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A Ramona Cattle Rancher Is Keeping a Fading Tradition Alive

A photo essay of the ‘ranching and roping’ lifestyle in San Diego’s backcountry

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Ramona Cattle Ranch / Roping Feature

Jim Dardeen has been roping since he was 16 years old. The Spring Valley native fell in love with horses at an early age and, once he launched his career in real estate, returned to the hobby as a much-needed stress reliever. He bought his Ramona ranch in 2013—home to horses, cows, goats, and dogs—and built his family’s home on the property shortly after. This is where he spends most of his days, raising his daughters to learn ranching and training them for team roping events, also called heading and heeling, where two mounted riders work together to rope a steer. He and others in the community compete in high-stakes jackpot events all across the Southwest.

Ramona Cattle Ranch / Jim Dardeen

Jim Dardeen

Ramona Cattle Ranch / Ranching

Roping and ranching is a way of life that’s fading out in Southern California, but Dardeen says those who live the lifestyle are welcomed into an intimate community that always offers a helping hand. There are no debts, no egos, just mutual respect and hard work. Days start early here—around 4 a.m., to feed, water, and check up on all the animals—and end at sundown. The job is attuned to them, Dardeen explains, and it never gets old. Whether it’s going for a simple ride around the property or competing, he says it’s an incredible reward to work with animals every day and—as best as humans can—connect with them and with the land on a spiritual level.

Ramona Cattle Ranch / Ranchers

Clockwise from top left: Jim Dardeen, Ben Dukes, Hector Dukes, and Gabe Boltares

Ramona Cattle Ranch / Campfire

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