Jeff Kennedy is a bit of a novelty. He's the manager of The Bishop's Lodge Ranch, Resort & Spa stables, and he's in charge of wrangling horses and guiding guests through the more than 400 acres of Bishop's Lodge trails adjacent the Santa Fe National Forest. Oh, and his name tag also reads Brooklyn, New York, where he was born and raised.
Clearly Kennedy couldn't have grown up as a cowboy, but you wouldn't know on first sight, as the title is perfectly suited to him. He's tall, lean and wholesomely attractive beneath a black cowboy hat, dark aviators and leather chaps.
The cowboy lifestyle is one he definitely embraces. Since settling in Santa Fe, Kennedy acquired a three-quarter-ton Ford diesel truck that he finds appropriate to drive while wearing his cowboy hat and playing country music. His motorized stable includes another truck, an '83 pickup to pull his horse trailer, a car and a motorcycle.
But wrenching, for Kennedy, is only a complement to his calling. Kennedy relishes wrangling cattle and camping under the Western sky. Daily he helps take care of the lodge's 17 horses. Early this summer, he dragged SFR staff writer Wren Abbott and me through the Sangre de Christo foothills that he knows as well as his favorite country song.
Perched atop his personal horse, Famous Shoes, Kennedy displayed what I learned is "cowboy posture" (Abbott apparently has an English riding style, and I have, well, nothing worth defining as a "style").
The three of us rode east into land that eventually leads to the Ski Basin and then the vast Pecos Wilderness. As our burly horses sauntered up hillsides, we talked at length on subjects ranging from regional cacti to the call of The West to the many schools of thought surrounding the treatment of horses. Kennedy discussed the attributes of American paint horses, red roan appaloosas, and Belgian draft and Arabian quarter horse mixes (all of which are under his purview at the lodge). Horses, in particular, bring Kennedy joy.
Unlike stereotypical cowboys, Kennedy enjoys conversation. He loves talking to the wide range of guests who come seeking some approximation of the Old West and a connection to nature.
His occupation recalls a calmer, simpler time—although I'm not sure where in Wild West history I'd place my mid-afternoon leisure cruise on a horse called Cadillac. (William Shatner recently rode the horse as well and, according to Kennedy, Shatner too thought the ride was smooth.)
At SUNY New Paltz, Kennedy studied anthropology, a major that tumbled him through a litter of unrelated jobs, from fine dining waiter to credit company lackey.
But outside of Kennedy's ability to talk comfortably and confidently, there are no clues to his aimlessness prior to finding himself on horseback. He describes his job—his calling, really—with the sort of honest enthusiasm that inspires a marriage of envy and mild rage from the office set.
"I get to dress like a cowboy, work outside, ride my horse every day," Kennedy says. "Where I work is absolutely beautiful. And I work with great people, meet interesting folks—everyone who comes up here is doing it to have a great time, so it's a real fun, happy place to be."
And no, he says he'll never work in an office again.
It's a pleasant life that apparently shows itself—or doesn't—on Kennedy's youthful face. He says in passing that he recently attended his 20th high school reunion. He is 37.
His high school, he says, mostly turned out "cops, firefighters and finance guys." Kennedy is the only wrangler and it's likely to stay that way.
Whatever he does in the future, he plans to do it on a horse.
As Kennedy led us back to the stables after our sunny afternoon of riding, my only regret was that we didn't stop for cowboy cuisine, on the side of the trail, with the wind in the trees as a soundtrack.
I guess that's a reason to go back.
The Bishop’s Lodge Ranch, Resort & Spa stables
Open 8 am-5 pm daily
1297 Bishops Lodge Road