New Agrarian VoicesLearn about the impressions and experiences of each year's cohort of apprentices in their own words.
Lorianne Kincaid, APPRENTICE, Home Ranch, CO
I first arrived at Home Ranch in mid-April, catching the tail end of one of the worst winters Routt County had experienced in a while. With everything buried under about five feet of snow, my first impression of the ranch was that it seemed very desolate. Almost like it was frozen in its tracks. Little did I know that the snow melts brought on by spring would uncover a ranch bursting with energy, revealing its full infrastructure, and a network of employees that have formed their very own community. At this time, I was also unaware of the impact my apprenticeship at Home Ranch was going to have on my future life path and the lessons my mentors would instill in me.
I was fairly confident in my abilities and skills when I first applied for the New Agrarian Program apprenticeship. However, when it’s your first pasture gather and everyone is already sitting atop their horses and you’re still on the ground fumbling with your cinch and bridle, with an audience of cowboys now watching you, you start to rethink real quick if you’re qualified enough to be there. My awkward style of saddling sprung upon one of my first lessons, and now lifelong goal to master, by my mentor Layna. That lesson being: the art of finesse. To explain this in horsemanship terms, for example, would be the ability to throw your saddle on the back of a horse while also having the control to place it on delicately. To bridle a horse with the correct amount of assertiveness, while also managing not to clank the metal bit on their teeth. To mount your horse with ease and in a cool like fashion. I quickly learned that finesse develops with repetition and overall time spent in the saddle. By the end of the season, I was able to quick saddle with the best of them, be mounted, and ready for the cattle move ahead.
The opportunity to progress my horsemanship skills through the Home Ranch apprenticeship was a major factor for me in choosing the mentor site I did. The large cattle moves and brandings I got to participate in, not only at Home Ranch, but also at their commercial operation in Dinosaur, Colorado gave me the chance to hone in on these skills. This in turn broadened my understanding of stockmanship and how to relate and apply it when working with both cattle and horses. My proudest moment was during one of the Home Ranch brandings when I rode into the sea of cow/calf pairs, roped my first calf, and drug him to the irons. That had always seemed like a farfetched dream of mine, especially being a first-year apprentice. If it wasn’t for one of the resident cowboys, ten years my junior, who offered me instruction, made me practice by dragging and dallying on jumping poles, and pressured me to go for it when I was feeling doubtful, I wouldn’t have ever lived out that dream. Now whether I heeled both legs or just one, is neither here nor there.
While gaining hands on experience with handling cattle was significant to my learning and understanding, another notable highlight from this summer was being able to discuss stockmanship with my secondary mentor and ranch manager Michael Moon. Him and I were riding back through the Routt National Forest, scouting for a rogue group of pairs, when I was able to ask him about how to apply the right amount of pressure to move cattle. Just then, it was like I had tuned into a Michael Moon podcast. An outpour of knowledge spilled out on information relating to how to read cattle, expect their next move, and techniques to use when riding. However, his explanation on applying pressure made the biggest impact on me. As simple as it sounded, he said it just takes balance. Michael described it as having a significant enough presence for a cow to move away, without it wanting to turn around or flee, while also not being too insignificant that the cow would stand there and not respond to the pressure. Learning how to navigate that balance is key, and just like most acquired skills in ranching, it takes time and practice.
Like the monumental mountain peaks and slopes that serve as picturesque backdrops behind every barn, corral, and arena at Home Ranch, with the highs I experienced the lows that accompany them. I didn’t grasp the amount of guts it takes to uproot yourself from the comforts of familiarity and drop into a world that feels like you barely know the language, until I had moved from Texas and started my apprenticeship. It was hard to not feel like an outsider at first. I was surrounded by a cowboy crew who in some form or another had been involved in ranching for a number of years, and here I was barely getting my feet wet. I recognized that there was truly another language used between them that was spoken in head nods, glances, and simple hand gestures. I admired the crew’s ability to read each other and situations that I would have had to ask a million questions to understand. Likewise, their proficiency to navigate through the national forest when moving cattle with directions being second nature to them. I felt out of the loop, even when basic instructions had been explained to me. It, for some reason, felt shameful to have to ask for further explanation or instruction. I was feeling like I had to keep up with everyone’s level of experience and forgot to give myself grace for being a novice. Throughout the apprenticeship I learned that there are certain nuances in each task performed on a ranch that only years of experience can help you understand. I did a lot of quiet observing in the beginning. When mid-season rolled through Layna gave me confidence by reminding me that I had gained experience and understanding through observing and now it was time to just go for it. She always gave me space to mess up and try to fix it myself, while simultaneously being there to offer guidance and help when needed. I was finally finding my footing and was beginning to interpret the language, just in time for the season to come to an end.
This chapter of my apprenticeship has closed, but the experiences I have shared with the Home Ranch community have solidified my curiosity and pursuit into agriculture. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to improve upon skills from horsemanship to operating heavy equipment to pasture management, all while having a team of supportive mentors. Where I land next is currently undecided, but I do know my life path is set in continuing learning all facets and methodologies that I have had a great start in while at the Home Ranch. The lessons and skills my mentors have imparted in me have left me confident in my knowledge and abilities to carry out a career in agriculture.
Lastly, I can’t help but reflect on a time shared with the cowboy crew out on the Dinosaur location called K Ranch. My favorite part of the job was having to run the horses in for the day. On one of our last visits, we had to be up before dawn, run our horse herd in and saddle up before the break of light. With the temperature just below forty and a choir of bugling bulls in the distance, the crew set out into a sixty-acre pasture to find our horses with only light from the stars. It took what felt like hours to locate them, trying hard to listen for their soft gallops on the red sand or heavy breathing in the cold morning air. The crew hiked all throughout that pasture with the only sign of the horses coming from the gleaming spots on the paint horse as they secretly raced by. You could come close, but never close enough to halter one before they went vanishing off into the darkness again. The crew was getting frustrated, we had a long cattle move to prepare for that couldn’t be completed without our string of horses. We attempted everything from soft approaches to shaking buckets of feed with nothing but failure. Eventually the sun had started to peak over the mountains, providing just enough light for the K Ranch crew to ride their already saddled horses out and collect our herd. Here they came in a single file line over the hill and into the corral, guided in with such ease. It took persistence, patience, and hard work to get those horses in that morning. When I think of the life path I have chosen I will always relate it to that morning. To have chased after something that seemed impossible to reach. For it to finally come trailing in at the end because you never gave up. To begin the life of a new agrarian and now know that it takes the same type of grit needed for catching horses in the dark.
Inquiring about what contributes to forming a meaningful life will differ vastly from person to person. Even as I’ve started my journey into agriculture, the life I hope to cultivate has changed greatly from the ideas of the old city dweller I used to be. I like to think that for myself and the average agrarian, a meaningful life is defined by the quality of connection one fosters with both community and nature. It is also defined by the endless pursuit of one’s purpose and passions with the knowledge that you are going to have to work hard to get there.
The apprenticeship I have set before me will help me to explore every avenue of those connections, leading me to my purpose and passion for agriculture. The Home Ranch offers a variety of agricultural programs for an apprentice to gain a well-rounded experience. With the horse and cattle programs, I hope to learn how to steward the land using holistic practices, deepening my connection with nature. It also allows me to explore my passion for horses, bettering my horsemanship skills and teaching me how to work and move cattle in nature’s image. The beef and high-country farming programs will help me to connect with the local community with products from the ranch that I had a hand in raising and growing. This apprenticeship and The Home Ranch are providing me with the tools to carve out a meaningful life, by my definition.