Gabe Farrell is no stranger to the odd job.
Farrell, a senior philosophy major from Dallas, Texas, has previously worked maintenance at a church, as a lifeguard, served tables at Lamberti’s and worked as a singing gondolier in the canals of Las Colinas. Most recently, Farrell worked on a ranch.
UD students might be familiar with Hell’s A Roarin’ Outfitters, a horseback riding and hunting service in Gardiner, Montana, near Yellowstone. Other students such as seniors Lizzy Brehany and Bella Flynn, and alumnus Aidan Kelly have worked previously at this ranch. Over some late night Whataburger, Farrell heard Kelly’s wild tale of a summer spent wrangling mules and leading tours in the backcountry of Montana.
“That’s cool,” Farrell thought to himself. He then realized, “I could do that.”
So he did. Farrell emailed the ranch owner 12 hours later and within nine minutes, he had the job.
A large part of his appeal as a job candidate was his past experience as a gondolier. It was his favorite odd job, despite being both a professional third wheel and romance manufacturer, because he got to serenade guests on their gondola ride. Farrell learned guitar about two years ago, and since then he has grown in confidence simply by the act of doing.
“Singing requires confidence,” Farrell said. “Just one try, one performance, and the competence allows for confidence.”
Workers at the ranch must entertain guests as well as lead tours, so Farrell’s singing and guitar skills were soon put to work. He had to learn cowboy stories and western songs.
“I think it’s one of two parts of the human experience,” said Farrell. “Everyone’s either a cowboy or a sailor.”
Farrell considers himself more of a cowboy, to be sure. Music captures this dichotomy and human wanderlust, even in more modern music. Sailing songs as old as “Drunken Sailor” or as recent as Looking Glass’s “Brandy, You’re A Fine Girl” and country music from Johnny Cash to Colter Wall’s “Plainsman” exemplify two sides of the wandering human heart.
Farrell’s favorite song to play was “Coyote” by Don Edwards. It was a huge hit around the fire with guests, he told me, and if you ask Farrell to play it for you, you can hear why.
Beyond entertainment, Farrell’s job consisted of other, more serious tasks. He led folks on horseback through Custer Gallatin National Forest. He broke colts. He had to watch out for guests who didn’t know the dangers of the wild, wild west.
The most important part of being a guide, Farrell said, was the “optional” choice to fall in love with the landscape and impart that love to the guests.
“It’s optional because you can ignore the fact that reality is all around you all the time and sink into the mundane,” Farrell said. “Or you can embrace the newness of every moment like a child experiencing something for the first time.”
“It’s a love affair with reality,” he mused.
One thing he noted was that love seeks knowledge. His burgeoning love of the natural landscape caused him to seek out the particulars of the flora and fauna. Two plants he found beautiful were the Shadbush, or serviceberry, and the glacier lily.
The serviceberry, Farrell shared, has a fascinating history because it is one of the first few plants to grow when the ground has begun to unfreeze beneath the permafrost. Once serviceberries started coming up, pioneers and settlers knew they would be able to bury their dead. It also makes really good ice cream, Farrell said.
The landscape was another immersive education. Once, while tasked with checking the perimeter fence of a gigantic corral — seriously gigantic, spanning across a valley and two mountainsides — Farrell found an abandoned gold mine. Montana’s state motto, “Oro y Plata” is Spanish for “Gold and Silver.” Back when miners flocked to Montana, the state was dubbed the “Treasure State.”
He came across some old maps of the area by chance, and learned about the gold mining history of the area. He recognized the structure and explored it.
The most exciting adventure — within a summer chock full of them — was a rodeo. “Riding in the rodeo was incredible and frightening,” Farrell laughed. “It was terrible and wonderful.”
“The whole day, I couldn’t eat, I was so nervous. I was riding in an event called ‘stock saddle,’ so I could use the saddle I rode in every day, but on a new horse: Exotic Star.
“She was angry. She wanted to be back with her foal, I think, and a lot of bucking horses are mares,” said Farrell. “When the time finally came to ride her, there was no question that this was the right thing to do. The theme of my summer was courage. Near death experiences are more real life experiences, I think, because you’re participating in something really human.
“One of the basic human relationships is human to animal. The rodeo, I think, is one of the few places in the world where the connection of man to beast is at its highest intensity and highest love. People at rodeos love those animals.”
His favorite part of the job was breaking horses.
“Consider that a horse is like a 1,700 pound toddler,” said Farrell. “They want to eat. They’re scared of everything. Our job was to teach them not to be afraid.”
Farrell spent plenty of time with the horses on the ranch, but his horse was Thor. A three year old, still a baby, who bucked Farrell off the first time he tried to ride him. Farrell was not Thor’s first rider, but he was the first one to saddle-break him, meaning that others would be able to ride Thor without fear of being tossed off.
The second time he rode, Farrell was ready. Thor, who was initially “herdsour,” meaning he did not like to leave the other horses, was a palomino draft horse, a little shorter than seventeen hands. “He had the most hair I had ever seen and striking blue eyes,” said Farrell.
He was a bucking horse, when he was younger. “My job was to bring out his natural friendliness and affection,” said Farrell. That was possible with lots of discipline and affection.
“It’s a special loneliness, leaving your horse,” said Farrell. “I rode that horse 35 hours a week, the entire summer. It’s like leaving a friend.”
Next summer, Farrell will surely find another incredible odd job. He hopes to maybe work the same job, breaking horses and wrangling mules, at a ranch in Italy.