By Glenn Grow, National Alumni Board
There was something magical about that morning walk in the chilly mountain air at 5:20 a.m. from my bunkhouse to the corral. Every A/U Ranches wrangler knew this walk. The morning stillness was broken only by the sound of my boots on the path to the corral.
In the faint dawn light, the horses peered through the fence, making that low-pitched, guttural nicker in anticipation of being fed grain and hay. The smell of the horses, of leather, of dust, is part of a wrangler’s morning. I loved that.
My work as a wrangler at the A/U Ranches was unforgettable to me, branded into memory. The morning ritual of rising with the animals while camp still sleeps to saddle the horses in time to return for Bible Lesson reading – this was the rite of passage for corral staff that kept us coming back.
I learned to whistle at camp, I mean really whistle loudly, like a round-‘em-up whistle to herd the horses in or out of the corral. I also learned to drive the three-on-the-tree transmission of “Johnny,” the old black pick-up truck we used for hay. (Was that truck even street legal?)
Like many wranglers, I was only a summer cowboy. I was not raised with horses, but spent many camp sessions as a Comanchero and High Stampeder to earn my buckles as a wrangler.
Teaching young campers to ride and care for their horses was special indeed, but what meant most to me was the feeling of freedom I found while riding every day in Colorado. The summer was long enough to build some kinship with your chosen horse. Images of America’s pioneering Western life filled my thoughts, especially on mountain pack trips we took with campers.
One horseback trip was particularly memorable. It was the summer of 1984, I believe, and I led some Family Ranching guests to Kroenke Lake with wrangler Natalie Lewis, a far superior horseman than I and an expert at loading a pack horse. The guests in this group were an eclectic mix of Christian Scientists whom Natalie and I were honored to host.
First, there was an Australian family in the oil trading business in Singapore, who were experiencing their first overnight horseback trip. Coming from the tropics to Colorado, this family was not used to the cold nights. Saddle blankets were insufficiently warm to sleep on, they politely told me after the first morning. Lesson learned.
In our group there was also an Idaho state senator, who was a skilled rider, together with her husband. They both were at home in the mountains. There was a retired Walt Disney Company artist and his wife, who were genteel and easygoing. Last, a Principia high school teacher was the only solo member on the trip.
After climbing with our horses all day, we arrived in the valley at the base of Mt. Yale, just below timberline. We fed and retired our horses, then made camp near the lake. We prepared campfire, tents, and dinner, with ease, thanks to Natalie’s expertise loading the pack horse.
What made this trip special for me was the harmonious interaction shared by people from diverse backgrounds, sharing their life stories around the fire. We talked for hours.
When my turn came, someone asked if I “worked with horses as a profession.” “No,” I chuckled, “I just came to the A/U Ranches every summer as a camper.” I told the group that it was my 20th birthday that night, so we made a chocolate chip cake over the open fire.
Reminiscing on experiences like this one, I am so grateful for my time as a wrangler. The life skills learned are meaningful beyond the corral. Making a mountain horse pack trip run smoothly requires careful planning, thorough safety precautions, alertness to duty, prayer in action and immediate response for every member of the group – horse and human.
Sometimes pack trips can be extremely challenging and require urgent prayerful action, like the time I was a Round-Up (high school) camper on a horse pack trip to Columbia Basin. One of the wranglers, an experienced farrier, was kicked unconscious while replacing a horseshoe. With afternoon light fading, we had to make the decision to ride the four hours back to camp or stay in Columbia Basin.
We quietly set up camp while praying and singing hymns. We prepared the evening meal in silent consecration to God and glorifying His goodness evident all around us. After some time, the wrangler who had been injured awoke and fully recovered that evening. It was a celebration and clear demonstration of God’s ever-presence.
Looking back, I think to myself, those staff wranglers handled that experience beautifully, demonstrating healing in action. Is this different than when a crisis hits your company, family, platoon or career?
My experience as an A/U Ranches wrangler had many such life lessons.
What life lessons did you learn from your work as a camp counselor at the A/U Ranches? Tell us here.
Reconnect with your corral friends this summer at the Wrangler Reunion, held during Adult Mini Camp, August 20-26. Learn more