I don’t own a horse, and I don’t live out West (anymore) but I still consider myself a cowgirl or at least to be driven by a certain cowgirl spirit. This spirit represents to me a kind of feminine ideal whereby a woman can be at once tough and tender, independent and yet also reliant. Relying on the land, nature, animals and her other relationships to live a balanced life. The cowgirl spirit comes from Mother Nature herself. It is a giver and a taker of life. As young women, we are not taught to lead the same way young men are. That is why it is so critical for each woman at some point in her life to tap into the cowgirl collective, to harness her power and hone in on the world. The self-destructive streak I see so much in women, I believe, comes from not feeling entitled to express the great reserves of power that each one of us carries within. When this power becomes internalized, it can battle a woman’s desire for the freedom to fulfill her destiny.
A cowgirl can be very feminine and even sparkly, but the emphasis for her is always on what she can DO. In the saddle, with a shotgun, with a lasso…or in my case on a guitar, a snowboard or with a fly rod and not on HOW she looks. This truth is what allows cowgirls certain freedoms among men. It is just plain sexy to see a woman with skills, with confidence, with power and with command.
A woman filled with the cowgirl spirit is free to lead and not to follow. Following too much in life leads to hesitation, weakness, fear and ultimately loss. When I started the Wild Women Snowboarding Camps, (the first of their kind back in 1993) I didn’t solely set out to teach women to snowboard. Instead, I set out to lead themselves down the mountain, to navigate where on the hill was going to bring them the most satisfaction. I learned what I know about riding from a wrangler at a Montana ranch named Stella when I was 17 years old.
The month I spent with her one summer changed my life. What struck me first about her, and I what I began to emulate was her command of a great and original line. There were no trail maps for where she took me. There are no trails maps for living an original life I’ve learned of late. No one rode a horse like her. She was fearless. She taught me: to surrender to the horse beneath me, to run down the hill, to swim across quarries with great abandon, not to command the horse, and to wear the ride like a second skin. She could throw a rope 75 feet and loop a post or a calf’s foot and delivered unforgettable lines when she spoke. (She later married a one-legged cowboy threatened by her power, who made her quit ranching, move to town and take a job at Taco John’s to support them. In one of her letters to me she said. “I often wish I’d stayed alone and free. At least then I’d still know what a wild horse feels like when it gets broke.”) Everything that I have accomplished, in my life, is inspired by my observation of her, and the chase for a beautifully laid line…in songwriting, during backcountry descents on my snowboard and within the perfectly cast fly line. A woman never gets to make her mark, cast her line, forge her ground if she is not taught or cannot somehow summon her own inner cowgirl spirit…that little voice inside that says, “Try what scares the hell out of you.
You CAN be the first. You CAN be great. You CAN be different.” If I’m feeling fear and hearing the voice, I know I’m probably right on the verge of a breakthrough. Breaking through again and again towards a balanced life is the path of my choosing and what I consider to be the Cowgirl Way.