Behind the Scenes at ‘Cowboy U’

(Cowboy U debuts Friday (Aug. 29) at 9 p.m. ET/PT.)

“We take people on a journey,” says Rocco Wachman, co-owner and head instructor of the Arizona Cowboy College. “And they come back a little different.”

That’s bound to happen when the journey involves fidgety horses, greased pigs and co-ed bunkhouses. The once-in-a-lifetime experience is documented on the new CMT series Cowboy U. Over the course of four 30-minute episodes, three confident men and three energetic women strive to be called the best cowboy in the group.

“From what I’ve seen on the teasers on TV, they’re showing the stuff they had great difficulty doing,” Wachman says. “They did learn a lot in a short period of time. I envied them for their youth. For a bunch of kids who are as far from where we are as possible, they really cowboy-ed up.”

More than just fun and games in the desert, the six inexperienced contestants also had to find a herd of cattle located about a two-day trot from the ranch. Then they had to corral them. It’s bound to be a tough job, especially for city slickers with a camera crew nearby.

“Between you, me and the hole in the wall, I was a little stiffer than I normally would be with customers because I felt [the Cowboy U participants] were at a deficit. Most people come to college because they want to come. But these people came because they wanted to be on TV. So the motivations were different and I felt these people were going to have a harder time than most. And they did. But they also had a better improvement than most people, too.”

Wachman and his cute wranglers (which brought out the girlishness among the admirably brave women in the group) rarely hesitated to criticize the contestants. One cell phone was destroyed before a horse was even spotted. When one of the riders retrieves a wayward cowboy hat, Wachman fires off a question: “Did you come here to be a butler or a cowboy?”

Still, Wachman says, “People say we’ve gotten soft. I spent close to 80 nights out on the ground in remote locations. For the average person today, the toughest thing they may have to do is open their power locks on their door — and the door won’t open and they’ll have to walk around the other side. These people were really tested in the environment, the animals, fatigue, no running water, no bathroom. And everybody who comes through, even if you think they’re not gonna do well, seems to find it somewhere and gets through it. So, I think, as Americans, we’re very, very tough people. So even though we’re not tested on a daily basis, when push comes to shove, everybody finds the heart to get through it.”

Wachman says he’d like to invite Faith Hill, Shania Twain and Martina McBride to enroll, although he groans at the visual of Twain wrestling a piglet in manure. As for the guys, he’d add George Strait, Alan Jackson and Willie Nelson to the list.

“That would be some good music around the fire,” he says. “That’s for sure.”

Learn more about Cowboy U.