Are they really lasso-throwing, gun-toting ruffians? And do they still retain the traditions and skills that they’re so famous for today? If you’re going on holiday in Las Vegas or Nevada, experiencing cowboy culture in the flesh is a must. Whether you saddle up and go horse riding in the desert, immerse yourself in the cowboy way of life at one of the many ranch holidays, or experience the thrill of a rodeo show, it’s time to dig in those spurs and find out what it’s like to be a real buckaroo.
Where did cowboys originate?
Cowboy history is more colourful and culturally diverse than you might expect. Cowboys as we know them today originated in Spain, and found their way to what is now the USA by way of Mexico.
In Spain’s Tabernas region, cowherders were accustomed to dry landscapes with sparse grass for grazing, which required vast areas of land to feed herds of cattle. This meant cowherders had to be mounted on horseback to keep up with the herd. It’s widely believed that the Spanish picked up their horse riding skills from Arabic, Moorish, and even Persian influences.
When the Spanish arrived in Mexico in 1519, they met a similar landscape, and began farming cattle in much the same way, training native Americans in the skills required to be a vaquero. The Spanish term for cowherder evolved into the American ‘buckaroo’ still used today.
By the 1700s, cattle ranching had spread north into what is now Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. Because the areas required to graze were so vast, groups of cowboys would often herd their cows together, branding each cow to identify and separate them once it was time to go to market. This is where the skill of lassoing came into its own.
Cowboy Experiences in Nevada and Las Vegas
There are still plenty of active ranches across Nevada, and a culture of people who are proud to call themselves real cowboys. Cowboys today still ride horses and rope cows. They wear the traditional hats and boots because they’re practical – not to make a statement.
If you’re visiting Nevada or Las Vegas on holiday, there are plenty of ways you can have an authentic cowboy experience with the modern cowboys who have retained the skills and traditions honed through the centuries.
National Day of the Cowboy
Every year, the fourth Saturday in July pays homage to the cowboy. The National Day of the Cowboy celebrates the contribution cowboys and cowgirls have made to America’s culture and heritage, the grand history of the American West, and the cowboys’ ties to the land and nation. You’ll find events across Las Vegas and Nevada in honour of the day, from rodeos and fancy dress to horse riding and barbecues. Don’t forget your cowboy hat!
There’s nothing quite like a rodeo. The energy and enthusiasm, the deft skill, and of course the unbridled danger that the cowboys willingly put themselves into, all contribute to create a wild, untamed atmosphere that it’s a thrill to be a part of. Look for events at Reno Rodeo, Clark County Fair & Rodeo, and Pioche Rodeo Arena.
Reno Rodeo Cattle Drive
Every year the Reno Rodeo Cattle Drive takes an incredible journey from Doyle in California to Reno in Nevada, driving 300 rodeo cattle over 5 days, ready for the Reno Rodeo. Guests travel from all over the world to be a part of the journey, which passes through stunning landscapes and enables people to experience the buckaroo lifestyle in the most authentic way.
All food and supplies are transported the traditional way, in 1800s style horse or mule-drawn wagons. Long days on horseback are rewarded with a profound sense of accomplishment as participants gather around the campfire to sing, share a meal, and listen to cowboy poetry.
National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas
The National Finals Rodeo brings together the biggest and best rodeo players from across the US to showcase their skills in a rip-roaring thrilling event. Rodeo fans from across America and the rest of the world converge in Vegas for the National Finals Rodeo, as the event takes centre stage. Expect plenty of cowboy boots and hats, as well as merchandise, souvenirs and an electric atmosphere.
Visit a ranch
There are plenty of active ranches within an easy drive of Las Vegas, where visitors can see working cowboys in action. Some offer horse riding excursions into the Nevada desert, while others let people try their hand at lassoing, or offer an authentic campfire cooking experience, complete with cowboy singalongs and poetry.