Women of the West – Darby Frank
For this Wyoming ranch wife, mother and horsewoman, making the transition from rodeo and cow horse events to training ranch horses with traditional bridle-horse methods has been an educational journey.
Interview and photograph by Jennifer Denison
Darby Frank and her husband, Ron, live on his family’s Diamond X Ranch at the base of Copper Mountain outside of Shoshoni, Wyoming. Dominated by desert and carved with steep, rocky canyons, the area is not an easy place to farm and ranch. Yet the Franks run a small herd of cattle and raise hardy ranch horses. For extra income, Darby also participates on incident management teams on the local, state and national level, recording statistics on natural disasters, which often requires 21-day stints away from home. When she’s called out, Darby relies on her home-schooled daughters, Haley, 17, and Kate, 14, to cook and help their father.
Raised in a rodeo family, Darby barrel raced in high school and college. When she married Ron and moved to the ranch, she learned some valuable lessons about herself and training horses.
THE COWBOY LIFESTYLE was ingrained in me. My dad’s family has strong cowboy ties. My great-grandfather homesteaded in Marbleton, Wyoming, and lost it during the Depression, so he started cowboying. My grandpa was the cowboss for the LaBarge Roundup Association for more than 20 years.
I ALWAYS KNEW I would marry a cowboy. I met Ron when I worked at Western Supply in Riverton, Wyoming, and he and his brother came into the store. Ron was shy, so I talked more to his brother than him. One night, I told a friend, “I ought to ask one of those Frank boys to go to a movie.” I happened to get Ron on the phone, and we went out. A few weeks later we were engaged, and we’ve been married 16 years.
I TOLD A COLLEGE FRIEND that I was going to marry a rancher so I didn’t have to work. She laughed at me, and now I know why.
THERE’S A DIFFERENCE between being a rancher and a hired hand. If you’re a hired hand, you can leave an outfit if you want. Being a rancher is permanent. We’re here through thick and thin.
RON SAID I WASN’T ALLOWED to ride the ranch’s horses until I went to a Buck Brannaman clinic. I was humbled at the first three or four clinics to the point of tears. The refinement that comes from training a bridle horse is long term.
I WANTED A COWHORSE so I could be glorified and prove myself as a horsewoman. At a reining clinic, I rode my horse “Tip Toes” for a couple of hours, and then the clinician rode her. After he finished, I stood with her and she hung her head next to me. She looked as if she wasn’t there. I felt like I was at fault for damaging her spirit and asking her to be something different than God meant for her to be. So many show horses are like that— hollow on the inside and mechanical, not musical.
I TOOK TIP TOES back to the round pen and spent hours reconnecting with her and trying to rebuild the trust I’d damaged. She is now bred, and we’re looking forward to getting a nice colt out of her. Then I’ll restart her from the ground up, with a long-term goal of being partners on the ranch.
IT’S IMPORTANT TO RON and me that we raise our daughters on this ranch. It has given them confidence, people skills and maturity. Plus, how many parents get to be with their kids 24/7?
RANCHING HAS TAUGHT ME to be self-sufficient. There were a lot of things I thought I couldn’t do, but had to learn.
MY BROTHER’S HORSE got hurt on the mountain, and I had to ride up there with some medicine in a snowstorm. I knew I would be riding home in the dark, snow and cold, and the canyon I was riding through was steep, rocky and boggy. I also wondered how many mountain lions were watching me through the trees. I just wrapped a blanket around me and gave my horse his head. He found his way home safely. It helps to have horses raised in this environment. They get us through some tough situations.
MY HUSBAND’S WORK ETHIC is amazing—a gift he received from his dad. He works sunup to sundown, seven days a week. He works if he’s sick, he works if it’s a holiday. He can do anything. Since his father passed away in 2010, he does the work of three men. I’m so blessed to have him.
GENERATION AFTER GENERATION, ranchers are taught to give so much of themselves. Their bodies get old before they are old. Their wisdom exceeds most humans’ because they’ve had to experience so much.
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