You can always hear the Cowpokes (kids 6 to 11 years old) riding in as they sing songs the whole way back to the barn. Led by a wonderful counselor, they laugh and bond all week, riding, swimming, fishing, playing games, doing crafts and just having fun together. Occasionally, I get the chance to ride with the kids, and my cheeks hurt by lunch because we’ve smiled, joked, and laughed so much. It’s always such a blast to see these kids learning to ride and grow all week. I thought, however, a first-hand view on the Cowpoke program might be handy.
I caught up with Julia, who is coming back as a 4th year staff member from Indiana. She’s a close friend of mine (going on third year roommates!), and we’ve been getting so excited for the nearing summertime. She is about to graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary School Education from Anderson University. She comes from a bit of a Rainbow Trout Legacy, as she’s the third (and youngest!) sister from a large family from LaPorte, IN to come to the ranch to work. Many of you may remember Tammy, and later on Candace, and now Julia. We love them all and wish there were more!
My interview with fabulous Cowpoke counselor and wrangler, Julia:
A: When did you decide to work at RTR?
J: When my oldest sister worked at Rainbow Trout, we visited as a family when I was 12. I fell in love with the ranch! From then on, I had my heart set on working at Rainbow!
A: Have you always had a passion for working with kids?
J: Yes, I love kids! They are so wonderfully weird and true to themselves, it makes them inspiring to work with every day. Ever since I was little, I have wanted to be a teacher.
A: What are you looking forward to the most going into this summer with Cowpokes?
J: Oh boy, everything! I’m so thrilled to come back with the Cowpokes. Playing games, riding, swimming, hayrides with Doug… I could go on.
A: Were any of your sisters who worked at the ranch a Cowpoke counselor?
J: No, I am the first! They worked in the lodge, the kitchen, and at the barn, so I got chance to talk to them about it before I got out here. They had worked in every other facet of the ranch, except for the kids’ program.
A: Hypothetical: It’s the start of a new week at the ranch, and you have a new group of Cowpokes; what are you excited for the most for them?
J: For them to grow throughout the week. On Monday, they are new and don’t know anyone yet. By the hayride on Friday night, they are loudly singing, riding their horses, strongly bonded by their experiences at the ranch!
A: How has working with the kids at the ranch helped you in choosing a career path?
J: Honestly, it solidified the fact that kids are who I want to work with. To see kids outside of a classroom, in new situation and learn how to help them, grow is really amazing!
A: What is your favorite day with the Cowpokes?
J: Man… Okay, either Tuesdays or Fridays. Tuesday is porch time with Doug – we learn all the songs, and the Cowpokes start to get to know him. Friday, the hayride, a given favorite, so now I’m torn? Oh wait, Saturday… the sing- a-long… Do I really have to pick one?! Tuesdays and Wednesdays have so much in store for them to grow and learn about!
A: What is the best part about riding with the Cowpokes?
J: The songs on the way, the forts that we make, the games that we play in the meadows… It’s never ending.
A: If you had to choose one of Doug’s songs that he sings with the kids, which one do you sing the loudest?
J: Probably She’ll be Coming Around the Mountain, but Old Dan Tucker is a real close runner up.
A: Have you had a specific experience with the Cowpokes that you cherish?
J: I almost feel that if I choose one experience, I cut others short, and it’s so hard to compare any of them. These kids are always making me laugh. Whether it’s during Animal Charades (a game I created that has hilarious results), listening to them giggle and joke while we ride, or their great Chisolm Trail verse, there’s never any shortage of laughter. I am so looking forward to hearing all of that again this summer!
A: Would you recommend this kind of work to other people in your career path? Why?
J: Yes, absolutely, because it gives such valuable experience outside the classroom. To have a chance to get a perspective in understanding kids in this kind of environment is so immeasurable in how special it has been for me. I’m so grateful!