Cowboy Glossary

This is a growing, definitive glossary of cowboy terms.  Since so much of the cowboy’s lifestyle and equipment comes from the Mexican Vaqueros and Spanish traditions, when applicable, the Spanish language name from which each term derives in in italics.


ALAMAR KNOT:  A decorative knot used to tie a mecate around a horse’s neck. In traditional Old California horse training, when a horse had graduated to become a finished bridle horse, the Alamar knot was tied from two coils of a mane hair mecate draped over the horse’s neck and the knot worn on the horse’s chest to denote him as a bridle horse. 

ANVIL:  Hard surface used to shape horseshoes or pound rivets.

AT THE ROPES:  Horses are gathered at a ranch into a rope corral.  They are trained to stand with their heads facing the rope and are roped by the jigger or cowboss for the cowboys from behind using a hoolihan loop. The cowboy asks for his horse for the day according to the work to be done.


BANGTAIL:  A mustang mare (not necessarily limited to mares).  In older days, uncombed tails were a sign of an unbroken horse. 

BARBED WIRE:  Wire used in fencing that has points at intervals to deter livestock from crossing the fence. Sometimes called “bobbed wire” or “barb wire” or “The Devil’s Rope.”   

BEDROLL:  Blankets rolled and carried for sleeping.  Also called sugans, soogans, hot rolls, or dream sacks.

BELL:  To trim an animal’s tail into a distinctive bell-shaped pattern.  Often used on mules.  The pattern is used for identification, for instance to show where a horse or mule should be in a pack string.

BELL MARE:  Generally older mares wearing a bell, used as leaders in pack trains or put in a remuda to locate where horses are grazing at night.

BELL STIRRUPS:  Wide stirrups common to the buckaroo country.  If you look at them from the side, they are shaped similar to a bell.  Wide stirrups make it easier to “trot out” for a number of miles in the big country.  A long trot is the gait of choice for buckaroos that need to travel long distances horseback to reach the place where they will start to work.

BIT (el freno):  A metal mouthpiece on a bridle, when connected to reins, used to steer the horse.  There are a great many variations on bit shapes and severity.  Some types include half-breed, spade, snaffle, curb, and ring bits.   

BOB:  Method of marking cattle by trimming their tail hair.  The cowman might “bob” the tails of the cattle he intends to keep while he is working them.   This mark is made by cutting straight across the end tassel of tail hair.  The mark is very distinctive and able to be seen from a  long distance.  See also LONG TAILED.

BOSAL:  A noseband, usually of braided rawhide, used with headstall or “hanger” to make a hackamore.   Usually used with a mecate for reins.

BOSS MARE: Typically but not always, an older, wiser female horse who has the most common sense. Feared and trusted by the herd to take the lead when they are on the move. She selects the safest route and the best places to graze. Also, in herd dynamics a mare that enforces her position of authority through intimidation such that she gains a reputation of unquestioned authority.

BRAND:  Ownership mark applied to livestock.  Also, as a verb meaning to applying a brand.

BRANDING IRON:  The tool used to apply a brand.  Called “iron” for short.

BREAST COLLAR:  A strap, often made of leather, that passes around the animal’s chest and is attached to the saddle.  Used to keep the saddle from sliding back, especially when a horse is dragging livestock or heavy objects. 

BREECHING:  Leather strap arrangement fitting over an animal’s hind quarters to keep a saddle from slipping forward.  Essential on mules because of their slim shoulders.  See also PACKSADDLE. 

The term breeching also refers to a permanent identification mark made horizontally across both sides of a cow’s rump.   

BRIDLE (la brida, el freno): The head harness for a horse, basically consisting of the headstall, bit, chin strap and reins, but often including also a brow band, nose strap, and throat latch. 

BRONC:  Rodeo term used to designate the bucking horses that are ridden with a saddle.

BRONCO:  An animal that has never been broken to saddle or harness use. Also known as a  bronc. 

BROOM-TAIL:  A class of range horses that are considered not worth much.

BUCKAROO:  A cowboy from the Great Basin country of northern Nevada, southern Idaho, northeast California and southeastern Oregon.  Often wear flat hats, chinks, and ride A-fork saddles with post horns and bucking rolls.  Traditionally their gear displays lots of silver and is fancier than some other areas of the country.  Derived from the Spanish “vaquero”.  

BUCKING ROLLS:  Padded attachments at the front of the saddle to supplement the swells to help the rider stay in the saddle.  Most often used on A-fork saddles. 

BUCKSKIN:  A tan or yellow colored horse with black mane and tail.

BULL:  Male un-castrated bovine (cow). Well-bred males are raised to father cattle in a cow herd.  


CABALLADA:  Band of horses, in Spanish.  Saddle horses maintained by a ranch.  See also REMUDA or CAVVY.

CABALLO:  A horse, in Spanish

CALF:  Baby cow.  Usually cattlemen plan for their herds to calve (have their young) in the early spring.  Some warmer climate ranches allow calving any time.  The animals are then rounded-up and marked by branding and earmarking or tagging to denote ownership.

CALIFORNIA STYLE REINS:  Single loop reins that often have a long flexible quirt called a “romal” attached.

CANTLE (la teja): The arched, rear portion of the saddle tree. 

CATTLE GUARD:  An obstacle to cattle in a roadway made from horizontal (usually metal) bars inserted in the roadway over a depression in the ground and parallel to the fence line.  It is used to replace a gate.  The hole under the bars is a deterrent to the cattle and they will usually not attempt to cross. See also TEXAS GATE.

CATTLEMAN:  A ranch owner that makes a living raising cattle. Also known as a Cowman.

CAVVY (caviada): Buckaroo term for a ranch outfit’s saddle horses. The cavvy horses are gathered by a horse wrangler and brought “to the ropes.”  This is a rope corral, sometimes temporary, at which the “day horses” are roped.  The jigger boss, second in command, does the roping.  The buckaroo calls out which horse he wants based on the instructions the cow boss has given for the day’s work.  Term used mainly in the Great Basin and northwest.

CAYUSE:  A range-bred horse.

CHARRO:  Gentleman rider of Mexico.  Charros often exhibit a very flashy style of riding and use ornate dress and gear.  Jalisco and Guerrero are the main states in Mexico where the charro tradition originated.        

CHARREADA:  A gathering of charros combining skilled riding, roping, and bull tailing, somewhat similar to a rodeo in the United States.     

CHAPS:  Leggings worn by horse people as protection against the brush and weather.  Usually made of leather. Derived from the Spanish las chaparreras, or chaparejos.  For more information on types, click here.

CHAP GUARD:  Small upswept metal projection on top of the spur shank of some spurs that supposedly helps keep a cowboy’s chaps from fouling in the rowel.  Not all spurs have chap guards.

CHOKER:  Different style of breast collar.  The term is regional to the Great Basin.  Also called ‘martingale.’

CHUCK:  Food. In Spanish, called comida.

CHUCKWAGON: A wagon used to carry food on a cattle drive, which also serves as a mobile kitchen.

CHUCKWAGON COOK Cowboy chef who prepares food for crews on a cattle drive. Also sometimes called “coosie” or “cookie.”  On the old time cattle drives, the cook was sometimes an aging cowboy hired for his ability to drive a wagon more than his cooking skills. He was in charge of the wagon and everything related to it.  The cook was paid more than the other hands because the success of the camp and the drive depended greatly on him.  A cowhand earned about a dollar a day and the cook made twice that.   Ranch cooks today still command a great deal of respect and many expect a certain strict etiquette in their vicinity.      

CINCH (la cincha): A leather or fabric band (or girth) that holds the saddle on the horse’s back by being tightened around its body just behind the front legs. Usually it is fastened to leather straps (latigos) that hang from the rigging on each side of the saddle. 

CIRCLE or BIG CIRCLE RIDERS:  Cowboys start at a point designated by the cowboss, ride widely-separated, gather the cattle, and push them to the holding or rodear grounds where the cattle will be worked.  

COCINERO:  Spanish term for male cook or chuck wagon cook.      

COLD-BACKED:  A horse that has a tendency to buck when initially mounted in the morning.

COLT: A young male horse typically less than two-years old. See also FOAL. 

CORRIENTE:  Cattle of non-descript breeding usually from Mexico.  Often used in the U.S. for roping competitions.

CONCHO (la concha): A metal disk, often of silver, sometimes a leather rosette that secures saddle strings or used as other decoration.  Etymology is from the Spanish word “concha” meaning “shell” 

COW:  A female bovine. This term is used also as a generic reference to cattle. Cattle were first imported into the New World by the Spanish in 1541.  Since then breeds from England, Europe and India have been introduced, trying to create the best producing cattle that make the best use of the available feed on different ranges.

COWBOSS:  In charge of the cattle operation on a ranch.  They choose where the cowboys will ride and hire and fire cowboys.  Answers to the general manager or ranch owner.

COWBOY:  A person, in the western United States, who tends cattle and performs many of their duties on horseback.

COWBOY BOOTS:  High topped boots made with high heels to keep them from slipping through saddle stirrups and as a brace in roping.  Soles are usually slick leather to keep them from catching when dismounting. Styles are often regional and defined by function. 

COWBOY HAT:  A cowboy’s hat, usually with a four to six-inch brim, acts as an umbrella in stormy weather, and a shade from the sun in hot weather.  Hats and their shapes are very regional.  It’s been said that you can tell where a working cowboy is from by the crease in their hat.  John B. Stetson is credited with designing and marketing the first true cowboy hat, which he called the “Boss of the Plains.”

COWGIRL:  A female cowboy.  (on a personal note, I prefer the term cowboy to refer to both male and female cattlehandlers)

COW HORSE:  A horse that is trained to roping, cutting, working out a cow-herd.

COW-PUNCHER:  Also called Buckaroo, Cow Poke, Waddie, Cowboy, and in Spanish a “Vaquero”.  Terms for cowboy vary with the region.  The term cow puncher or “puncher” is more commonly used in the southwest.

COW SENSE:  When a horse a natural ability to use for roping, cutting and general cow work, they possess good cow sense. Horses with a good cow sense are said to be “cowy”.

CRITTER:  Often in speaking of cows or horses a cowboy calls them a “critter.”  Other animals can also be critters.

CROUP:  Rump of the horse, the top of the hind quarters from the tail to the kidney area (loin).

CRUPPER:  A leather strap that goes around an animal’s tail to keep the saddle from slipping forward. Most often used on mules.

CUFFS:  Leather wrist cuffs used for protection against brush, to protect shirt sleeves from wear, and to keep a rope from fouling shirt sleeves.

CUT:  As a noun, a cut is a group of cattle separated from the herd for a reason, such as to sell. As a verb, the act of separating the cattle. Also, a process of castrating a male animal.

CUT A CIRCLE:  A cow boss will describe an area such as a portion of a ranch from which you will gather cattle or ride to check on land and animals.

CUTTING HORSE:  Certain cow-horses used at a round-up in cutting out cattle for ownership and brand; today, a whole branch of horsemanship and horse use.


DALLY (dale vuelta): When roping, wrapping the rope counter-clockwise around the saddle horn to hold the animal or object roped. In south Texas cowboys don’t dally much but actually tie the lariat to the horn, called “hard and fast.”

DE-HORNING:  In many places, cattlemen remove the horns from horned cattle when they are calves.  This makes them easier to handle and less likely to hurt each other.  This practice became popular when cows began to be transported more often by truck and rail and needed to be confined in small spaces.

DEWLAP:  Another method of marking cattle similar to a waddle.  A dewlap is formed by cutting a piece of skin so that it will grow into a distinctive hanging mark in a certain location.  Used in conjunction with brands and earmarks.

DOGIE:  (pronounced with a long “o” as in “own,” not as in the pet animal named “Spot.”)  A calf with no mother.  Term used more often in Texas.  Derived from the Spanish word “dogal” meaning a short rope used to keep a calf away from its mother during milking.

DONKEY:  Common name for a member of the ass family.  The Spanish brought donkeys, called “burros” in Spanish, to North America beginning in the late fifteenth century.  They were the favored beast of burden used by prospectors in the desert Southwest of the United States.  A male donkey (jack) can be crossed with a female horse to produce a mule. A male horse can be crossed with a female donkey (jennet or jenny) to produce a hinny.   

DRAG RIDER:  Cowboy following the herd to push the stragglers.

DRIVE:  Method of rounding up cattle by scattering cowboys over the range and pushing the cattle to one place.

DROVER:  Term commonly used in the 1870s and 80s for a working cowboy engaged in trailing longhorns to market or a new range.

DUN:  A type of gene inheritance in horses. Dun factor acts on the base coat color and usually lightens it a shade or two. Also, many dun factor horses have a stripe down the back and lines on the legs, neck, and ear tips.


EAR TAG:  Method of marking cattle (or other animals) by attaching a tag to their ears.  Often vaccinations, breeding, and herd identification are information that are recorded using the tag numbers. 

EARMARK: Another method of marking cattle by cropping their ears in distinctive patterns.  Usually used along with a brand.  The earmark patterns are also registered with the brand. Earmarks can often be seen quicker than a brand (because the cow usually looks at you) and are a good aid in recognition and when sorting cattle.  Many earmarks can be seen at a great distance.

ESCARAMUZA:  Women participating in a charraeada as a drill team, riding sidesaddle.  


FENDER (el alero): Leather piece projecting back from stirrup leather to protect the rider’s legs. In south Texas, they use the term ‘Sweat leather.’

FIADOR KNOT:  The fiador is a type of throatlatch sometimes used on a bosal hackamore.  The fiador prevents the headgear from falling off the horse’s head.  The fiador knot is the knot under the jaw.  It is known as the hardest knot to tie in horse gear.  

FIRST CUT:  The choice pick of the group.

FLANK RIDER:  Cowboys riding along the sides of the herd keeping it bunched. See also OUTRIDER.

FLAXEY:  Blonde colored or flaxen mane or tail on a horse. 

FOAL: A baby horse, either male or female. Female foals are also called a filly, while a male foal is also referred to as a colt. As a verb, to give birth to a baby horse.

FORK (el fuste): Saddletree, bows of saddletree.

FORKED: (pronounced fork-ed – like the name Ed) An adjective applied to a Cowboy that can really ride a bronc well.

FOUR-HORSE ROLL:  The old-style way of turning up the cuffs on jeans about 4 inches. This was said to also be useful for depositing the ashes of cigarettes if you were in a house, before ashtrays were common.


GELDING:  It is a range custom to let a male colt run on the range until he becomes a 2-year old.  He is then castrated and becomes a gelding.  Horses are gelded to help ensure good temperament.  The old way was that only geldings were used by cowboys.  Mares were turned out with a stallion in stud bands to raise a new crop of colts. 

GET-DOWN ROPE:  A hair rope (mecate) attached to a bosalito (small bosal).  Used with California-style rein setup to lead or tie your horse.

GLASS-EYED Blue or white eyed horse.  An old-wives’ tale says blue-eyed horses do not see well or are night blind, but most see as well as any other horse.

GOUCH EARED:  Having ragged or cropped ears.  Sometimes a horse will lose part of an ear to frostbite or an accident.

GROUND-TIE:  The horse is taught to stand still with the reins dropped on the ground rather than tied to an object. Handy, but not fool-proof.

GRULLA: (pronounced groo-YA) A mouse colored horse, a mousy-dun.  The dun version of a black horse with a dark dorsal stripe, tiger striped legs and white ear tips.

GULLET (el interior del arzon): Inside of the pommel or the front edge of the forward arch of the saddle.             

GUNSEL:  A person with limited knowledge of livestock and cowboy ways.  Usually used as a derogatory term.

GYP:  A female dog – term used especially in the south.


HACKAMORE (la jaquima): The traditional jaquima hackamore consists of a headstall, noseband (bosal) often of braided rawhide, a strap that runs behind the horses ears (hanger), and mecate tied into looped reins and a lead rope. The first stage of training in the California tradition of horsemanship.

HALTER (el cabestro): A headstall usually with an attached rope or strap, for holding and leading an animal. 

HARNESS:  Sets of straps, collars, reins, and hardware that are used on horses in order to have them pull a wagon.

HAZING Rodeo term referring to bulldogging.  The bulldogger rides his horse on the left side of the steer. The hazer rides on the right. When the steer is released from the box, the hazer attempts to keep the steer between his horse and the bulldogger’s horse so that the bulldogger has a better chance to get off on the steer and throw it down. The word “haze” is used to mean push or herd the animal.

HEADSTALL:  Straps that go over a horse’s head which, together with a bit and reins, form the bridle. There are many different styles.

HEIFER:  Young female cow, raised to replace the older cows in a herd or to provide meat.

HOBBLES (manellos): Straps or a piece of rope placed around a horse’s legs to keep it from wandering off.

HOG TIE:  To tie both back legs and one front leg of an animal together securely so they can’t get up.  Or in common usage, tie up anything tightly and securely. See also PIGGING STRING.

HONDA:  A metal, rope, or rawhide ring, through which a rope slides to make a loop.  Several styles are available depending on the usage. (or hondo)

HORN (la cabezal): The projection, often bent forward, above the pommel used for dallying a rope.  Different style horns are regional.  Different style horns are used for cutting and roping

HORN IRON:  The old way to help heal the horn base after de-horning was to cauterize the horn stub with a hot iron. 

HOODLUM or LITTLE MARY:  Cook’s helper who chops wood, peels potatoes, does dishes, and other chores around the chuckwagon.

HOOLIHAN:  A style of loop used when throwing a rope:  a loop thrown over the head with the wrist turned backwards often used for roping horses because the rope is not swung before it is released, so it does not excite the animals.



JERK A gather of, or trip through, a small piece of country.  Term often used in rough country where cattle are hard to gather.

JERK LINE:  A single rein used originally on coaches and carriages that was fastened to the brake handle and ran through the driver’s hand to the bit of the lead animal

JIGGER or JIGGER BOSS:  Second in command to the buckaroo boss.  Often ropes the buckaroos’ horses for the day. See also SEGUNDO.

JINGLE BOBS:  Metal pieces dangling from the rowel of a spur that make a bell-like ringing when the spurs move, either while walking or riding.  The jingle bobs offer decoration and it is said their jingling helps keep the horse calmer.  Tradition has it that a bell’s noise makes a horse walk faster.


KEEPER:  Piece of leather attached to the saddle through which loose equipment or saddle parts can be hooked.     


LARIAT (el lazo): Derived from Spanish “la reata” (meaning to catch or fasten). A long rope (also called “lasso” or “reata”), of braided rawhide, hemp, or today of polyester or nylon.  The rope has a loop or eye attached at one end (honda or hondo) through which the other end runs.  Note the different style hondas in the photo.  Also know as a lash rope, string, or catch rope.

LATIGOS:  leather straps to which the cinch is secured, each suspended from a latigo ring (or rigging ring), one on the near or on-side (el latigo) and sometimes one on the off-side of a single rigged saddle; on a double-rigged saddle there is also a second (flank) cinch.  Some saddles have an off-side billet to secure the cinch instead of a second latigo.  The terms “cinch strap” and “off-side cinch strap” are used in south Texas, where the leather strings used to tie stuff like ropes or a bedroll on with, are called “latigos.”      

LAY: Different stiffnesses of a rope depending on what type of rawhide is used.  For instance, bull hide makes a very stiff rope for heel roping.  

LEAD RIDERS: Two cowboys that ride on each side of the ‘lead steers’ in a trail herd. They push the cattle  in the general direction they want the herd to move. 

LEPPY:  An orphaned calf.  Usually easily recognized by their pot bellies.  Sometimes also used referring to a young cowboy who is inept in cowboy ways.  

LOCOED:  Horses and cattle become addicted to the eating of Loco weed, thereby causing the victim to become thin; with injury to eyesight, muscular control and brain; causes an abnormal growth of hair on the mane and tail of horses – on cattle an extra increase of hair on flanks

LONG-EARED, FULL-EARED:  Calves/cattle that have not been earmarked.  They have their whole ears.  Usually one of an age that it should have been branded and earmarked.  

LONG TAILED:  Some cattle managers snip the long hair on the tip of the tail off when they process range cattle.  Makes a very distinctive mark and later the hair grows back.  Lacking that, they are called “long-tailed.”  See also BOB.


MAGUEY:  Mexican style “grass” rope made of agave fiber.  The word “maguey” means “agave” in Spanish.

MARE: An adult female horse or the adult female of other equine species. Contrary to popular belief, herds are run by mares rather than by stallions. In herd dynamics, mares lead the herd because their common sense inspires trust in the other herd-members. Herds move when and where the boss mare does. She drinks first from watering holes and stakes out the best grazing spots. See also BOSS MARE.

MARLIN SPIKE:  More properly known as a nautical term.  A tool for punching holes and unlacing leather among other things

MARTINGALE (la gammara): Strap from the front cinch to the bridle, or ending in two rings through which the reins pass, to help control the horse.  Also used to refer to the “choker” style breast collar. 

MAVERICKS:  Wild cattle that haven’t been branded and never been gathered.  Sometimes in remote, rough country the animal has been untouched by the cowboys for quite a while and the older the animal becomes, the more unmanageable it gets.

MCCLELLAN:  Style of military issue light-weight saddle used by the U.S. Cavalry. 

MECATE:  (may-ka-TE) A rope, often of braided or twisted horsehair, that is used as a combination rein and lead rope. Also known as a McCarty or Macardy.

MECHANICAL HACKAMORE:  Metal version of a hackamore with metal side pieces that work on the nerves of the nose and a chain under the jaw that works on the nerves there.  Sometimes called a broken-jaw hackamore.

MOCHILA:  Mail pouch the Pony Express riders carried on their saddles to hold the mail.

MORRAL:  A feed bag for a horse that fits over its nose.  Also called a nose bag.  It is a handy method of feed a horse grain or pellets.  Little feed is wasted and one animal cannot eat another’s ration.

MULE:  Cross between a male ass and a female horse (mare).  Mules are sure footed and hardworking animals.  

MUSTANG (mesteño): A feral horse.  From the Spanish word mestizo meaning mixed blood.


NIGHT LATCH:  Safety strap attached to the saddle for the rider to hold on to in order to stay on a contrary horse.  Also, sometimes known as an “oh, sh*t handle” in Texas

NIGHT HAWK, NIGHT HERDER:  Cowboy that constantly rides around the cattle herd at night.  

NIGHT RIDER:  Sometimes used long ago to refer to someone on the “dodge.”  

NIGHT WRANGLER:  A cowboy that herds and cares for the saddle horses during the night.   


OREANA:  Another term used for a lone unmarked and unbranded calf.

OUTRIDER:  Cowboy adept at moving in every direction horseback, such that they have responsibility for the integrity of the formation of the herd. 

OWL-HEADED HORSE:  A horse that looks around a lot. Negative term.

OXBOW STIRRUPS:  Narrow stirrups sometimes made of metal and sometimes preferred by bronc riders.


PACKER BOOTS:  Boots laced and generally made of heavier leather for cold weather, hiking, and hard riding.

PALOMINO:  A golden colored horse with a light or white colored mane and tail. 

PARADA:  A relay of horses and the place the change is made.  Similar to cavvy.  Group of broke horses.

PIGGING STRING:  Short piece of rope cowboys carry on their saddle or chaps.  In Texas, it’s called a “hoggin’ string”.  In British Columbia, Canada they call it a “short line.” In the southwest it’s called a “tie down rope” and in the Great Basin they call it a “piggin’ string.” 

PINTO:  A paint or spotted horse.

POGONIP:  (PAH-guh-nip) Paiute word for cloud, referring to a dense winter fog containing frozen particles, formed in valleys in Western United States.  Also called white cloud, white death or death fog.  Formed when humidity is 100% and temperature falls below freezing (32° F.)  The ice crystals will then settle onto surfaces, forming beautiful ice crystal sculptures.  Beautiful but dangerous.

POINT RIDER:  Cowboy who rides in front of a herd and provides something for the animals to follow. See also SEGUNDO.

POMMEL (la campana):  The forward, arched portion of saddletree.

POPPER:  Leather pieces attached to the end of reins, romal, or quirt that make a popping noise when slapped on your chaps.


QUIRT (la cuarta): Short, leather strap or braided whip, often attached to a handle, used as a whip to encourage a horse to increase speed.  A loop is usually attached to the hand end so that it can be carried on the rider’s wrist or attached to the end of reins.


RAFTER-HIPPED:  Horses with a low tail set. Mustang types lacking a rump often show this fall-off from the hipbone to the tail. Arabians and Thoroughbreds have a straight topline (flat croup), but some Quarter Horses show a lot of slope from the loin down to the tail.  

RANGE BOSS:  Manager of a cow outfit out on the range.

RANAHAN:  Top cowhand, sometimes shortened to “ranny.”

RATAQUE:  A fence made by laying mesquite logs or sticks between posts.

RAWHIDE:  The hide of a cow, stretched, dried, and scraped, that can be braided and made into gear such as reins and ropes.  Very strong.  The strips then can be braided into gear. 

REATA:  (sometimes spelled riata) A braided or twisted rawhide rope.  

REINS (las riendas): Strap or cord (in pairs) that runs from the bridle bit around the horse’s neck, to be held and manipulated by the rider.  These straps manipulate the bit and apply pressure on a horse’s mouth and neck in order to steer the animal.  

Reins are of two general types, open (split) and closed.  Texas cowboys prefer open reins.  One advantage of that type is that they are not joined together, so that if a rider is thrown, he is not in danger of becoming entangled.  Ropers and buckaroos are partial to closed reins.  Closed reins, also sometimes known as “loop” reins, are attached to each other.

REMNANTS:  Cattle not gathered in the first roundup and remaining on the range.  Riders go out again and again to find all the animals until the count is right.

REMOUNT:  The provision of fresh horses, particularly for military purposes.  The word encompasses both the animals themselves and the means by which they were provided. In many cases, remounts were cavalry horses provided to replace those killed or injured in battle

REMUDA:  All saddle horses on a roundup that are thrown together and constitute the remount horses for the cowboys. The remuda is in the charge of a cowboy whose duty is to herd and bunch the animals when the cowboys want a fresh mount.  This term is used most often in the southwest and Texas.  North of U.S. Highway 50 the term most often used is cavvy or cavvietta. See also CABALLADA or CAVVY.

REP:  A representative.  In the old days, neighboring ranches would pasture in ranges without fences as we know them today.  During roundup time, representatives from neighboring ranches would attend the roundup.  A rep with his own string of horses would trail to the range and ride and work with the roundup crew.  When the cattle were gathered, those with his ranch’s brand would be cut out and the rep would trail them home along with his saddle and pack horses.

RE-RIDE:  To ride again, such as to check a pasture or allotment for cattle not gathered the first time. Also with reference to riding a bronc or bull in a rodeo, if the animal does not buck as should be expected, the rider is given a different horse or bull in the hopes of a better score.

RIGGING RING (la argolla): Latigo ring.

RIM-FIRE:  When a cowboy gets his rope caught under his horse’s tail, usually while roping cattle.  This can cause a severe wreck when the horse takes exception to the position of the rope.

RODEO Roundup, today a contested group of events and associated entertainment.

RODEAR:  To gather and work cattle out of a herd held by riders, such as in a fence corner where there is no corral. 

ROUGH STOCK:  Wild, free ranging animals, mustangs and mavericks who are not spoiled by being branded and broken-in. Horses and bulls used in rodeo events.

ROUGH STRING:  Saddle horses that buck every time they are saddled. Some never become gentle.

ROUNDUP:  The spring and fall gathering of cattle on the ranges in order to brand and ear-mark the calves, wean, sort for ownership and cut out those wanted for shipment to market.  

ROSETTE (la roseta): A circular design; on western stock saddles, a small leather disk with two slits for thongs or saddle strings to pass through, securing skirts to saddletree. 

ROCKY MOUNTAIN CANARY:  A burro, also sometimes called a Colorado Mocking bird.

ROLLERS:  A snorting, rattling sound made by a horse when he is spooked, as in he’s “blowing rollers” 

ROMAL:  A quirt or whip attached to a set of California style reins. 

ROWEL (la rodaja or la estrella): The disk or star set in the end of the spur’s shaft or post, which turns as the rider’s heel touches the horse’s sides.

ROSIN JAW:  Hired man that does the mechanical, irrigating, and feeding chores on a ranch–all the non-horseback work.  One of the “ranch crew.”  May be a regional term common to the Great Basin.

ROPE STRAP:  A strap, usually of leather and fitted with a buckle, attached to the pommel of a saddle used for attaching a catch rope.

ROPER BOOTS:  Cowboy boots with flat heels are used especially in arenas and for walking. The low heels make getting out of the stirrup easier.

RUNNING IRON:  Ring or flat iron used to draw a brand rather than stamp it on.  In the old west, sometimes used by rustlers to quickly mark unbranded cattle.  In some places it is still illegal to carry a running iron; however, in others, it is a common practice to apply a legal brand with one.

RUSTLER:  A horse or cattle thief.


SADDLE (la silla): Seat type device set on an animal to facilitate riding it.  Different styles are used in different parts of the country and for different uses.  See also WOOD.

SADDLE BLANKET OR PAD (el cojin, el baste): Heavy blanket or pad placed under the saddle to protect it from dirt and to help conform the saddle to the animal’s back.

SADDLE BAGS (las cantinas) (bolsas): Large leather or canvas pieces with attached pockets, placed over the rear extensions of the saddle to carry extra gear. 

SADDLE IRON:  These branding irons are short stamp type irons that can be carried easily on a saddle and are constructed so you can find a stick and place it in the end when you need to use the iron.

SADDLE STRINGS (los tientos): Narrow strips of tanned leather, usually in pairs, that lace through the saddletree or coverings, and are held on surface by rosettes; the long ends are decorative and also serve to tie on ropes, and other pieces of equipment. In south Texas, any leather string used to tie stuff like ropes or a bedroll on with, are generally called “latigos.”

SADDLETREE (el fuste de silla): Framework, often of wood covered with rawhide, consisting of two side-boards connected by two forks for the pommel and cantle; the conformation of these parts gives the saddle its characteristic shape and name.  There are many different styles of saddletrees. 

SCRATCHED:  Drawed out of a bronc riding (not allowed to compete) or a horse that has been removed from a race due to an injury or something similar.

SEARCHING FOR THE ELEPHANT:  To go over the next hill, looking for something that is never there.  Sums up the philosophy of many cowboys who travel from ranch to ranch always looking for new horses to ride and new country to explore. 

SHADED-UP:  Terminology applied to cowboys, cattle, or horses when they have pulled into a shady spot to rest.

SHADOW RIDING:  A cowboy that rides along, admiring his own gear and his own shadow.

SHEEPCAMP OR SHEEP WAGON:  During earlier years in the American west, millions of sheep were grazed on the rangelands.  A lone herder and his dogs could tend a couple of thousand sheep.  The sheepwagon was the herder’s mobile home as he followed these bands.

SHEPHERD’S OVEN:  A Basque sheepherders’ bread oven​ is on display at the Elko Basque House.  This and similar ovens were used by early Basque sheepherders and camp tenders at main camps to bake bread like they made in Spain.  Basque bread was among the provisions that tenders would take to the sheepherders every five days or so.

SHOER:  Farrier, horse shoer – a person who attaches the iron shoes that horses are provided with to protect their hooves in rocky ground.  The shoes are shaped and nailed to the hooves.  It is said that the invention of horse shoes was one of the large steps leading to the industrial revolution.  Horses could go farther and longer with less injury and lameness.

SEGUNDO:  Cattle drive foreman; second in command. From the Spanish word for second.

SHELLY COW:  An old cow, usually in poor condition.

SHOO-FLY:  A tassel like accessory, often made of horse hair, that swings as the horse moves scaring away flies and other insects.  Often attached to or near the front cinch.  

SIDESADDLE:  Ladies’ riding saddle.  Women began to ride astride when they needed to do ranch work.  The style of riding sidesaddle began to go out of fashion around the turn of the 20th century.

SKIRTS (las faldas): Large leather panels attached to the saddletree, to protect the rigging and give form to the saddle.  

SCOTCH HOBBLE:  Long soft cotton rope used to tie up a rear leg.  Looped around the horse’s neck and double wrapped around a hind foot.  Often used to immobilize a horse’s foot so it can’t kick, as for shoeing.

SLICK:  A horse or cow with no brand, earmark, or other identification of ownership.

SLICKER:  Waterproof long coat designed to protect rider and saddle from rain or snow. Also known as a pommel slicker. 

SLICK HORN:  In the California and Great Basin traditions, saddle horns are not wrapped with rubber or any other material that causes the rope to grab the horn, are said to be a slick horn. This allows the rope to slide when dallied and is thought to be gentler on both horse and cattle. This is one reason for the longer length ropes used in these regions.  These horns can be wrapped with mule hide.

SLOBBER LEATHER:  Large leather pieces to attach the reins to a snaffle bit.

SOOGAN:  Quilt or comforter in a cowboy’s bedroll.  Also known as a sougan. 

SOMBRERO:  Spanish term for a broad brimmed hat, from the Spanish word sombra, meaning shade.

SPUR (la espuela):  U-shaped device attached to rider’s heel to encourage a horse to greater speed or to pay attention.  

STAMPEDE STRING:  A long leather string run half way round crown of a hat then through a hole on each side and ends knotted, placed under chin or around back of head which keeps hat in place in windy weather or when riding an active horse.

STEER:  Castrated male bovine (cow).  Steers are raised and fed well to provide meat.

STIRRUP (el estribo): A device hung from each side of a saddle to receive the rider’s foot.  Stirrups come in different widths and cowboys prefer different style stirrups for different tasks. 

STIRRUP LEATHERS (los arciones): Adjustable straps that suspend the stirrups from the saddletree 

STRAY:  An animal found strayed away from its owner or from the range where it belongs.

STRING:  A group of several horses designated for use by a cowboy.  Each horse has a different athletic ability and disposition.  A cowboy chooses his mount for the day according to the work to be done that day: corral work, big-circle, gather, etc. Also, a cowboy’s rope as in “pigging string”

STALLION:  An adult male, uncastrated horse. Usually kept mainly for breeding purposes although many are shown and ridden. Popular to common belief, horse herds are run by mares rather than by stallions. The herd stallion brings up the rear when the herd travels. His job is to fight off predators and other males who try to join the herd. He also nips at stragglers to make sure they keep up with the herd. Another term is “stud.”

ST. ELMO’S FIRE:  The eerie glow sometimes seen on cattle’s long horns during a lightning storm.  It is caused by brush like discharges of atmospheric electricity and commonly accompanied by a crackling or fizzing noise.   The discharge also appears as a tip of light on the extremities of such pointed objects as church towers or the masts of ships during stormy weather.  The light was so named because St. Elmo is the patron saint of Mediterranean sailors, who regard St. Elmo’s fire as the visible sign of his guardianship over them.  

STRAY: An animal found strayed away from its owner or from the range where it belongs.  Something some people do not understand is that often cattle from several neighboring ranches become mixed up during the season and need to be sorted and sent back to the proper homes.  This is the reason proper branding and marking are so important. 

STUD BAND:  A group of mares turned out on open range with a stallion.  In the days before Taylor Grazing and lots of fenced deeded ground, most horses and cattle were run this way.

SUN FISH:  When a bronc bucks and twists its body into a crescent, and throws head alternately to right and left; looks as though he is trying to sun both sides of his body.

SWAP ENDS: When a bronc is bucking and goes up facing one direction but lands facing the opposite direction.  

SWELLS:  Bulging shoulders of the saddle pommel

SWING RIDERS:  Cowboys that ride the sides of the main body of the trail herd keeping them together and keeping them moving. See also OUTRIDER.


TANK:  A depression formed in the ground for the purpose of holding water, usually natural water such as rain water or intermittent stream water.  Used mostly in the Southwest.

TAPADEROS: Stirrup covers to protect rider’s feel from brush and weather.  They come in different styles. Also called “taps.”  

Bulldog taps:  Blunt nosed stirrup covers to protect the feet & stirrups.

Monkey nose taps:  Blunt nosed stirrup covers used strictly to protect the feet & stirrups.

Eagle bill (or eagle beak) taps:  Tapaderos with long pieces of leather hanging below the stirrups.  When moving cattle, a cowboy can slap the pieces of leather together by wiggling their legs and the noise helps push the cattle.

TAIL RIDERS:  Cowboys that follow the trail herd and keep the cows and young calves moving. See also DRAG RIDERS.

TALLY-MAN:  A cowboy that stands beside the branding-fire at a round-up and makes a tally mark for each animal branded, ear-marked, and vaccinated,  showing to whom it belongs. A tally-man can also count animals out a gate and keep track of them.

TATTOO:  Typically on a thoroughbred horse numbers are tattooed on the inside of the upper lip and registered with the Jockey Club.  This is a permanent manner of identification, however not easily seen.  

TEXAS GATE:  Alberta, Canada version of the American “cattle guard.”

TEEPEE:  Small canvas tent used by cowboys when camped out on the range.  Became common during the 1880s and still in use today.  Also called range teepee or teepee tent.

TIE-MAN:  A cowboy roper that ties the end of his rope to his saddle horn while roping horses or cattle.  Regional roping technique used mainly in Texas, some in New Mexico and Arizona.

TWISTER:  Horse breaker. Also known as a Peeler.

TWO-REIN Bridle and hackamore transitional setup.  The horse wears both the bridle and the hackamore and the rider actually uses four reins (two reins on each side) to control the horse. 

TWO-REIN HORSE:  In the vaquero tradition, the “two-rein” is a step in the horse’s training progression.  The horse goes from snaffle bit to hackamore to two-rein to bridle.  A “bosalito” or thin bosal, used with a mecate goes under a second headstall that uses a half-breed bit with California-style rawhide reins and romal.



VAQUERO:  Spanish term for a man who takes care of cattle. A Mexican cowboy. From the Spanish word “vaca” meaning cow.


WADDIE:  Another term for cowboy, a hired man, in the western United States, who tends cattle and performs many of his duties on horseback.    

WADDLE:  Another method of marking cattle.  A waddle is formed by cutting a piece of skin so that it will grow into a distinctive hanging mark in a certain location.  Used in conjunction with brands and earmarks.  The examples show a neck waddle.  Waddles and dewlaps often are more visible than brands in cold weather country where the winter hair obscures the brand, and are useful for quick recognition and sorting.

WADDLE:  Another method of marking cattle.  A waddle is formed by cutting a piece of skin so that it will grow into a distinctive hanging mark in a certain location.  Used in conjunction with brands and earmarks.  The examples show a neck waddle.  Waddles and dewlaps often are more visible than brands in cold weather country where the winter hair obscures the brand, and are useful for quick recognition and sorting.

WAR BRIDLE:  A type of head control that just uses a loop around the lower jaw of the horse.  There are other types that include nose bands and a loop over the poll.  Those types are often used as training aids for problem horses.  As shown here, the war bridle is not severe, is used very lightly, and much is communicated to the horse using the rider’s legs and body.

WAR KNOT:  Tail knot used to keep the horse’s tail out of the way while working.  Used by buckaroos and vaqueros.

WATUSI:  African breed of cattle, dating their ancestry back 6,000 years and called the “cattle of kings.”  Useful today in the United States, not only for their striking appearance, but for low birth-weight calves.

WEEDY:  Similar to “locoed”, but caused by eating too much black sage or other plant instead of a normal diet and causing malnutrition, often affecting an animal’s mind and thinking.

WHEEL TEAM:  First team attached to a wagon that requires more than one team, such as in a “four up” or “six up.”

WILD RAG (mascada): Kerchief or scarf worn at the neck, sometimes elaborately knotted.  An authentic wild rag is usually large (36-48″ square) and most often made of silk.  Wild rags are used for warmth in the winter and for cooling in the summer.  

WOOD:  Another term for “saddle” 

WORKS:  Another term for roundup and working cattle, used mainly in the Southwest (i.e., spring works, fall works).

WRANGLER:  A livestock herder, especially of saddle horses




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