For my fifth birthday, my godmother gave me a pair of red cowgirl boots. They were a little big, but this didn’t discourage wear.
I’d shuffle around in those boots as often as Mama let me. I loved em’ almost as much as our dogs, Nip and Tuck.
When those boots fit snug, my grandmother asked me from the front porch swing, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
"A plain ole gal," was my answer. It made my grandmother laugh but at age six, I was on to something.
Outside the entrance of the A&P grocery store, there was a coin-operated Palomino horse that if I couldn’t always ride, I’d stand there and stroke. I’d climb in the saddle, Mama would drop a nickel in and the horse would lurch forward, accelerate to an easy lope and from there, GO! I was five years old then.
When I turned 13, I had this ride for real atop an Appaloosa named Shenandoah.
My father preached, "Never, NEVER let a horse run back to the barn," but for me, it was irresistible — and Shenandoah was only too happy to oblige. As soon as Daddy was out of view, I’d steer the reigns, making a clicking noise with my tongue and Shenandoah would take off so fast that my own tail tucked under and went forward, a lot sooner it seemed than the rest of me. It wasn’t the speed alone that was thrilling ... it was a freedom and something else too — a spirit between Shenandoah and me that feels alive today.
To me, the spirit a horse leaves behind compared to a human’s is the difference between au de toilet and perfume.
Spirit and Simple is what being a cowboy is all about. You don’t have to ride a horse, wear boots or listen to country western music to be one. It’s an inside job first. The rest is all outdoors.
Cowboys (and cowgirls) don’t need adornments anymore than they need to be adored. Everything on their body and their horse has purpose. Ask Robb Kendrick.
Kendrick has a PHD in cowboy. He filmed and interviewed scores of them across the country – producing two books, Revealing Character and Still. Both works provide great insight into, as Kendrick puts it, “common threads that pull these people together and used to be a common thread in America before the techno world came into play. It crossed all fields, lawyers, writers, farmers, welders, photographers, nurses, etc. It’s the simple stuff you know? Good manners, helping a brother or sister out, basic human qualities that reflect the team spirit while keeping your individual priorities in tact. Being a team when needed and an individual the rest of the time without sacrificing your own values.”
When I asked Robb to describe what he thought “inner cowboy” meant, he nailed it. “Basically the inner cowboy is doing it till it's done right.”
Susan Stephens (a cowgirl featured in Revealing Character) believes, "There is no feeling like the motion of a horse under you, and how you just fit there. It’s also amazing that this powerful animal will trust its rider, and, when you’re working together, what the two of you can accomplish.”
In the movie Hidalgo, this partnership is beautifully illustrated. Horse and cowboy run the race, each valuing the other every step of the way.
Afterwards, Viggo Mortensen knows what he must do. Honoring Hidalgo and his nature –he releases the horse back into his rightful place. Before this however, there’s a scene that really scratches something deep for me. Viggo Mortensen is kneeling over his collapsed horse, chanting (in his native tongue) a plea. It feels like I know that chant, understand his longing.
When his Indian ancestors appear, weathered gray, it feels like I know those people – belong to their Tribe. Like I finally found my church.
I knew at age six that my tribe was “Plain Ole Gal” and deep down, I still am.
I like time alone – being outside under a big sky. I’m more at home with nature and animals than with people and I have a thing for the moon. If this makes me a cowgirl too…so be it.