A few years ago, during an August hot enough to fry pancakes on sidewalks, I was home while my hubby handled 4-H at the fair with the kids. He oversaw some 4-H activities at the time, so he stayed at the fairgrounds while I trucked an hour one way back home to take care of chores on our little ranch.

Whitehurst marci
Freelance Writer
Marci Whitehurst is a freelance writer, ranch wife and the mother of three children. You can foll...

Mostly, I was irrigating.

Which one day was irritating.

At the time, we had K-lines and a wheel line. But that wheel line …

I went out in the cool of the morning before too many bugs were awake, turned off the water, and drained the line and the hose. Once it drained, I went to pop off the coupler on the line so I could move the wheel line to the next riser.


The coupler wouldn’t budge.

I even tried our “special tool” for this older wheel line: a hammer. The claw on a hammer will often work to pry couplers open. If that doesn’t work, a screwdriver may be used for leverage. And if those fail, one does what every respectable rancher does: yell at it. This obviously helps. Maybe not the riser, but it gets frustrations out.

Apparently, I needed to yell a lot before the coupler finally broke free. In fact, in full disclosure, I yelled enough for the neighbors to hear me. I don’t think I yelled anything bad, but you’ll have to ask the neighbors. Which embarrassed the stew out of me. Why? As humans, but especially as ranchers, it annoys us when we don’t look capable or when something simple doesn’t work when it should.

All turned out well, but that week seemed like dominoes of frustration – it felt heavy. Was it terrible? No, it was things like a finicky coupler. And finding a leak in an irrigation line with the truck, which got stuck in mud. Yet if you compile several stressors day after day, it wears on you.

These are tiny examples compared to other pickles we deal with as ranchers – falling markets, truck repairs or injuries. And even though the more we learn, the fewer pickles we get in, sometimes things just happen.

If we are constantly putting out fires, it leads to ranching feeling heavy. As if we are underneath the ranch. Or the ranch owns us.

We all know about long hours and tough days – that’s part of any life, ranching or not – but when it appears like the ranch (or whatever business it may be) owns you and you can’t ever leave, or get a break, or catch a break … well, that’s like a halter on your nose and a noose around your neck.

How do we stop this? How do we resume ownership of the ranching enterprise so that it doesn’t own us? Other than quit, of course?

According to neuroscientist Caroline Leaf, it helps to know what we can and can’t control. It sounds so obvious, but recognizing things outside of our control is powerful. We can’t control the weather, but we can control how we dress for it or where we place our cattle to graze during storms.

Furthermore, our beliefs about ranching need to have internal roots, meaning we need to speak truth over ourselves and our work and not live off external validation. Needing constant validation causes us to do things for the wrong reasons. If we recognize cycles or patterns in our lives, can we identify the belief behind those cycles?

For example, when I was mad at myself for the effort it took to release a coupler, I mentioned it was because I wanted to be competent. The fight made me feel weak, inferior. I wanted to be good at what I was doing.

This appearance is important in aspects of ranching. We want to be good stewards and caretakers, and we want those not involved in agriculture to see a thriving business and lifestyle. But if we are honest, we want to always look good, don’t we? Casting the image that we always know what we are doing, and we never make mistakes? Machismo exists in the cowboy way of life: People take note if you’re hot in the roping pen. You want your horse, your dog and even your daughter’s 4-H bunny to make you look good.

Truthfully, good horsemanship will be noticed in fast-paced situations. Good management, good skills and great feed resources will make for a smoother-running operation. But there are times when you can be in the right place at the right time and the wrong thing happens. And that’s when it’s easy to beat up on ourselves.

Which is why we need each other for encouragement – because ranching is hard as much as it is beautiful. Plus, we learn from one another. Education (including the school of hard knocks) is necessary, but so are life lessons we share. Here’s my pro tip: Carry a hammer, use it and yell when needed. Just kidding (sort of).

All jokes aside, when have you experienced compiled frustrations that made you feel owned by the ranch? I’d love to hear what you’ve done to assume ownership. What works for you?