It’s 7:29 am now. The sun is up and trying to shine. On most days the sunrise is golden, azure and gleaming in Cody. But today it is gray, perse and rainy, a typical autumn morning in cowboy country; hard, rugged and everything nature. A climate manipulated and defined by the calloused hands and the sun-baked complexion of weathered wranglers. Ted has just returned from the barn; pulling horseshoes and trimming hooves. He reaches for another steaming cup of stiff, wrangler coffee.
In 1967 Ted came into this world in Seattle, Washington. His family moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina when he was five years old. At the age eight, he was introduced to a horse for the first time while visiting distant relatives in France. His encounter with the horse was exciting and humbling. Ted remembers, “We were on a farm and there was a horse there. My twin brother and I had gone out in the morning to pet the horse. The farmer had just fed him his oats. I really wanted to pet the horse. My brother kept telling me to leave him alone. The horse was swishing his tail and laying his ears back. I really wanted to pet him. After a bit, the horse had had enough, turned around, and kicked me squarely in the butt. He kicked me clear over a fence. My brother is still laughing about that one.”
In 1981, at the age of fourteen, Ted and his family traveled to Cody, Wyoming for a dude ranch vacation. Arriving at Valley Ranch, a large ranch south of Cody, Ted became fascinated with the ranching lifestyle. Staying at the ranch lodge, he became accustomed to the aroma, feel and sensations of western living. The horseback riding was exceptional; well-equipped for family vacations and novice riders. “Back then, I don’t remember much in the way of instruction,” says Ted. “They showed us how to go, stop and turn and that was about it. In the lodge each evening at dinner there was a sign-up sheet for riding the next day. You could choose between slow, intermediate or advance. I went on every advanced ride for the two weeks we were there and I was hooked. I knew then that dude ranching was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.” Ted’s experience at the ranch would set the course for his future vocation and instill his love for horses.
Returning to North Carolina, Ted dreamed of being back in the mountains of Wyoming, riding horses and meeting new people. “At that point in my life I knew nothing of horses or dude ranching. I needed experience. So, during high school, I worked shoveling manure at local stables. They would let me ride from time to time. At seventeen, I returned to Valley Ranch and enrolled in their Wrangler School. This was a six week course and consisted of eight other wranglers. This was the real beginning of my formal education as a wrangler; I was a boy of seventeen from North Carolina chasing eighty horses across the Shoshone River at 5:30 in the morning with real cowboys who at the time I considered legends.”
While attending Wrangler School, Ted had the opportunity to meet some real western characters; famous wranglers, gracious hosts and lifelong friends. “Everyone has people they have met who have had a profound effect on their lives,” he says. “For me one of those people was a woman I met at Valley Ranch named Irma Larom. Her husband, Larry, started the ranch in 1914 with one of the Brooks Brothers as a partner. By the time I got there in the 1980’s he had passed away. But she was still there. She was about 140 years old. She wore full-length formal dresses everyday. She liked to flirt with the wranglers and tell stories about going to New York City in the 1920’s and staying at the Waldorf Hotel. They would party in New York in the winter and invite their friends to Wyoming for summer adventure. Irma said to me once, ‘A well-run dude ranch is hospitality at its finest.’ That has always stuck with me and I have tired to live up to it. Valley Ranch no longer exists, but for me it is where everything began.” Ted’s journey to becoming a world-class wrangler was becoming reality. His hard work and dedication to his dream was coming to fruition. All he needed was a good horse, fitted chaps and a wide-brim hat. Oh…and a good dog.
After wrangler school at Valley Ranch, Ted attended college in Riverton, Wyoming. He studied the rules of horsemanship, a two-year program including training in overall horsemanship; livestock feeding, colt breaking and training, farrier science, ranch management, English riding etiquette, and team roping. “What I really took away from this experience was a little knowledge about many different equine areas, and it gave me an experience base to land my first paying job as a wrangler,” he states. “But, if I had known then what I know now, I would have majored in business.”
Ted’s first position as a wrangler was at Black Mountain Ranch in McCoy, Colorado. It is at Black Mountain Ranch where he met Rowdy, a bay Quarter Horse gelding. Rowdy’s dam was a Quarter Horse named Joker who belonged to Sam, the manager at Black Mountain Ranch. Ted recalls his years at Black Mountain. “I started there in 1987 as a wrangler. After about a month into my first summer, the head wrangler was fired for let’s say inappropriate behavior with a married female guest. The manager came to me and said you are the head wrangler now. The following summer we had a guest named Chuck. He was a wiry, cocky twenty-three year old from Pennsylvania who, after being a guest like me, wanted to live the dude ranch life. The manager and I agreed to hire him. Chuck turned out to be the best wrangler I had ever known. We only worked at Black Mountain for three years together and went our separate ways. Chuck went to work as a hunting guide for an outfitter on the western slope of Colorado. I went to Tumbling River Ranch near Mount Evans, Colorado, and became the head wrangler there.” When Chuck left for his new position in Colorado, he took Rowdy, the bay Quarter Horse gelding, with him. Rowdy has been in Chuck’s family for nearly twenty-three years now. Recently, Chuck was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Ted says, “Chuck and his family now live in Cody. I am honored to keep his horse for him. My daughter, Wren, who is six years old, is learning to run barrels on Rowdy. She won’t ride any other horse.”
Ted’s riding tack has grown throughout the years. He is not partial to a particular saddle maker, but, through experience, prefers custom tack. “The saddle I ride was built on a wade tree, with a big Mexican horn and a five inch cantle. I have saddlebags that are actually permanently attached to the saddle,” he says. “I also ride with a custom made leather cantle bag. With the cantle bag, I don’t like saddles with Cheyenne rolls. Working on dude ranches, I ride a lot of different horses and find that the wade tree, with its high gullet, fits most horses well.” A classic ‘wade tree’ saddle is designed for working ranch horses. The tree defines the shape of the pommel and cantle. Riding horses with diverse physics require a multi-fit saddle that the rider is accustomed to and is appropriate for all horse types.
Between 1992 and 2001, Ted was hired as head wrangler for Tumbling River Ranch in central Colorado. Located deep in the Colorado high country, this ranch had an elevation of 9,200 feet. “We rode to 12,000 feet on all-day rides every week during the summer. One of the rides was a place called Rosalie. There is nothing quite like riding a good horse above timberline with 14,000 foot mountain peaks all around you. This was my church.” The Colorado Rocky Mountains. Beautiful, breathtaking and a trail riders dream.
In 1994, while head wrangling at Tumbling River Ranch, Ted meet his sidekick, Spur. “I think everyone is entitled to one great dog in their lifetime. Mine was a black and tan coon hound named Spur,” Ted says, remembering Spur. “He was a birthday present from my parents. He was the runt of the litter. When they went to pick him up he was nine weeks old, had pneumonia, was tied under a pickup truck and the breeder was going to let him die. My parents got him for $50. I had Spur for fifteen years. He spent most of his life on a dude ranch and went on trail rides daily in the summer. Spur was truly my best friend. On my 30th birthday, I was on a working ranch in Roy, New Mexico. This was a 23,000 acre ranch and very remote. The closest neighbor was about 45 minutes away, if it wasn’t raining. On my birthday, I was the only human on the ranch and I didn’t get a single phone call all day. But Spur was there for me. In his later years he slept about 23 hours a day. In the end, he died at the age of fifteen on his couch in his sleep. He lived well and died well. I will never have another dog like him.” No wrangler is complete without a well-loved dog. Spur was just that and much more.
From the Colorado high country, Ted moved to Whitefish, Montana. There he was the general manager of the Bar W Guest Ranch. This was an opportunity to meet more horses, more dude ranch vacationers and make new friends. Ted says, “For my 40th birthday the staff gave me a pair of custom boots. These were really high quality boots with my initials on the uppers. During a cattle drive on the Blackfoot Reservation, a man offered to take my duffle bag which had a leather vest, a pair of Levis, gloves a fifth of Wild Turkey, and most importantly my custom boots. I thought he meant he would take them to the truck, but apparently he meant take-for-good. I miss those boots.”
After leaving the Bar W Guest Ranch, Ted purchased Zeus, an almost-black Appaloosa. Zeus had been stabled at Bar W for over five years. Zeus was notorious for his disorderly disposition and bucking episodes. He was originally purchased from Mouse, a Blackfoot Indian. Ted explains, “Mouse is a horse trader in the truest sense of the word and has some really great horses. The Blackfeet have always been known as the best horseman of all the tribes. Zeus was the kind of horse that exploded into everything he did. Because he loved to GO, the wranglers tended to let him go. Unfortunately, this was not what Zeus needed. He needed a consistent rider that would help him to calm down. He now lopes on a loose rein and is a different horse. My four year old son rides with me on Zeus.”
Ted owns another horse, Comet, who also came from Mouse. Comet is a fifteen year old Palomino gelding. “Comet was given to me as a gift by the owner of Bar W Guest Ranch when we left there to move to Cody in October of 2010,” Ted says. “At that point Comet was already my horse since I had been, with a few exceptions, the only one to ride him. Comet is my friend and really fun to ride. He is the kind of horse that will run the barrels at a dead run and five minutes later walk around the barrels with my four year old son, with his head down and a loose rein. Comet has power steering, power breaks and cruise control. In my life I have had several great horses, but Comet is the best. He will do just about anything I ask; cross a deep river, go over the bridge, or jump off a cliff. He is fun to ride.” Comet is 15.3 hh and 1,200 lbs. He is Ted’s all-time favorite horse, friend and confidant.
Ted’s favorite horse breed? A Quarter Horse, of course. American bred, with the largest breed registry in the world, the Quarter Horse is a wranglers dream. Quick, efficient, compact and smart, the Quarter Horse is well-suited for American terrain. Ted expounds on his experience with other horse breeds, “I am a believer that after each breed’s basic characteristics, horses are a product of their environment. In high school, I worked at a couple of Arabian Show barns mucking stalls. The horses spent most of their time in a 12 x 12 stall and they were always trying to kick, bite or stomp me. At the time, I hated those horses and thought that was just the way Arabians were. Since then, I have had numerous Arabs on dude ranches and while they generally are a little more high strung, I have had some that were great dude horses. I have known mountain trail riders who swear by various breeds, but in my opinion, most of them can be turned into great trail horses if they are treated and used right.”
Working outside, in the elements, with horses, surrounded by sky, streams and mountains. Wrangler. A vocation synonymous with chaps, saddles, bits, bridles, manes, tails, and dirt. What is the difference between a cowboy and a wrangler? Ted explains, “Often the words cowboy or wrangler are used interchangeably, generally representing a man who can ride. A funny story: On Cowboy Sunday, the kids were at the front of the Church and the Minister asked if they knew a cowboy. My daughter answered that her dad was a cowboy. When asked then if I have cows, she said, ‘no, but we might get chickens.’ My three year old son stood up and then announced to the congregation that he was a cowboy…and he had a toy gun, boots and spurs to prove it. I used to think being a real cowboy was having those things, too, but I have learned it takes a lot more. When my son crawls into bed at night we always say ‘The Words’….they go like this:
Ted is currently a wrangler instructor and a dude ranch consultant in Cody. “The thing I am spending the most time on these days is managing Turpin Meadow Ranch in Jackson, Wyoming,” he says. “This ranch was foreclosed and the bank hired me to run it until a new owner can be found. My consulting includes caring for ranch horses, legal issues, horse program development and long-term ranch management. Most likely I will be involved with this ranch for some time, including finding a new string of about sixty horses for the ranch.” Ted is a successful wrangler, businessman, equestrian, family man and friend. If you are considering a dude ranch vacation, give Ted a call. He’ll provide you with accommodations befitting any want-to-be-wrangler; a steady horse, a sturdy rope, a night under the stars and memories that will last forever.