Riding with the cowboys

The horsemen keeping traditions alive

From Texas, the home of the modern cowboys, to the hills of Maremma in Tuscany, the Pampas in Argentina, the Rhone Valley in France and the Mongolian steppes, here are 5 modern cowboy cultures keeping the ancient and diverse tradition alive beyond the romanticised myth.

The cowboy continues to inspire a romantic notion of open skies, horses, wild nature and wilder countenance, freedom and rugged charm. It is this fictionalized image of the cowboy that has been developed further in films and literature, as well as fashion. Cross stitched cowboys on horses, embroidered lassos and stylized cacti make a statement on traditional Sicilian tailoring in the Dolce&Gabbana Fall- Winter 2016/17 menswear fashion show collection.

But the collection and other imagery are not tributes to a lost art, cowboys are still alive and kicking today. Spanning the length and breath of the globe, the animal herder who crosses plains, rivers and endures wild adventures continues its hard graft, as well as keeping alive the romantic notion of the cowboy. From the nomadic horsemen of Mongolia to Maremma in Italy, passing by the Pampas in Argentina and the Camargue in France, follow us on a journey to discover the real life cowboys of today.

The Cowboys of North America


The historic American cowboy of the late 19th century arose from the vaquero traditions of northern Mexico becoming a figure of legends. The vaquero, the Spanish or Mexican cowboy who worked with young, untrained horses, arrived in the 18th century and flourished in California and bordering territories during the Spanish Colonial period. Though the most iconic cowboys are those who hail from Texas, still today central in the romanticised image of fringed shirts, boots accessorized with spurs, weathered chaps, rodeos and more. In the US however, cowboys are not cornered within the Texas panhandle, but the cattle herders, with their own traditions and costumes stretch from Arizona to Wyoming, from Montana to Florida. If you’re looking to take to the saddle and experience a (milder) cowboy experience there are plenty of “ranching Holidays” available, including some very luxurious options.

The Gouchos of Argentina

Gaucho in Argentina and Uruguay, simply means “A country person, experienced in traditional cattle ranching work”, in other words a cowboy, with all its brave, unruly and nomadic undercurrents.  The gaucho is a national symbol in both Argentina and Uruguay, and much like the North American Cowboys, they have been immortalized in legends, folklore and literature thus elevating them to an important part of their regional cultural tradition. Their image is very engraved in the folkloristic traditions of Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, as is the gaucho’s uniform: a poncho (which doubled as a saddle blanket and as sleeping gear), a facón (large knife), a rebenque (leather whip), and loose-fitting trousers called bombachas. Another distinctive feature is the bolas or boleadoras, three leather bound rocks tied together with approximately three feet long leather straps, use din lieu of a lasso.  The Pampas, approximately the flatlands between Cordoba and Buenos Aires and stretch into Uruguay, still offer a living for the modern gaucho and many estancias are happy to accommodate tourists who wish to see another side of the multifaceted Argentinian culture.

The Guardians of the Camargue

Dating back to the 16th century, the Brotherhood of the Camargue Horsemen have been tending to herds of horses and bulls in the coastal region of the Camargue in Southern France. Delineated by the Rhone Valley, the Camargue is the land of its diminutive white horses (one of the oldest breeds still alive today), diminutive black bulls, fiery pink flamingos and their guardians. The guardian’s ancient roots predate the modern cowboys of North America, as does their uniform: grey, beige or black cotton moleskin trousers, shirts and a ceremonial red handkerchief around their necks. Today the guardians keep the traditions alive and its best to catch them busy with the Abrivado, a festival that happens every year in November, similar to the running of the bulls in Spain, where more than 200 guardians from all over the province gather together to move the bulls from the beaches to the arena in the town of Saintes Maries de la Mer.

I Butteri of Maremma

A native of the region of Maremma in Tuscany, the buttero is the Italian equivalent to a cowboy. Astride their maremmano horses, butteri tend to livestock, especially cattle and sheep. Part legendary heroes part horse riding mercenaries, today the buttero is still more than a simple shepheard. Closely linked to traditional religious costumes in Tuscant, the butteri are also celbrated in legends, such as when in 1890,  Buffalo Bill took his Wild West show to Italy to display cowboy skills, the unimpressed, the Italian cowboys challenged him and proved superior in charm and skills.  Butteri’s characteristic saddle is called a bardella, and his attire consists of coarse cotton pants, leggings, a velvet jacket and a black hat. He protects himself from the rain with a large mantle called the pastràno. He carries the mazzarella, a stick employed for herding oxen and horses. As with many ancient traditions in Italy, butteri also inspire local cuisine, with the traditional meal consisting of bread and chicory accompanied by offal, and acquacotta a suoup made with tomatoes, chicory, potatoes and mushroom, and of course wine. Take some time off and discover the natural beauty of Maremma with horse riding holidays.

The Nomads of Mongolia

Possibly modern day’s most die hard “cowboys” are the nomads of Mongolia. These pastoral communities, whose heritage is traceable to the legendary Genghis Khan, are still, all about horses. The yurt dwelling peoples of Mongolia’s literature, art and sport centre around horses, as does their livelihood. Mongolian pastoral herders make up one of the world’s last remaining nomadic cultures, but today, their traditional way of life is at risk one the one side due to the rapidly changing economic landscape on the other climate change and desertification. If you wish to find out more about these ancient peoples, there are plenty of worthy volunteering programs to sign up for.



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