Art of the Cowgirl is where the Western performance horse industry meets the everyday rancher.
Story by Sara Honegger and Lindsay King; Photos by Lindsay King
From the moment we stepped foot in the beautiful Corona Ranch courtyard, we felt an instantaneous energy shift. Cowboy poetry, music, and delicious smells from cast-iron skillets filled the air, and artisans’ wares filled with unique offerings were spread out across the lawn. In the distance, we could hear clinicians answering spectators’ questions, but most noticeable were the smiles and fellowship.
Beneath the surface of Art of the Cowgirl are ideas and intentions that inspired the event with roots 25 years deep.
“Mike Ryan, a bootmaker in Helena, Montana, taught me to build custom cowboy boots 25 years ago,” said Tammy Pate, founder of Art of the Cowgirl. “I was a young mom raising my kids, and we were working on a ranch. That was my first priority. I’m an artist at heart, and being creative is really important to me, so I was able to learn a skill at no cost, just on-the-job training. Through that mentorship, I have a skill that I can take anywhere and be self-sufficient.”
It was this experience, and others like it, that shaped Pate’s idea for an event that would raise funds to create more fellowships with master artists. At the same time, she wanted to encourage and assist emerging artists of the Western genre and celebrate cowgirls and their artistic contributions to the Western lifestyle.
“Being self-sufficient is very important for a woman,” Pate said. “Being a mom and a ranch wife are my top priorities, but should anything happen to Curt [Pate’s husband], I need to be able to take care of myself. I think college isn’t for everyone, and trades are overlooked. Without the trades, our traditions don’t continue.”
As an idea took root, the Pates noted how much they loved their different roles in the equine community. They also considered how they enjoyed horse-related fair-style events that combined entertainment and education. From there, the concept began to grow.
It’s About Relationships
“I realize how fortunate we are to know the people we do, and not everyone has those connections,” Pate said. “Curt and I have lived a very unique life and never had a job because what we do is so cool, unique, and our passion.
“I wanted to figure out a way to give back,” she continued. “Little ideas would come and go. I love people, so I thought about a fellowship to provide others with the opportunity to learn a trade, while combining entertainment and horse clinicians—which are the things I love the most. I dreamed about this for five years before I actually had the courage to do it.”
It was evident the effect the Pates’ relationships have on the success of Art of the Cowgirl. Although the event is only in its second year, each vendor shared stories from the previous year’s event like it was a tradition, and people spoke of Pate as if she were a revered family member.
“I think the reason it was successful was because of our relationships, and I wanted to have a place where others can come and meet influential people,” Pate added. “The feedback I get is how positive the energy is here. I truly believe that what’s in your heart and what you put out, you receive. There’s no room for anyone here who doesn’t encourage and empower the next person.”
It’s About Horsemanship
Beyond the fellowship lies another important pillar of Art of the Cowgirl—the horsewoman. In addition to the World’s Greatest Horsewoman competition and All-Women’s Ranch Rodeo, a mix of horsewomen from all different areas shared insights from their respective fields.
“As ranchers, horsemanship is very important to our foundation, but the beauty and the art of it are the different disciplines like reining, cutting, and reined cow horse,” Pate said. “Those disciplines get to showcase how cool this way of life is. To have women from NRHA here to inspire others is incredible. I’m 53 years old, and I’m inspired and want to try it! I think it’s important that we have people to look up to and see their hard work. For them to share and be so humble is incredible.”
Pate’s goal is for spectators to spend less on one weekend than they would on multiple lessons, all while gaining knowledge from a variety of horsewomen instead of just one. Different disciplines were represented not only in the demonstrations, but also in the arena during the World’s Greatest Horsewoman finals, where riders showcased skills at a high level.
“I love the partnership with NRHA because we need more people to compete,” Pate said. “Trainers need clients and clients need to trust somebody to help them with their goals, so this is a great place to introduce them to it.”
Emma Santellan, West Texas
The horse I’m going to start competing on in Green Reiner classes is named Leona, and she was bred, born, and currently lives at Double N Ranch. She’s had a few babies there and has been out of the show pen for a few years as her owner has gotten older. The ranch owner approached me about riding her, and so I rode with a reining trainer, got to know her a little, and decided I’d show her this year. It’s crazy showing a 20-year-old mare that’s still so sound and has so much passion—she has so much heart for this sport.
Seeing the NRHA booth at Art of the Cowgirl makes me realize the reality of getting to compete again is so close to happening. Reining is such a great foundation, and it’s great to get the word out and give everyone this valuable information.
It’s About Cowgirls
As a platinum event sponsor, NRHA introduced cowgirls of all ages to the sport of reining through riding demonstrations presented by NRHA Professionals Kari Klingenberg and Crystal McNutt. Each pro showcased the athleticism a reining horse must possess.
“If your ranch horse can do all the maneuvers in a reining pattern, then they can get anything you need done on the ranch,” said Kelsey Love Thomas, winner of the inaugural World’s Greatest Horsewoman. “I show a fair amount in the Ranch Horse Association of America, and we do a reining pattern in that. We’re just trying to make our horses better and better trained, and everything that you do in reining is part of that.”
Not only did this cowgirl, who’s based in Rising Star, Texas, have experience in the reining industry, but so did several other finalists in the World’s Greatest Horsewoman event. Kate Buchanan from Scottsdale, Arizona, rode Lucky Cee Blair (Dun Gotta Gun x Cee Blair Lady; owned by Caroline Buchanan) to place second.
“We bought this gelding from [NRHA Professional] Matt Mills when I was riding with him and still reining,” Buchanan said. “I decided I wanted to start boxing on him. I taught him boxing by myself, and we made the [Built Ford Tough AQHyA] World Show finals on him. Then we sent him to a trainer to teach him to be a rope horse, just to add to the list of amazing things this horse can already do.”
It wasn’t long before Buchanan decided her reiner had what it took to go down the fence. At the 2019 Built Ford Tough AQHyA World Championship Show, Buchanan made the finals and placed in all her events. The pair took fourth in both heading and working cow horse while making top 10 in reining and placing third in ranch riding.
“I’ve learned a lot on this horse over the years: he taught me how to rein, rope, go down the fence; you name it and I’ve learned it on this horse,” Buchanan said. “He’s my forever and always will be my once-in-a-lifetime horse. I couldn’t ask for a better horse than him.”
Megan Berg, Southeastern Colorado
This event is revitalizing the Western way of life. It’s a place where people from all walks of life can come and be involved in the industry. You don’t have to own a million-dollar horse or a fancy saddle; if you want to be involved in this industry, you just have to take the step and people involved in it already want to help you. This event is so intimate, and I was able to converse with people I’ve always wanted to meet, and I may not have been able to in other settings.