Student Stories: Animal Sciences major has unique cowboy internship

March 05, 2009
Ditching the desk and starched, white lab coat for a summer internship out on the rugged mountains and dusty trails at the Rawah Guest Ranch in Colorado, Levi Smith found that for anyone interested in working with animals, the perfect office may, in fact, be where the deer and the antelope still play.
"I wanted to get away from the East Coast and explore the wilderness of the Rocky Mountains," says Smith, then a senior animal sciences major from Walnut Bottom, Pa. "It was always a dream of mine to mimic the cowboys of Western movies; riding amongst the sage and mountains of the West."
While interning at Rawah, he got to live that dream. "I could ride, hike, fish or just sit back and watch some moose graze while listening to the wind in the trees," he recalls. "I could also take a break to look out at snow-capped mountains more than 100 miles away -- not a single sign of human life for as far as you could see."
Smith's daily routine at Rawah would certainly be the envy of any student looking to trade in Nikes for a pair of spurs. Much of his experience and education came from daily rides through the gorgeous Colorado landscape.
Part of Smith's job as a "head wrangler" was to learn how the horses interacted with riders out on the trails so he could match the right horse and saddle to the rider. He also served as a caretaker for the horses. "As an animal sciences major, I’m interested in animal health, and I've spent previous summers working with veterinarians," he says. "I was able to put my school knowledge and previous experience to work at Rawah."
With the nearest veterinarian more than two hours away, Smith had a lot of responsibility -- and he loved it. "The horses sometimes required immediate attention on the trails, and I had to provide it," he says. "I dealt with everything from digestive system problems to lacerations and fractured bones. Needless to say, I got plenty of experience at Rawah by providing medical care for 50-plus horses."
Making sure the guests had a great time, keeping them safe and ensuring that they had happy, healthy horses to ride -- Smith was one busy cowboy at Rawah. "But it provided me with so much valuable experience in return," Smith says. "Camping outside under the cloudless skies with your horse and more stars than you’ve ever seen -- surrounded by wilderness and wildlife -- is something most will never get the opportunity to do. Rawah wasn't just a great change of pace from the daily pressures of student life -- it was an internship like no other."
  • Levi Smith at work as a head wrangler.

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated November 18, 2010