You might think that the cowboy’s toolkit hasn’t changed much in the past hundred years or so. He still does his work horseback, hunkered down in the same creaky saddle leather. In his hands he holds two leather reins, a rawhide romal, or maybe a horsehair mecate. His rope may have evolved from grass to nylon, but the features remain mostly unchanged. From the outside looking in, a cowboy is a cowboy.
But believe it or not, a few things have changed in that last hundred years. In fact, not unlike the rest of the world, they’ve changed quite notably in the last twenty.
With that in mind, here are 7 modern day cowboy conveniences that, while the job can be done without them, I know there are a more than a handful of cowboys out there who would be hard-pressed to give them up.
This is probably the biggest distinguishing characteristic between cowboys today and cowboys 20 years ago. The cell phone in his shirt pocket. It’s not uncommon to see one pressed to a cowboy’s cheek in the warm-up arena at a rodeo or driving cattle down a dusty trail. Like the rest of the world, the cowboy can appreciate the conveniences of the modern-day smartphone.
For one thing, if he’s isolated out on a ranch and can get service, it connects him to the outside world. He can text his girl, call his mom, or download a podcast and learn Italian to pass the time (I mean, if he wanted to). Not to mention, if he breaks a headstall, he can order a new one in and have it within a day or two without ever having to jump in the truck and drive a few hours to the nearest tack store.
Did I mention, there are even apps for cattle tracking and horse health?
If he’s headed down the rodeo trail, he can buy a plane ticket, dial a tire shop or even call ahead to the next rodeo to find out how fast he needs to get there (or turn out if he’s not going to make it).
There are a few cowboys who have yet to fully embrace the cell phone (like my father…he does have one that he doesn’t carry), but for the most part, I’d say those are the exceptions and not the rule.
Turnover ball hitch
This is how it works:
You pull a lever near your rear truck tire which pulls a pin from the ball. Then you climb up into the bed of your pickup, pick up the ball, turn it over and put it back in its hole. When you climb back down, you release the lever and that’s it. You’re done.
Why is this important, you ask? Because it makes hauling hay, and any number of other materials for that matter, so much more convenient. Never again must you be plagued by hooking twine around your gooseneck hitch as you unload hay. No more fighting over who has to sit on the ball when you turn your pickup into a cowboy pool (which I wouldn’t recommend, by the way).
If you’re looking for a great brand, you won’t do better than B&W. Just be sure to determine what model number you need before you buy. there are different sizes for different pickups.
Could we get by with a hitch that doesn’t turn over. Of course. But who would want to?
This kind of goes against the romanticism of the cowboy. After all, few people go to a dude ranch hoping for a chance to experience the cowboy life by cruising around on an ATV their entire vacation. But the reality is, more and more ranches are using them to check cows, move salt, fix fence, and in some cases even drive cattle.
There is no arguing that life moves at a faster pace than it did twenty years ago. And sometimes that means hopping on the ATV to go check cows in a faraway pasture is a heck of a lot more convenient than saddling up and riding for several hours (although not nearly as enjoyable in my opinion).
Living Quarters Horse Trailer
A far cry from sleeping in a bedroll under the stars, but boy it sure is comfy. Some of these things come decked out to the nines with fancy leather couches and bathrooms bigger (and nicer) than the one in my house. They may be long and cumbersome, but they sure make life on the road more comfortable.
From a weekender package where the toilet and shower share the same floor space to a glamping extraordinaire with wine bar, fancy light fixtures, and slide outs, this “palace on wheels” is unarguably one of the poshest of modern-day cowboy must-haves.
I rented a truck with this feature once. The truck was for sale. It got horrible fuel mileage and was way fancier than any truck I would ever care to own (considering how I intend to use it). It was also overpriced. Despite all that, the backup camera almost had me pulling out my checkbook. And here’s why in four words: Bumper Pull Horse Trailer.
Goosenecks are fairly easy to hook up to your pickup because you can see how you’re lining up with your fancy turnover ball hitch. It’s rare that you have to jump out 17 times to check and see if you are lined up properly. I don’t want to perpetuate the myth that women are challenged at backing up horse trailers because I actually feel I’m pretty skilled at it, but getting hooked up to my bumper pull (is it just me?) is not always such an easy task.
There’s kind of a dent in the nose of my trailer (excuses). I don’t know if that’s what throws me off, but the days I can get hooked up to that trailer while only having to get out and go check my progress 2 or 3 times are special. The days where I have to get out 17 times are also special but in a different (and far less enjoyable) way. And those days always happen when I’m in a huge hurry to get somewhere. Correlation? Doubt it.
Back up cameras….yeah, they’re nice.
Trailer Tire Chock/Ramp
Another of my favorites. I don’t think I could have ever managed to change a trailer tire without this handy tool. Fortunately, I’ve never been forced to. And it’s a good thing because I’m pretty sure I have no idea where to find the jack in my truck (ease up, people, I know it’s in the manual) or if it would even work on my trailer.
The trailer jack works by lifting up the good tire so that you can get the bad tire far enough off the ground to remove it (be sure to loosen your lug nuts before you pull your trailer onto the ramp). Note: If your trailer is loaded, you may not be able to get enough clearance to get the tire off. This tool works best if you unload the horses first.
By the way, I know you can use homemade items that do the same thing. My dad carried a rock in the horse trailer for years just for such an occasion. Just ask my mom how well the rock worked when she got a flat with 5 horses in the trailer on Interstate 80. When she tried to pull the trailer onto the rock on the asphalt it would shoot out from under the tire, making sparks across the blacktop. Pretty sure she ended up calling AAA.
There are two indispensable tools to carry in your trailer at all times as far as I’m concerned. The trailer ramp (I have a Trailer Aid brand like the one shown) and a lug wrench. If you tow enough, you will have a flat tire on your trailer at some point. And if you know how to change it yourself, the experience will be far less traumatic. I recommend practicing at home so you can be extra proficient when it counts.
What did I miss? Tell me what you think are some of the most cushy modern-day-cowboy-conveniences in the comments section!