It starts as your first calloused knuckle or your first solo mission and quickly progresses to your transition from intern to apprentice. In the spring, it might be pulling your first calf. In the summer, your progression could be signified by being asked to rope at a branding. Rites of passage come as natural as the seasons around here. Unexpected moments of pride and triumph, an indication of personal growth in your craft and your place in this profession. A rite is not something that can be artificially produced, signified by a signed certificate, or subdued to a monotonous, structured timeline. It is a euphoria that never ends and will continue for a lifetime as one continues to seek knowledge and gain understanding.
Starting in New Mexico as a first generation rancher comes with many learning curves, steep and long. Through cursing, sweat, sometimes blood and often some tears, you begin to sharpen your edges and your mind, picking up new tasks and responsibilities along the way. Salt blocks become lighter, mending fence becomes an art form, and you begin to mold into the landscape, spending the majority of your time amongst it.
Though often shared in the company of mentors, horses, or co-workers, I find in my personal experience that most rites are experienced alone, in the presence of oneself and given by the land in which you have earned it, rather than the idea of a structured, corporate promotion. Slowly, the land begins to reveal its deepest secrets and highest rewards to those who chose to earn it. Lending itself to you, the gypsum that once dried your skin no longer as harsh, the mended holes juniper has ripped in your clothes and the highways of cattle trails now committed to memory. Your rank slowly begins to climb in the natural synchronization of time, just as the winds come in the fall, and calves in the spring.
My first ride in New Mexico, close to twenty miles at a hard trot, left me sore, my knees weak and incapable, followed a few months later by my first cow camp on the MP. We set up camp on the south end of the ranch to finish a move in some of the most remote country I’ve ever been in. Days long of riding under the sun and my body no longer hurt, the saddle felt like home, and I couldn’t help but hear the howls of the coyotes that night as a choir in celebration with me.
These small victories, unknown to any but yourself are just as triumphant as those announced and celebrated with company, and I have been lucky enough to experience countless rites of passage in my time here. I hope to someday count my time and my knowledge by those trials and dream to offer the same experience to the generation who follows my own. A timeless tradition of place, the idea that rites adhere to no timeline and will continue to be passed on and experienced for many generations to come is what holds all the weight. Being witness to others’ progress puts my own into perspective and is the confirmation that I will continue to find new trials in all of my years. The ones I have now marked as momentous will soon give way to larger goals that have yet to be accomplished. This cycle will continue in the most remarkable way for all of my life.
Lynae Risinger is a ranch management apprentice with Ranchlands. She currently manages the MP Ranch in New Mexico.