From the Mouths of Cowboys

Cowboys always have been full of colorful sayings and homespun advice. Some of what follows arose in the Old West, and some exited the mouths of more contemporary cowboy poets and humorists. I’ve provided attributions where possible.

This page is updated frequently, so y’all come visit every once in awhile.

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About horses

  • A good horse is never a bad color.
  • A poor horseman blames his horse.
  • A wink’s as good as a nod to a blind mule.
  • Any horse’s tail can catch cockleburs.
  • Color don’t count if the colt don’t trot.
  • If your horse doesn’t want to go there, neither do you.
  • It’s the difficult horses that have the most to teach you.
  • Makin’ it in life is kinda like bustin’ broncs: You’re gonna get thrown a lot. The simple secret is to keep gettin’ back on.
  • Nothing does more for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse. (Will Rogers)
  • Poor is having to sell the horse to buy the saddle.
  • The hardest thing about learning to ride is the ground.
  • There are only two emotions that belong in the saddle. One is a sense of humor, and the other is patience.
  • There is no secret so close as that between a rider and his horse.
  • To err is human; to blame the horse is even more human.
  • To get ahead in life, you’ve gotta learn to saddle your own horse.
  • When in doubt, let your horse do the thinkin’.
  • You can judge a man by the horse he rides.
  • Your outlook on the world changes when you view it between the ears of a horse.

About cattle and ranching

  • A change of pasture sometimes makes the calf fatter.
  • A good horse is never a bad color.
  • Behind every successful rancher is a wife who works in town.
  • Fences need to be horse high, pig tight, and bull strong.
  • If you follow behind the lead cow, you’ll step in the mess he leaves behind.
  • It’s a big mistake to drive black cattle in the dark.
  • Just because a cow is dumber than dirt don’t mean it can’t outsmart you.
  • Never drink down-stream from the herd.
  • Never kick a cow patty on a hot day.
  • Never take down another man’s fence.
  • No rancher has the right to sell, or own, what God meant to be free. The range must always remain open. (BBQ Bill Shankelbean, 1855)
  • Only cows know why they stampede, and they ain’t tellin’.
  • Tossin’ your rope before buildin’ a loop don’t catch the calf.

About people

  • A decent cowboy does not take what belongs to someone else — and if he does, he deserves to be strung up and left for the flies and coyotes. (Judge Roy Bean)
  • A good bronc rider is light in the head and heavy in the seat.
  • Ain’t no point in putting a ten-gallon hat on a four-ounce head.
  • A man ain’t really drunk ’til it takes him three throws to hit the ground with his hat.
  • A man isn’t born a cowboy — he becomes one. (John Chisholm)
  • A man who wears his holster tied down don’t do much talkin’ with his mouth.
  • A man with an edgy smile is like a dog with a waggin’ tail: he not happy, he’s nervous.
  • An old-timer is a man who’s had a lot of interesting experiences — some of them true.
  • Any cowboy can carry a tune. The trouble comes when he tries to unload it.
  • A smart ass just don’t fit in the saddle.
  • Broke is what happens when a cowboy lets his yearnin’s get ahead of his earnin’s.
  • Folks come and go in life, either as a lesson or a blessin’.
  • Givin’ some folks likker is like tryin’ to play a harp with a hammer.
  • He don’t pack that hardware for bluff nor ballast. (Duke Noel)
  • It don’t take a genius to spot a goat in a flock of sheep.
  • It’s not enough for a man to know how to ride. He must know how to fall.
  • Man’s the only animal that can be skinned more than once.
  • No cowboy ever quit while his life was hardest and his duties were most exacting. (J. Frank Dobie)
  • Only a fool argues with a skunk, a mule, or the cook.
  • Polishin’ your pants on saddle leather don’t make you a rider.
  • Some men talk ’cause they got somethin’ to say. Others talk ’cause they got to say somethin’.
  • Success is the size of the hole a man leaves when he dies.
  • Telling a man to get lost and making him do it are two entirely different propositions.
  • The bigger a man’s gun, the smaller his doodlewick. (Calamity Jane)
  • The bigger the mouth, the better it looks when shut.
  • The biggest troublemaker you’ll ever have to deal with watches you shave his face in the mirror every mornin’.
  • The length of a conversation don’t tell nothin’ about the size of the intellect.
  • The man who always straddles the fence usually has a sore crotch.
  • The more ignorant you are, the quicker you fight. (Will Rogers)
  • There are two theories to arguin’ with a woman. Neither one works.
  • When a bad man dies, he either goes to Hell or the Pecos.
  • When a cowboy’s too old to set a bad example, he hands out good advice.
  • Women ain’t predictable. Be careful as a naked man climbin’ a barb-wire fence.
  • You can’t tell the value of a watermelon or a man until they’ve been thumped.
  • You never can trust women, fleas, nor tenderfoots.

About life in general

  • A closed mouth gathers no boots.
  • A corkscrew never pulled a man out of a hole.
  • A good hat just gets better as it gets older.
  • A hard-boiled egg is always yellow inside.
  • A pair of six-shooters beats a pair of sixes. (Belle Starr)
  • Another man’s life don’t make no soft pillow at night.
  • Brains in the head saves blisters on the feet.
  • Conflict follows wrongdoing as surely as flies follow the herd. (Doc Holiday)
  • Every trail has some puddles.
  • Good saddles ain’t cheap; cheap saddles ain’t good.
  • If it don’t seem like it’s worth the effort, it probably ain’t.
  • It don’t take a genius to spot a goat in a flock of sheep.
  • Just ’cause you’re following a well-marked trail don’t mean whoever made it knew where they were goin’.
  • Lettin’ the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier than puttin’ it back in. (Will Rogers)
  • Life is short and full of blisters.
  • Life is simpler if you plow around the stump.
  • Livin’ is like lickin’ honey off a thorn.
  • Nobody ever drowned himself in sweat.
  • Rilin’ water makes it muddy.
  • Sometimes silence is the best answer.
  • The best sermons are lived, not preached.
  • The easiest way to eat crow is while it’s still warm. The colder it gets, the harder it is to swallow.
  • The only substitute for good manners is fast reflexes.
  • There’s many a slip ‘twix the cup and the lip. (Billy the Kid)
  • There’s no place ’round the campfire for a quitter’s blanket.
  • There’s only one road away from trouble, and that’s the straight and narrow road.
  • The words that soak into your ears are whispered, not yelled.
  • Timing has a lot to do with the outcome of a rain dance.
  • Water and truth are freshest at their source.
  • When you straddle the fence something is bound to get hooked on the barbed wire.
  • Worry is like a rocking chair. It’ll give you somethin’ to do but won’t get you anywhere.
  • You can’t keep trouble from visiting, but you don’t have to offer it a chair.
  • Your life is in the hands of any fool who can make you lose your temper.
  • Virtue is its own punishment.
  • Water and truth are freshest at their source.
  • When you straddle the fence something is bound to get hooked on the barbed wire.
  • Worry is like a rocking chair. It’ll give you somethin’ to do but won’t get you anywhere.
  • You can’t always tell how far a bullfrog’ll jump by the color of his skin.
  • You can’t keep trouble from visiting, but you don’t have to offer it a chair.
  • You have to mosey before you can skedaddle.
  • You never can tell which way a dill pickle is gonna squirt.
  • Your life is in the hands of any fool who can make you lose your temper.

Sage advice

  • Always drink your whiskey with your gun hand, to show your friendly intentions.
  • Brace your backbone and forget your wishbone.
  • Don’t bother arguin’ with a rabid coyote.
  • Don’t corner something meaner than you.
  • Don’t corner something that normally would run from you.
  • Don’t dig for water under the outhouse.
  • Don’t get callouses from pattin’ your own back.
  • Don’t go in if you don’t know the way out.
  • Don’t interfere with something that ain’t botherin’ you.
  • Don’t name a pig you plan to eat.
  • Don’t stir up dust around the chuckwagon.
  • Don’t wake a sleepin’ rattler.
  • Go after life as if it’s something that needs to be roped in a hurry.
  • If there’s a hill to climb, waitin’ won’t make it smaller.
  • If you climb into the saddle, be ready for the ride.
  • If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop diggin’.
  • If you get to thinkin’ you’re a person of some influence, try orderin’ somebody else’s dog around.
  • It is not enough for a man to know how to ride; he must know how to fall.
  • It’s sometimes safer to pull your freight than pull your gun.
  • Keep skunks, lawyers, and bankers at a distance.
  • Live so your biography don’t have to be written on asbestos paper.
  • Never approach a bull from the front, a horse from the rear, or a fool from any direction.
  • Never ask a barber if you need a haircut.
  • Never call a man a liar because he knows more than you do.
  • Never drop your gun to hug a grizzly.
  • Never expect a handout and never wait for anybody to hand you anything. (Jesse James)
  • Never follow good whiskey with water, unless you’re out of good whiskey.
  • Never miss a good chance to shut up.
  • Never run a bluff with a six-gun. (Bat Masterson)
  • Never slap a man who’s chewing tobacco.
  • Never take to sawing on the branch that’s supporting you, unless you’re being hung from it.
  • Never trust a cowboy whose hat is clean.
  • Remember to load your brain before you shoot your mouth off.
  • Shoot first and never miss. (Bat Masterson)
  • Speak your mind, but ride a fast horse.
  • Talk slowly; think quickly.
  • When life throws you, get back on or you’re gonna get trampled.
  • When there’s nothin’ left to be said, don’t be sayin’ it.
  • When you give a personal lesson in meanness to a critter or a person, don’t be surprised when they learn the lesson.
  • When you’re ridin’ ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to make sure it’s still there.

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