The History of the Wrangler: A Job for True Horsemen

The History of the Wrangler: A Job for True Horsemen

A little history about remudas, remuderos and the importance of the horse wrangler.

King Ranch cowboy at sunrise (Credit: Bee Silva)

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Along the cattle trails, a good wrangler was as important as the cook. A horse wrangler's job was a serious one. Legendary writer J. Frank Dobie talked about the wrangler’s job in the December 1954 issue of the Quarter Horse Journal.

In the border country, a band of saddle horses is still called a remuda – the Spanish term, the man in charge of them being the remudero. On the Plains and to the North, range people took over another Spanish word, “caballada,” and corrupted it into “cavyyard” or “cavvy.”

A good remudero, or wrangler, knew horses, liked horses, wanted to be with horses and had ways of controlling them unknown to many expert cowhands. He was kind of kin to horses.

  • A good wrangler never close-herded his remuda, for horses naturally scatter out while grazing, and it was important that they ate plenty and kept strong.
  • Each cowboy had from six to 10 horses in his mount. He rotated them regularly, and if the wrangler made sure that the loose horses grazed freely, he would ordinarily at the end of months of work and travel have the animals in first-class condition.
  • Of course, the riders at the same time had to take care of their mounts while using them.

A good wrangler knew every horse in a remuda of, say, 60 to 100 head. When he drove them up in the morning for fresh mounts to be caught out, he might say, “Well, I see I’m short three head. One of them is the PO dun. Another is the Pico Blanco (snip nose). He always runs with that white-footed black in Waddy White’s mount.”

After the horses to be ridden that morning had been caught, the wrangler would leave the others grazing while he hunted the three missing ones. Knowing the nature of the country and the horses, he would set out for a certain spread of land. If he did not find them pretty soon, he would “cut for a sign” – look for the trail they had made – and follow it. If they had walked on grass coated with dew, the trail was easy to follow. Whether it was easy or hard to follow, he was expected to bring in the strays and have the entire remuda at the noon camp a few miles up the trail for change of mounts.

There were no pens on the trail to put horses in. Several cowboys made a circle of ropes held in their hands. While a horse was being broken, he had learned better than to try to run over a rope. A big remuda of cow horses would stay inside this one-strand temporary fence. One man, usually the boss, roped out the horses, each cowboy calling out the name or description of the horse he wanted.

Like the cook, the wrangler was apart from the men who drove the cattle. In many ways, he was just as important, for as the saying went in the days of the horse age, “A man afoot is no man at all,” and the wrangler was responsible for the horses that kept the riders mounted.

If you like reading about remudas, you'll love Jim Jennings' book "Best Remudas." It provides you with a glimpse inside some of the country's best remudas.