If the Marlboro Man were a woman, she’d be Jane McGeary. As a wrangler at the Flying E Ranch in Wickenburg, she knows all about roping, riding, ponies, paints and palominos. She
has all-American good looks, too,
but she’s the real deal.
© Bev Pettit
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By Kelly Vaughn Kramer
A tin sign hangs on the wall at Wickenburg’s Flying E Ranch, advertising a fictitious Buck-o-Rama Brewing Co. brand.
“Drink Cowgirl Beer,” it reads. “It’s cheaper than therapy.”
The illustrated cowgirl who accompanies the ad could have been pulled straight from a Dale Evans album cover — she’s wearing a skirt, a cowboy hat and boots, and she’s playing guitar with a look on her face that a person could reasonably construe as either cutesy or come-hither.
Jane McGeary is not that cowgirl.
Born in Bismarck, North Dakota, McGeary can’t remember the name of the first horse she ever rode, just that it was likely a pony, one her parents plopped her on at the state fair. There have been plenty of others
“I’ve always been interested in horses,” McGeary says. “As a kid, I’d visit my aunt in Scottsdale, and riding was always a big part of those trips.”
Now working as a seasonal wrangler at the Flying E, McGeary has seen her share of ponies, paints and palominos, along with the visitors who venture to the guest ranch for trail rides, cowboy cookouts and campfire tales.
“It’s a pretty laid-back lifestyle,” she says. “We’re up at 6 a.m. and having breakfast with everyone at 7. By 7:30, we’re gathering the horses and preparing for the first ride.”
McGeary and a handful of other wranglers oversee two trail rides every day at the Flying E, tailoring the desert treks to the crowd, which commonly is composed of families, couples and return visitors.
“It’s funny, because the novices are usually the best,” McGeary says. “They’ll listen to you, let you help them onto the horses. Sometimes, the people who’ve ridden before, they’re a little, well … .”
On this mid-Spring day, wisps of clouds linger over Vulture Peak as though they have nowhere else to go, and the Sonoran Desert pops gold with blooms of brittlebush and creosote — gifts left behind by plenty of winter rain.
Dust tumbles through broken light as the wranglers brush and ready the horses — 16 patient, plodding equines whose names run the gamut from Bandit to Huckleberry to Zeb.
McGeary has saddled Tater, a handsome buckskin guide-horse that she rotates out for two others over the course of the season.
Tater seems a fitting sidekick to McGeary, who, tall and blonde and more than a little bit pretty, is the all-American girl personified. And, though she admits that she gets a bit of extra attention from the occasional slick city-slicker, she’s clearly not just playing dress-up.
“Jane is the real deal,” says Aaron Adamson, the Flying E’s head wrangler. “She rides all the wild [horses] and doctors them, too. She’s one of only two ladies working here, and she and her future husband have run a lot of horses.”
As it goes in nature, horses know their pecking order, but every now and then, the mustangs get a little feisty.
“The horses are content, and they do their jobs,” McGeary says. “But they know how to fight, too. It’s a herd environment, so they fight and play. You have to keep an eye out for cuts or sores, little aches and pains.”
Indeed, McGeary and her fiancé, known as “Gibb,” run 20 horses back and forth between Wickenburg and Park City, Utah, where they spend half the year. After leaving North Dakota, McGeary went to work for her aunt in Scottsdale, staying on even after her aunt sold the property.
She tried her hand at team roping, learned it was tougher than she thought and gave it up. It’s a cowgirl hobby — working in tandem with another rider to rope one very ornery steer — she’s thinking of revisiting. She might even enter a rodeo or two.
From Scottsdale, McGeary traveled to Park City to work trail rides in the summer. She and Gibb met there and made stops at ranches in Tucson and Sedona before settling part time in Wickenburg.
When they marry on November 2, they’ll
do it right here in Arizona.
Although the couple lives “six months at a time,” McGeary says, it’s a lifestyle that affords them the opportunity to experience nature from a different perspective.
“We have 20,000 acres to explore,” McGeary says. “When you’re going through the desert on horseback, you get to just sit back and enjoy the ride — literally — and enjoy the view. There are so many cactuses. It’s kind of fun to wonder about what they may have seen out there.”
But it’s not just about the flora; there’s fauna, too.
“When you’re hiking, you have your head down, being careful with your next step,” McGeary says. “On a horse, wildlife is much easier to see. There are plenty of deer out here, a lot of bobcat and coyotes, and now, the Gila monsters are starting to come out.”
As McGeary moves among the horses, they are as at ease with her as she is with them, flicking their tails and nuzzling her hands.
They have, it seems, an unspoken understanding: You take care of me; I’ll take care of you. For the cowgirl, though, it’s just part of the job.
“I’m around these horses every day, and I can read their body language,” she says. “They’re happy.”
And so is she. It’s a feeling that’s much cheaper than therapy.
The Flying E Ranch is located at 2801 W. Wickenburg Way in Wickenburg. Its season runs from November through April. For more information, call 928-684-2690 or visit www.flyingeranch.com.
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