The midday sun glinted off Lyndi Speiser’s truck window as she pulled up to the hayfield lunch area, a card table tucked behind stacked rolls of hay.
Beneath the cloudless, late July sky, she donned a wide-brimmed straw hat adorned with a glimmering, bronze bow as she exited her old, red Ford.
Two dogs bolted from the pickup seat behind her and bounced around the field, greeting everyone they encountered with joyous curiousity.
“Don’t mind them,” Lyndi said. “They just don’t have any manners.”
A University of Wyoming graduate and Casper native, Lyndi was the first woman to be awarded the Albany County Farm Bureau Federation Top Hand Award, but her modest demeanor suggested she might never allude to that fact without prodding.
“I do a little bit of everything around here,” she said, gesturing to her uncle’s 12,000-acre ranch a few miles north of Laramie. “I’m running the mower today. I cut the grass, and I try not to plug it.”
The 27-year-old’s long brown hair was tied in a tight braid tucked beneath her hat to keep her peripheral line-of-site clear while driving the tractor.
“It works a lot like a lawn mower,” Lyndi said. “It’s a come-behind mower that swivels side to side. Then, you come over it with your tractor and make windrows.”
Born to a farrier and a veterinarian, Lyndi was raised in the agricultural world, but it would be several years before she decided she would make it her world.
“I ended up working on a ranch in Ten Sleep when I was in high school,” Lyndi said. “The two summers I spent there were probably the deciding factor. It just tickled my fancy.”
Despite her admiration for all things agricultural, she had no desire to follow in her parents’ footsteps.
“My mom was a vet, so I knew I didn’t want to do that,” she said. “I can handle the blood and broken bones. But once you get into the joints, I can’t handle it.”
The medical side of the rural life might not have been for Lyndi, but the manual labor didn’t bother her.
“We’d come down and help (her uncle, David “Pep” Speiser) every year,” she said. “I really enjoyed the work.”
When the time came, she attended UW and earned a master’s degree in animal science but decided not to pursue a doctorate.
“I didn’t really know where I wanted to go after I got my bachelor’s,” Lyndi said. “I was offered a spot in the (master’s) program, so I stuck around. But at the end of two years, I decided I was done.”
It wasn’t long before she found her way back to her uncle’s ranch.
Determining the county’s top hand is a community effort, Albany County Farm Bureau Federation Board Treasurer Kathy Austin said.
“(Top Hands) are selected based on nomination letters by a committee of farm bureau board members,” Austin explained. “They look at the quality of the letters, and the recommendation of the person based on work ethic and qualifications. They’re looking for a real well-rounded person.”
During Austin’s four years with the federation, she said she couldn’t remember a candidate receiving more nomination letters.
“I can’t say for sure there’s never been a female nominee, but she’s the first woman to be awarded,” Austin said. “I think her connections to agriculture, connections to Albany County and the community and her background in vet service make her one of the most well-rounded nominees I’ve ever seen.”
Lyndi’s work on her family’s ranch is widely recognized around the county, she said.
“Not that the Speisers leave their ranch very often, but they can walk away from that ranch and leave her in charge, knowing everything will be good when they come back,” Austin boasted. “Lyndi’s also an excellent horsewoman.”
Although she wasn’t sure the exact year the federation started recognizing top hands, Austin said the award has been presented once a year for more than a decade.
‘I did that’
Gathered around the card table behind the hay rolls, Lyndi’s aunt, uncle and a fellow ranch hand admired a brilliant gold and silver belt buckle presented to the top hand during a federation awards banquet.
“I think more than anything, it recognizes someone’s hard work,” Lyndi said, adding with a laugh, “then, we get more attention than we are used to.”
Being the first woman awarded was an honor, but she said she wouldn’t be surprised to see more women win the recognition in years to come.
“To be honest, it’s really very neat to be the first woman to win it,” Lyndi admitted. “But I know a lot of incredible women that are great agriculturists and probably deserve it more.”
While ranching was perceived in the past as a man’s trade, she said the role of women in agriculture is growing fast.
“I would encourage (girls) to get involved,” Lyndi said. “Don’t be afraid of hard work, and don’t be afraid to learn.”
Having worked white-collar internships during school, she said she found blue-collar work suit her best.
“It’s a very rewarding job — it’s a sense of accomplishment,” Lyndi said. “Even fencing — and no one likes fencing — you can look back and say, ‘I did that.’”