Cowboys cowboys cowboys.
No vision of the American south west is complete without the cowboy. He is typically a symbol of freedom, of connection to the land, exploration and conquest of wilderness, masculinity. There’s a genre of film centered around them and festivals celebrating their culture and heritage. But what about the cowGIRL?
In August, I wrote about my week assisting cowboy extraordinaire Steve Rodrigues (above) guide a group of fabulous women into the Wimenuche Wilderness for 5 days. This was one of a number of trips I co-wrangled, always with a capable cowboy by my side. Now, while I cherish greatly and wouldn’t wish to change the days I shared with each capable cowboy I worked with over the summer, I often wondered if there was a outfitting business (N.B an outfitter is generally a business providing guided riding/hunting/fishing trips) anywhere in the wild west that would entrust this hard work in the sole hands of women.
As I pondered the topic for the 100th time, whilst following Steve and co back down the 12,000 ft mountain, I struck up conversation with one of the clients, a brilliant woman by the name of Celia Rencher Snow. Celia, as it turns out, was in the midst of organising adventurous horseback retreats exclusively for women! She’d tested the concept earlier in the year with great success, but noted her disappointment in only being able to hire male wranglers. “Well,” I joked, “You know how to reach me if you ever need a hand!”
I was due to leave Colorado for Scotland by September, but America wasn’t to get rid of me for long… it wasn’t long before I had a message in my inbox and return flights booked from Glasgow to Las Vegas for the first week of October. The official wrangler for the launch of an exciting new business: Cowgirls Secret.
Celia aimed to up the horse-trip ante, and had chosen the spectacular badlands of Capitol Reef, Utah. Under her own potent steam, by the day of my arrival into a remote corner on the outskirts of the national park she had orchestrated the delivery of 2 snug shepherd’s huts and a sturdy canvas tent, portable loo and shower, chests full of high quality grub for her well planned menu, a fully-equipped kitchen and dining tent, enough hay and water for both the 2-legged and 4-legged, and the list goes on… All that was left for the two of us to do was bring in the 9 horses/mules, ‘glamp’ out the canvas tent and await the arrival of our guests. Celia’s good friend, the lovely Karen, came along to help out too… We were 3 highly capable cowgirls!
Whilst waiting for our arrivals, I took one of the horses out for a test-drive. The terrain I traveled was unlike any place I’d ever found myself in before. Red rock, clay soil, cacti, canyons and distant mesas engulfed me. It was harsh and forbidding and inviting all at once. I wished for a tumble weed to cross our path and watched the ominous dark clouds of a rain storm approach.
Naturally, being from the west of Scotland, I am no stranger to precipitation… but I swear I have never seen raindrops so large as those that landed on us that day in Capitol Reef! This turned out to be quite a worry for Celia, as the rough track leading to our camp could be washed out and extremely difficult to negotiate by car. We worried that our guests would be unable to reach us.
Now I’d like to remind you of our main theme here; our theme being tough and capable cowgirls. And if there’s anyone that can make it up a washed out, dodgy dirt-track it’s a tough and capable cowgirl! They did, of course, arrive right on time. 6 unstoppable, spirited ladies ready to bask in the wisdom of the Cowgirls Secret.
The days that followed couldn’t have been more memorable. We were 9 women from 9 different walks of life, of varying ages, with varying tastes in all manner of things. Yet here we were, in the middle of the isolated canyons of Utah, brought together by our shared love of adventure. As an ever-increasing tight unit we bonded with our mounts and explored the ravines, crossed rivers and even tackled daunting quicksand. There were moments of frustration, blood, sweat, tears and mud; each embraced fully and each followed swiftly by moments of great satisfaction and ecstasy. The guests seemed to revel in pushing their own boundaries. A little bit of grit certainly wasn’t going to put them off their game!
Cowgirls Secret isn’t some nose-to-tail riding experience (we all know how much I hate them…), for lack of a better expression I’d say a proverbial set of balls came in handy for each of us… but that’s not to say that riding experience is necessary; not at all. What is important for such an experience is a strong spirit, and a belief in your own power… and a desire to have fun, of course. If you have these things in your back pocket then the world is truly your own wondrous oyster.
So, by now you may be wondering what exactly these Secrets are? Quite simply, cowgirls have always been trail blazers. Acutely aware that they were just as capable as their male counterparts, they were among the first women to break societies image and belief of what women’s roles were, and how they should present themselves. No one puts it more eloquently than Celia herself: “They felt the peace and power of the wild outdoors, and would not be caged up in a house adhering to the female gender role. Therefore, their life’s experiences were broadened far beyond the lives of traditional western women. Cowgirls were strong, resilient, free spirited, untamed, empowered, and adventure seekers! Their secret? Cowgirls got it, they followed their hearts and nourished their spirits. To quote a famous cowgirl, ‘A gals gotta do what a gals gotta do’.”
And us gals had some memories to make ❤
P.S Cowgirls Secret has a few dates in the calendar of 2017, including artists and photography retreats. Please do get in touch if you fancy making memories too!