TAMMY PATE - COWGIRL ON A MISSION
“What makes you want to get up and get busy and create?” Tammy Pate, founder of Art of the Cowgirl, wants to know. Through the annual Art of the Cowgirl event, Tammy Pate has created a place where women of the American West can connect, discover and showcase their skills in the trade they love. The trades can range from horsemanship and ranching to fine arts, silversmithing, saddlery and bootmaking. Art of the Cowgirl has established a fellowship program that removes financial barriers and connects fellowship recipients with mentors in order to create opportunities and make them more accessible to horsewomen and future women makers in the industry. The fellowship encourages tradition and inspires innovation by sponsoring western artists and providing them with funds to cover materials, travel, room and board at their mentor’s location. For Tammy Pate, the Art of the Cowgirl mission is personal. The Montana native embodies the tenacious spirit cowgirls are known for. It’s a spirit that reveals itself in the advice she offers to women in the western industry.
“First piece of advice: you can do anything you set your mind to, but you have to prepare yourself, learn and do the work. Because at some point, an opportunity is going to present itself. And if you don’t have the skills built, you can’t take advantage of it,” insists Pate. “Luck has nothing to do with it, and we’re not entitled to anything. We have to work at it.” Raised in the saddle on her family’s Montana ranch, Pate was a familiar figure in the competitive rodeo circuit. But she also fell in love with painting and sewing, skills passed down by her mother and grandmother. While raising her young family on the road and becoming a master bootmaker, Tammy learned how to use these skills to foster a rich and meaningful life in an industry where women are often underrepresented. “I didn’t choose to go down the career road, I chose to stay home. But how could I support my family, be a partner and also have my own thing?” Pate reflects on her motivation behind founding Art of the Cowgirl. “It’s important for a woman to have her own identity.” Pate knew many of her cowgirl sisters were already equipped with a range of skills but needed a bigger platform and access to opportunities to refine their talents. Art of the Cowgirl creates those opportunities by connecting master artists with students eager to learn or hone their skill. “Anybody can be taught. I believe that,” says Pate. “I’d much rather have someone come with passion than skill — [someone] to want to go on to teach, to want to keep the tradition alive.”
Seeing a need for fellowship within her community and possessed of a desire to give back, at age 50, Pate did what any cowgirl would do. She put on her handcrafted boots and showed up to make it happen. “Once I decided I was going to do it, then nothing was going to stop me,” she says. Still, her resolve was met with a tinge of trepidation. “It wasn’t because I wasn’t fearful. I had fear, but when a cowgirl decides she wants something, she’s willing to sacrifice anything to do it. [She’ll] get up early to ride her horse before it gets too hot. She’ll eat at McDonald’s so her horse [can] eat Purina. She will sacrifice to do it. I think that’s what sets the cowgirl apart.” Visit artofthecowgirl.com to learn more about Pate’s initiative to celebrate, connect and empower women of the West.
Photos by Jennifer Denison
KANESHA JACKSON & KORTNEE SOLOMON - A LEGACY OF POSITIVITY
Multi-event champion Kanesha Jackson’s roots in rodeo are deep. Jackson and her daughter, junior champion Kortnee Solomon, represent the third and fourth generations of rodeo riders in their family, with Jackson’s mother and grandfather also having a history of competing in the sport. As African American cowgirls, their legacy blazes a trail for up-and-coming women of color on the circuit, something Jackson is aware of. “My goal is to give hope to the women who think they aren’t good enough or don’t quite feel like they belong,” she says. The Texas native sets a high bar as the first female rider to rank in the top thirty of the Cowboy Professional Rodeo Association and the first African American female barrel racer to be inducted into The Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin, Texas. Jackson holds multiple All-Around Cowgirl wins at the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, a historic rodeo dedicated to educating the public about Black Western Heritage.
She won her first All-Around title at the age of 13, making her the youngest ever recipient. At age 11, Kortnee Solomon continues her family’s legacy with her champion wins at the junior level in barrel racing, Rookie Cowgirl of the year title at the BPIR and Junior National Finals Rodeo qualification. With Jackson working her way up the circuit at the local level and poised to become the first African American woman to qualify for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the inseparable mother-daughter team was about to hit the road when the coronavirus pandemic shut everything down. But in rodeo, resilience is the name of the game, and Jackson isn’t one to dwell on obstacles. “In my mind, I wanted to conquer it one level at a time,” she says. “But if God has this mysterious plan where I just go straight to the Wrangler NFR, I’m not going to complain.” With the ability to flip the script on any situation and let it work to her advantage, Jackson stays focused and motivated during times of uncertainty. It’s a skill that got her through a rocky transition when her career trajectory took her out of the familiar. “I was taking nothing but losses for two years,” Jackson concedes, but she learned to see what she gained from every small loss and build from there. “When I lose, I don't feel like I lost because I learned,” she reflects. “Maybe I was having a problem at the second barrel, but I made the third barrel.”
Jackson credits her mother with instilling the importance of having a plan and sense of direction whatever the contingencies. It’s this attitude that keeps her moving forward in charting a course of success for both herself and her daughter. “I was raised to compete because I’ve been around it all my life. I’ll pass that on to Kortnee,” she says. With an emphasis on sportsmanship, Jackson and Solomon exemplify a standard of staying humble and finding the positive side of every situation. “Most people’s advice is ‘Whatever you do, don’t give up.’ But in the rodeo world, it’s much deeper than that,” Jackson muses. “My personal advice would be, in the midst of not giving up, find what’s going to keep you going.” She continues, “When you’re down and out and on the road on your last dollar, what’s going to keep me going? What can I do to improve what happened this last run? Even if I didn’t win, give me one thing to lean on. I don’t need a list of things — just one thing to improve. That’s all I need.”
Photos by Ivan McClellan
STEPHANIE QUAYLE - GRIT, MEET GRACE
At 22 years old, singer-songwriter Stephanie Quayle had a moment of reckoning when she was told she was too old to break into the music business. “That just got branded into my brain because I never was raised to adhere to other people’s rules or fences,” recalls Quayle. Stepping up to the challenge with the ease of a seasoned cowgirl, Quayle formed her own label, Rebel Engine Entertainment, with a vision to empower talented women in the industry, some of whom were facing a myriad of challenges; for example, being sidelined and eventually dropped based on their perceived age value. “You can’t let anyone determine you’re done. You make that choice,” Quayle says. “That was one of the reasons I started my own company — to inspire that message of limitlessness.”
Quayle earned her tenacity, as well as her unbridled vision, growing up in Montana on a working bison and cattle ranch. “I was on the back of a horse before I could walk, you know? I was teeny tiny. You fall down, you’re in the dirt. My mom just dusted off my knees and put me back in the saddle and that was it. That’s just what I’ve done my whole life,” she says. For Quayle, her mom has been a model of resilience. “My mom taught me to ride horses. She is the west — grit and grace.” Even today, Quayle’s mom manages her own ranch. “She’s 72 years old. There’s no end to her. I think she’s my compass when it comes to choosing who to be like and become.” Now that she’s an adult, Quayle embodies the same spirit and determination as her mother, concentrating her efforts on forging a path for women in the entertainment industry. “What you see is women continuing to rise, create and do,” she says. “It’s one of the things I’ve really focused on — doing more and talking less. So that we show versus tell. Keep showing up and creating larger platforms for women in our genre. That’s very much my focus, that’s the hat I have on right now.” Quayle continues to lead by example by launching her new record label, management and entertainment company, Big Sky Music Group. The company is focused not only on signing top talent but also on providing mentorship to incoming talent, with a mission “to be a safe, inclusive and supportive home for artists and creators poised to positively impact female artists and young professionals starting out on their journey.” “I feel this is my purpose, my must. There’s such a need for more women to spread this message of, ‘No, you absolutely can and will.’ It doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy but who wants things to be easy?” Quayle emphasizes, “You gotta earn it. And then you get to own that. You know that you earned it. That’s a powerful way to walk through life. That’s grit and grace.” Visit www.bigskymusicgroup.com to learn more about Quayle’s recent endeavors.
Photos by Ford Fairchild & Erika Rock
JA'DAYIA KURSH - FOLLOWING HER HEART
On her 17th birthday, Ja’Dayia Kursh was named Miss Rodeo Coal Hill Arkansas, becoming the first African American rodeo queen in her home state. Winning the title was the fulfilment of a dream she had since she was 7 years old. “I love being a cowgirl. It's just something that I am. I realized that a long time ago,” says Kursh. Rodeo queens have long been an important part of rodeo culture, serving as official ambassadors for the sport and embodying grace, style and superior horsemanship skills. Of being a rodeo queen, Kursh says, “You’re an all-around sponsor. You’re going to get involved with the audience. It’s more like a position where you give more than anything — [you have to be] a selfless person [with] good energy because you’re going to be surrounded by kids.” Even before earning her rodeo queen title, by age 13, Kursh had already distinguished herself as a role model and competitor. Notably, she was one of only two Black members of the Old Fort Dandies Rodeo Drill Squad. “I’ve done some things that I think are pretty cool in life, and I guess other people see them as accomplishments, but I’m just out here having fun,” she says.
In 9th grade, Kursh petitioned to play football on the boys’ team at her Catholic school but was firmly rejected. Determined, she carried her fight into the high school she attended the following year, challenging the status quo and gaining permission to join the boys’ football team as the first female middle linebacker. “I wasn’t great,” she admits with humility, “but I could keep up, and I got to play, and it was fun.” While she triumphed as a young adult, Kursh has always been open about her journey, which began with a rocky childhood. Trouble at home led her to a counselor, who introduced her to horses as a way to cope. “The day she introduced me to horses, she handed me the reins to my freedom so I always say that I have a hoof print on my heart.” Riding became a permanent part of Kursh’s life, helping her find what she refers to as “another way to breathe.” Having never lost sight of the silver lining in every situation — or the rainbow in the clouds — Kursh reflects on her favorite quote by Maya Angelou: “I’ve had so many rainbows in my clouds. I had a lot of clouds, but I had so many rainbows.” It’s this kind of persistent spirit that defines Kursh as a cowgirl. “You cannot quit who you are.” She elaborates, “At the core of every cowgirl is the willingness to not give up. We know what it's like to work and get busy. To not quit.” What keeps her going? “Remembering that there are little people looking up to you,” Kursh states. “Using your voice to bring other people to rodeo from other ethnicities and different backgrounds. That’s my platform as a rodeo queen: inclusion for everyone.” As she looks towards her own horizon, Kursh’s biggest goals are to complete her undergraduate degree at the University of Arkansas, where she is currently a senior, and go on to law school to become a criminal defense attorney. “My pitch for every woman: just be strong. Just be prepared,” says Kursh.
Photos by Heath Herring