When it came down to the decision where to go for my stay abroad, I knew that I didn't want to go to any partner universities and not to England because it would have been too close. I always wanted to go to the States to do something fairly unusual: Working at an oldtime ranch somewhere in the Wild West where I could learn a lot about horses and enjoy the Cowboy Way of Life. There was nothing to say against that very different idea of a stay abroad but the difficulties in arranging everything were about to begin.
First of all I was aware of how difficult it would be to get a work permit for the United States and after all I was told that it was quite impossible to get a visa on my own. Thank goodness, a friend of mine knew about an organization called Council on Educational Exchange who arrange visas and work permits for students who want to go abroad for a certain time in order to work and travel in the USA or Canada. So far, so good. For me, taking part in this program was the best I could do to get my ticket to the States especially because I wanted to stay there for three months since the time period for working and travelling was limited to 5 months alltogether. I applied pretty early in the year because the number of visas is also limited and the give away of visas is a first come - first serve system. Now, the first problem was solved. What appeared to be more difficult was finding the right job. I started to write emails (simple requests, not applications) to a lot of different guest and cattle ranches in Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado basically. A lot of them sent me an email back but were not able to hire me because of various reasons. Some had their positions for the season filled already, some didn't want to hire internationals and most of them couldn't offer me the job of a wrangler, what I wanted to do so badly. A wrangler works with horses primarily along with a lot of different other tasks. I had almost given up, since I got so many refusals but then suddenly a ranch in Wyoming replied and they told me that they were interested in hiring me. So I sent them my resume and a description of my experience with horses and that was it. They soon told me that they would be happy if I'd come and join them in the summer and the most important thing: They offered me a job as a wrangler.
I left Germany on July 9th and after 27 hours and some flight delays I finally arrived in Sheridan, Wyoming where I was picked up by Sue Comisford, one of the owners, as well as Jessica, another girl wrangler from Virginia and Melissa, the daughter of the Comisfords. It took us 1 1/2 hours to get to Ranger Creek Ranch, settled in the beautiful Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming, a US state with only 400,000 inhabitants. My adventure was about to start. It was amazing, I got to know the whole family and the rest of the staff and we clicked right from the beginning and I felt like being at home, being part of the family. Bill Comisford was the head of the ranch whereas Brandon Comisford, the eldest son was the head wrangler. He was my boss and showed me around and what it means to work as a wrangler. I got used to everything pretty soon and I had lots of fun. My day started at 7.00 am when we ran in all the 27 horses of the ranch. They were fed, groomed and saddled before breakfast. As the Ranger Creek Ranch is a guest ranch, we had a lot of guests of course who were mostly staying for one week. So I got to know a lot of different groups of people who were from all over the United States; from California to the New York Island. Most of them enjoyed riding even if some have never ever done this before. After breakfast we started our first 2- hour trailride following by another one after lunch. In the evenings we had an entertainment program, such as line-dancing, singing at the campfire or a presentation about Buffalo Bill. Once a week we went to Cody, a cute little Western town, where the guests were able to do some shopping and to see the famous Cody Nite Rodeo.
Wherever we were, on trailrides or at the ranch, we had a lot of adventures. I felt like a real cowgirl, doing all the things that have do be done at such a ranch. We also had a lot of wild animals which were coming to the ranch from time to time. Moose always were around and one day I even raced against one. One my day off I decided to take my favorite horse and just go for a ride. As I loped down the main road suddenly a moose appears and runs down the road right next to me for a couple of minutes. I don't know who was more afraid: The moose, my horse or I? I let my horse run as fast as it could and after a while the moose disappeared again into the woods. As if this was not enough, a couple of weeks later, the three ranch dogs chased a bull moose as they always do, suddenly they come running back, chased by the moose. The first thing I noticed was that they came running towards me, that's when I started to run as well... Moose were the biggest of the wild animals we saw but I saw and heard a few more dangerous ones as well. One morning when we were running the horses in I met a coyote that was about three meters away from me. Thank heavens Brandon told me that coyotes are only dangerous when they form larger groups but the same night, when I was walking to my room I heard that noise and I knew it was neither a moose nor a coyote. It was a cat and when the Comisfords talk about cats they mean big cats: Mountain Lions. From this day on one of the other wranglers had to walk me down to my room. But we did not only have a lot of fun in getting to know the Wyoming Wildlife, the staff also was a crew which perfectly fitted together. We were playing a lot of pranks and laughed a lot this summer. The guys on the girls and the girls on the guys.
We raced our horses, talked about our problems, shared our dreams and became close friends. Jessica and I fell in love with our two horses and I really wanted to take mine home with me which of course was not possible. The days of our departures were terrible. Jessi and me had to cry so bad, we did not want to say goodbye, we just wanted to be together forever in this place but we swore to meet again, maybe next year already. I will definitely go back to the Ranger Creek Ranch next year because I miss my new family so much. This summer was such a good experience for me, I learned a lot for my future life, I know how it feels to be free and I met so many nice people from all over the United States. I went on to Chicago, met a good friend who I got to know four years ago in another exchange program, stayed with her a week before I went to see the Niagara Falls, Toronto and New York City. But all in all, I had one of the best summers of my life at Ranger Creek Ranch in Wyoming. For those who love horses and working outdoors I strongly recommend a stay abroad like this.
Tanja Heck alias "Tanya E."