the term refers to a ranch outfit's herd of saddle horses. 

Usage: "Roy heard hoofbeats as the night wrangler brought in the cavvy."

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cayuse, (n.) A pony breed developed by the Cayuse Indians. Also slang for a feral horse. 

Usage: “That rangy cayuse might not be a looker, but you can work him all day.”

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cinch-binder (n.) A horse that rears up on its hind legs and falls over backward. 

Usage: “Don’t bother riding that horse unless you want to wear a pine overcoat; he’s a cinch-binder.” 

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mossy horn (n.) 1. A Longhorn whose horns have wrinkled with age. 2. A veteran cowman. 

Usage: “He’s a cantankerous old mossy horn, but he knows what he’s talking about.” 


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pilgrim (n.)
Someone uninitiated to life in the West. Synonyms: dude, greenhorn, gunsel. 

Usage: "I know who you are; you're the same dumb pilgrim I've been hearin' for twenty days and smellin' for three!" —Bearclaw, Jeremiah Johnson (1972)

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possum belly (n.) Stretched rawhide on the underside of the chuckwagon, for kindling. 

Usage: “The camp had to go without fire—everything was wet and the possum belly was empty.” 


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ranahan (n.) A complimentary term for a top hand or experienced cowboy. Sometimes shortened to "ranny." 

Usage: "Everyone listened to Tom; he was a top ranahan with decades of experience.

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stargazer (n.) A term to describe a horse that goes around with its head high in the air. 

Usage: “That horse is such a stargazer that I can barely see over the top of his head!” 

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stove-up (adj.) Soreness or stiffness caused by injury, illness, or over-work. 

Usage: “That old rodeo hand is so stove-up it takes him half the morning just to get out of bed.”

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suitcase rancher, (n.) An absentee “rancher” who owns a ranch but lives elsewhere; is perceived as being involved in ranching for purely financial reasons. 

Usage: “Gary hasn’t laid eyes on a steer in 16 months, unless he keeps one in his city penthouse. He’s nothing but a suitcase rancher."

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sunfisher (n.) A bucking horse that twists in such a way that his underbelly is exposed to sun. 

Usage: "He was nervous, his stomach felt like a sunfisher coming out of the chute!"

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photo credit: Library of Congress Photo Archive

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