This Part-time Cowboy Lifestyle…Is it Really Worth it all?

49980294_mIf you’ve ever listened to Chris LeDoux’s, “National Finals Rodeo,” you’ll know this is a question he poses to himself, except from more of a full-time perspective. Presumably because of the countless miles on the road, the sleepless nights, the broken bones and the empty pockets.

But you don’t have to be a professional rodeo cowboy to ask this question, do you? In fact, I think if you ride in your spare time and maybe compete on the weekends, it is even harder to answer. You’re not asking the question while competing at the NFR. You’re asking it when you have to decide between groceries and hay, or when you’re working overtime to fund your horse habit and consequently have no time to ride.

And for what?

It isn’t your career. Your livelihood doesn’t depend on it. It’s a hobby. It’s supposed to be fun. And sometimes after countless hours of practice and countless dollars spent with no real, tangible results to show for it, it can be downright discouraging.

But then there are the fleeting moments of brilliance. Those times when you feel like one with your horse. When you can look in the mirror and smile with pride at how far you’ve come. A buckle, a check, a pat on the back from your trainer…

When things are tough, we ask the question. When things are good, it’s an easy one to answer.

As you can likely imagine (being that I created this blog and all), I do think this lifestyle is worthwhile for so many reasons. The question is, is it worth it to YOU? Is it worth YOUR struggle? If you can’t answer that question affirmatively, well, maybe it isn’t, and that’s ok.

Here’s why it’s worth it to me:

The Struggle

Horses are not a “have to,” they are a “want to,” so why do we spend so much time, effort and resources on them? I recently wrote in an email to my subscribers that having horses as a hobby is a huge commitment. While becoming proficient at golf might be challenging, I’ve never heard of a set of clubs needing to be fed $200 a ton alfalfa or costing its owners several thousand dollars in vet bills. Not to mention if you go without swinging them for a few weeks, they are likely going to behave the same way they did when you tucked them neatly in their bag.

But part of the appeal for me is the struggle. It’s not a commitment that just anyone is willing to make. To own horses. To commit to striving toward something that is so foreign to most people. That’s what makes horse people and the western community so special. That’s why we stick together. We’re all a bunch of weirdos who can relate to the other weirdos like us.

Those of us who skip vacations when we can’t find anyone to feed for us, who would prefer to clean the barn rather than the house, who will immediately wash our hands after pushing a cart at the grocery store, but eat a sandwich after getting off our horse without giving it a second thought.

The struggle might not always be fun, but it’s part of who we are. And a big part of what makes this lifestyle worthwhile.

35350753_mMy Kids

I recently found out that I will be giving birth to a baby girl in just a few short months. To be clear, I’d known for awhile that I was pregnant (my first) and had already run through the gamut of emotions that goes along with that. But finding out this baby is a girl brought on a whole new set of worries and concerns coupled with excitement.

You see, I remember what it was like to be a young woman. The crazy mood swings and hormones, the fights with my mother, my dad looking at me like I was an alien from another planet…

Yes, I know I drove my parents crazy. But I also had an outlet that so many other women don’t – my horses (you did good, Mom and Dad, I could have been much worse).

I wasn’t an angel, but I got good grades, never got in any real trouble, and had very little boy drama (besides the stuff I created in my head). Plus, through high school rodeo, I made the absolute best friends I could ever hope to have. Same with cutting horse shows. Not just friends but extended family – for life. I am beyond blessed to be part of the community of people I am.

Not to mention, I know how to handle livestock, where my food comes from, and I don’t mind getting dirty. How many kids from the city can say that?

If I were to give up when I get tired of paying the feed bill or the vet bill or discouraged because I’m not progressing toward my goals as quickly as I’d like, my daughter would not have the same opportunity that I did. To love an animal so much, the thought of losing that animal makes it hard to breathe. To want to compete so badly that getting a bad grade and risking ineligibility was not even an option.

I didn’t need a boyfriend in high school to teach me about love. My mare had my heart.

I want that for my daughter. Anything less would be an injustice to her.

My Identity

I am a horsewoman, a cowgirl, I’ve even been called a “good hand.” These aren’t titles that are given freely. They require commitment and sacrifice. They require hard work. They have to be earned.

Most importantly, we have to actually believe them ourselves, which is sometimes easier said than done.

What would I be without my history with horses and as a part of the western community? I honestly don’t know.

To be clear, I am many things beyond a horsewoman or a cowgirl, but none of them fill me with as much pride. And the struggle I mentioned above has a lot to do with that.

My identity is completely intertwined with what I can do with a horse, what goals I set for myself and actually accomplish, and how much I grow each year as a horsewoman and a cowgirl. After all, these titles can be revoked due to lack of use. Kind of like how you can lose your real estate license if you don’t do the continuing education.

kk n meConnecting with an Animal

Don’t get me wrong, I love dogs. Especially mine. Isn’t she cute? But, a dog and a horse are very different animals. When my dog decides she wants to run off after a deer and ignore me when I call her, it’s not that big of a deal. I know she will eventually come back. If my horse were to do that, with me on his back, we would have a problem.

There is something to be said about silently communicating with an animal many times your size. One who could easily hurt you or kill you. You will likely never duplicate that relationship with any other living creature.

Just to be able to go for a leisurely trail ride is amazing in itself, but to take it a step beyond that where you can actually rope another animal from your saddle or lay your reins down on your horse’s neck and have him beautifully work a cow for 2.5 minutes in the cutting pen with no visual cues from you…well, that’s downright phenomenal.

When I am in the saddle, my horses are an extension of me. My emotions and what I’ve asked of them are clearly visible in their responses. They are mirrors and they are going to tell on me when I’m having a bad day.

When I think about what my horses are willing to do for me, especially the really great ones I have had the good fortune to ride over the years, I can’t help but get all weepy. Same reason I cry during the Kentucky Derby. If you are ever truly been in sync with a great horse, it will change you. And there is no going back.

Those are my reasons… Now I want to know, why do you think this lifestyle is worthwhile? Leave me a comment and let me know what you think!

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. F.J. Thomas

    Great post Alyssa and so much truth here on why we do what we do!

  2. Cheryl

    Amazing definition/explanation of what my family s life is all about.

  3. Sissy Yancy (Brandi)

    Wonderful! In the second half of life I may adjust some, but this is our life. It is always worth it. Not so much what we do, it is who we are. Your words are lovely, thank you! And yes on the podcast, it’s great.

  4. Kathy Sanchez

    Beautifully written, Alyssa!

  5. Walter Mackins

    Thank you for sharing your “open letter” to your daughter– and to those of us who aspire to earn our spurs. No doubt she’ll grow-up knowing that special bond between horse and rider and that if God made an animal more beautiful, He kept it for himself. As for why we do what we do, all of us who ride consider ourselves lucky and blessed to be worthy of a horse’s trust and companionship. I and my life are better for it.

  6. Anthony

    I honestly can’t tell you how much I appreciate you sharing you’re story Allysa. Growing up I never had a whole lot of friends so Horses was my passion. that way I could always remember that no matter what happens in life there was always someone who would welcome me to the barn.

  7. Judy

    Hi Alyssa,
    Enjoyed your post. It’s great to read about a cowgirl’s life and what it’s all about. I’ve wanted to live on a ranch and barrel race, but have not had the chance. I do have one horse whom I’m in love with and ride and take care of.

    I respectively choose to disagree with your statement about the “title cowgirl being revoked due to lack of use.” I embrace what Dale Evans said in her introduction to The Cowgirl’s Companion by Gale Gilchriest. She said “…the cowgirl is an attitude, a pioneer spirit.” She goes on to say they may be a rancher, etc. but may just be a cashier or a mom, or any number of occupations and still be a cowgirl at heart.

    So I will ride along with the spirit and attitude of the cowgirls of the past and present and consider myself a cowgirl as well. Thank you for such a neat blog to read.

    Judy

  8. Katie

    Although I’m a Londoner from the UK I love in south Wales and have always had an admiration for horses which is why I have signed back up for college next year to do equine work instead of agriculture like I’d originally planned I’m nearly 30 and would like to finally take a trip to a real life rodeo and ranch to see the joys of being a ranch hand maybe my dreams will come true

  9. Janet Cagley

    Perfectly said…..Our cowgirl daughter is now thirteen and I’m so very grateful that she loves her mare and geldings with all of her heart. There’s not much room in there for teenage boys….just yet. I’m sure that the day will come, but I’m grateful for every year that the horses still give us. By the way, she is a two time NCHA world champion and has her eyes set on another this year. If we can be blessed enough to keep her traveling and showing then maybe she can grow up before she has to deal with the other side of life! : )

  10. John

    Great summary of the lifestyle I’ve always aspired to be a part of. Unfortunately my career puts major travel and schedule barriers in the way of horse ownership but I always try to make time to get out and ride whenever possible. Hopefully one of these days I can adjust my work schedule to allow for horse ownership and all the perks that go along with it!

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