Russian Cowboys Learn to Ride the Range

American cowboy Shane Stotler points out his truck window at a herd of cattle just cresting a hill on the horizon. Normally, he’d be out there riding with the Russian workers he’s been hired to train. Instead, he’d waited for me up at ranch headquarters so we could drive out to the pasture together.

As the cattle come closer, I see there are about 100 “pairs” (cow and her calf). Today is weaning day, when the young generation will start their journeys towards either a breeding career or the feedlot.

(Note: Read about Miratorg’s state-of-the-art slaughter plant in a series I wrote for The Plate: Part One and Part Two.)

A Russian cowboy chases down a stray calf. Many of Miratorg’s workers have learned to become proficient horsemen. PHOTOGRAPH BY RYAN BELL (@COMRADECOWBOYS)

On the cattle drive, I count four Russian cowboys, or “operators” as they’re called at Miratorg. Shane focuses on one man, a new employee. The man looks nervous riding his horse, pulling back on the reins not direct the animal, but to keep from falling off. The horse is confused, not sure if he’s supposed to stop, turn, or maybe back up. That angers the rider, who gives the horse a good kick in the ribs. If the horse were a car, the man would be stomping on the clutch, gas pedal, and brake at once.

“Some of these guys have a long way to go to learn how to ride,” Stotler says. “It’s what I spend most of my time doing.”

The few Russians who know how to ride were taught in the military, according to style similar to English equitation. They pull the reins tight against the bit, and ride with their knees bent at sharp angles, like a jockey.

If it were just a matter —> Read More