How to spot a real cowboy

By Glenda Price

You can tell a lot about a cowboy by his clothes — how old he is and where he came from and whether he’s a ranch hand, a rodeo cowboy or an imposter.

Stuffing your pants inside your boots does help when you’re horseback and not wearing chaps. Leather grabs leather, you can grip with your legs better, and your britches aren’t slipping up and down. And high-heeled boots DO keep your feet from slipping through the stirrups, but automobiles and town chairs aren’t that tough to ride.

I was sitting by an old rancher’s wife at a cattle growers’ meeting once. The cowboys were wearing their “town clothes” — decent pants and good shirts. A young fellow wearing high-heeled, high-topped boots with his pants stuck inside, a huge hat and all the other regalia walked by. She leaned toward me and whispered, “Who is the young man in the costume?”

If you find yourself in a group of people dressed in cowboy garb, here are a few hints for how to tell the “real” ones from the guys that just went and bought a hat.

The REAL cowboy:

• Might have on Wranglers with the bottoms of the legs frayed from dragging the ground, but they WILL NOT be too short. He wouldn’t be caught dead in “high water” pants.

• Might be wearing an old shirt that’s not in the latest style. He won’t worry about having a color-coordinated outfit. He probably won’t even be able to tell you what color his shirt is.

• Will have on a belt. It might be old, and may have a fancy trophy buckle or a little plain one, but he will not be beltless.

• Will be wearing well-made boots and a good hat. They may be old, but they’re made out of good stuff.

• Will have a pocket knife in his pocket that might have one sharp blade, but it’ll have manure on it from cleaning the horses’ hooves — or worse.

• Will smell like a mixture of horse liniment and sweaty saddle blankets.

• Will take off his hat when he comes indoors. Since hardly anybody has hat racks anymore, he’ll probably end up laying his hat upside down under his chair.

• Will NEVER wear spurs in the house.

• Will have chaps that are a character study. Bull riders wear fancy schmancy batwings while working cowboys’ chaps are more plain, and usually have scratches and blood stains on them.

• Will be driving a beatup old pickup with dried mud on the sides to help him remember that one time it DID rain. The bed will have things he might need someday – baling wire saved off hay bales before they started using so much of that darn twine (so it’ll probably be rusty), hoof nippers, a rasp, two or three empty coffee cans for mixing Lysol solution, a dehorning saw, several gunny sacks, half a sack of range cubes, part of a bale of hay, wire pliers, a few old rags for cleaning stuff, assorted screw drivers and a hammer.

Glenda Price has been a contributing editor to New Mexico Stockman magazine since 1982. Contact her at