Swedish researcher studies western cattle ranching in Kremmling

Andrea Petitt ropes a calf during a spring branding.
Andrea Petitt ropes a calf during a spring branding.

by Anastasia Button

Novels and the silver screen have portrayed the Wild West and the Cowboy as romantic images of fiction. Stories of the American West have been sent throughout the world and many believe that live versions of John Wayne still exist. Well, don’t they?

Residents of Grand County have either lived the lifestyle of cattle rancher or have been neighbors to those who choose the occupation of cowboy. Such a unique lifestyle caught the interest of published researcher and PhD Andrea Petitt of Uppsala University, Sweden.

Andrea has been in Kremmling, Colorado for the last 10 months conducting research on the dynamic relationships between “new gendered human-horse relations emerging from Western riding.” Her studies are part of a 3-year, international, post-doctorate project funded by the Swedish Research Council called Global Equestrian Cultures in Change.

Andrea specifically wanted to witness and be immersed into cattle ranching on horseback and have the ability to observe, work with and interview women who participated in the lifestyle. “In Sweden, horse riding is considered ‘girly.’ Western riding, a growing sport and emerging in cattle management all over the country, comes with the image of the cowboy, and it’s not girly at all. So I wanted to see what happens with gender relations when these two images meet.” In Sweden, people look to the American West for inspiration and knowledge, and so a big part of the research is focused on contemporary working cattle ranching in Colorado and relations to the working cow horse.

When Andrea conducted a simple Google search on women cattle ranchers, the Taussig ranch from the New York Time article, “Female Ranchers Are Reclaiming the American West,” published in early 2019, was a natural result. Andrea picked up the phone, called the Taussigs and began assisting in work on their ranch shortly after, in August last year.

When asked about her first impression of Kremmling, Andrea expressed admiration and awe, “I couldn’t believe it when I first drove through; it looked so western to me. It was very exotic.” Since working with, amongst others, the Taussigs and with the Hammers’ Peak Ranch, Andrea found it interesting that men appreciate women working on the ranches, alone or alongside them, and especially in the very physical and skilled work like branding, roping, and herding cows in the mountains. “It’s hard work but a wonderful experience. You put in long hours and it is very physical; and it’s day after day. It’s very tough. Moving cows from horseback in the mountains is just lovely.”

Andrea plans to leave Kremmling for Sweden at the end of July to analyze her collected data and sum up her findings with hopes to write a book. Andrea will leave with “field notes filled with rhymes because there is so much feeling and soul with this kind of work. I made a family for life here. It’s something very special for me, work-wise and personally.”

Readers can find past publications by Andrea on the Uppala University website, which includes her PhD thesis, Women’s cattle ownership in Botswana: Rebranding gender relations? (2016). Soon, we may see her published work on Western cattle ranching featuring Kremmling’s spirit and relationship with nature.