It’s not about the boots you wear. Or the hat (or helmet) you choose. Or even the breed of horse you ride.
Just maybe, 2019 will be your year to connect with your inner cowgirl and find strength to face your challenges at work, at home and in the barn. Perhaps she’s been there all along, but you never knew her name.
Clothes Don’t Make the Cowgirl
According to Gay Gaddis, all the external trappings of America’s iconic cowgirls are just window dressing. Gaddis is the author of the recently published Cowgirl Power: How to Kick Ass in Business and Life.
Whether you gallop an eventer cross-country, transition from letter to letter in the dressage arena, or care for your beloved aged pony in the back field, your attitude toward life—and your sense of self—may benefit from aligning philosophically with the wisdom espoused by the classic cowgirl heroes of America’s past.
Wild West Wisdom
A Texas businesswoman, Gaddis has channeled that wisdom as the premise for her book. Cowgirl Power presents chapters on facing life’s challenges by introducing you to cowgirls from the past and sharing how each of them faced life head-on.
The cowgirls on the Wild West entertainment circuit form the core of this book. Gaddis proposes that they were among the first female athletes, and in particular, they performed alongside men—often stealing the spotlight. They did it, she contends, by capitalizing on riding or ranch skills learned at home in childhood.
But those skills could not have translated to leadership and notoriety on the world stage without a confident, can-do attitude and a sense of self that got things done, even when the riding was rough.
Trick Riding and Confidence
Gaddis begins with her own grandmother, Florence Chiles, who grew up on a ranch in Texas in the late 1800s. Pictured in a polite sidesaddle pose, her personality showed the flip side. Grandmother Florence impressed on a young Gaddis that Mandy, the cowgirl ranch worker assigned to supervise the girls, made sure that they were well trained.
Once out of sight of the ranch, Mandy had Florence and her sisters dismount, remove their petticoats and bonnets and ditch their sidesaddles. The girls rode their horses bareback like the circus performers they admired so much.
Florence and her sisters learned trick riding from Mandy. They raced each other at breakneck speed, developing a sense of confidence on the back of a horse that women of the time found hard to attain in a sidesaddle—let alone in the restricted life roles assigned to them. When their galloping fun was done, the girls were instructed to re-saddle their horses, pull the petticoats back on, tie their bonnets, and ride demurely back to the ranch. Surely their horses were covered with sweat, but Florence insists they were never caught.
A Secret Source of Power
A secret cowgirl is a force of nature, as Florence illustrated many times in her adult life. She instilled in her granddaughters a sense that being self-reliant was second to no other attribute for success in life.
Florence and her sisters found freedom on those spirited rides, but they also found a personal, if secret, power that would serve them for the rest of their lives.
At times, Gaddis calls for a take-no-prisoners attitude toward unmasking those who stand in your way for the wrong reasons. While cowgirl ways may be an internal matter, they translate to how you deal with situations and people on the way to accomplishing your goals.
Whether a woman is trying to juggle being an employee and a mother and also an equestrian, or just trying to find more forward motion for the path through life, the wisdom of cowgirls from 100 or more years ago rings as true today, and perhaps more true than any traditional path to recovery from life’s challenges and setbacks.
“The cowgirls will inspire you and help you see a path that perhaps you hadn’t seen before,” Gaddis advises her readers. “Let them be your guides. Let them speak to you like no one else can, through their courage, kindness and deeds, competitiveness and authenticity.”
Gaddis’s switch between saluting the cowgirls of the past with superimposing their stories on current-day life and business situations illustrates how cowgirl values can work for women today.
While some of her paradigm is based on equality between men and women in the workplace, the overall effect of an infusion of inspiration from the past can extend to all types of challenges and visions we have for our future selves.
Many women distribute their inner power between the sectors of their personal and business lives. Others may find areas where a little cowgirl moxie can improve forward motion, whether it’s finding new options or working your way out of a failed relationship or risky behavior.
“Be kind, but not (necessarily) nice,” is how Gaddis interprets some of the cowgirl wisdom assembled in the book. While many of her quips call for “kicking ass,” the book is not a call to arms for women to adopt aggressive male styles of leadership or goal attainment, but rather to invent their own and execute it accordingly.
Women today have plenty of challenges. Where traditional leadership and self-help books often depict women as burdened with obstacles to overcome, juxtaposing our challenges with all that the Wild West cowgirls faced in 1900 puts a lot into perspective. Being candid and keeping a sense of humor about yourself and the situations you face might cut your present dilemmas down to size.
Injecting that humor—and even a bit of swagger—into a self-help book is something that isn’t done often enough. Gaddis could easily have written the story of her own success in business and her recent transition to painting Texas landscapes.
Instead, she gives credit to the heroines of the past who painted themselves as unique, perfected their skills in the saddle, and tipped off women everywhere that independence was possible—and worth the sweat and dust and sunburn that most women would never feel.
Gaddis speaks to her readers from the mountaintop of career success as founder and CEO of the successful creative agency T3. It may seem easy for her to spout advice to the rest of us, but she swears it’s nothing she learned herself. It was taught to her by her cowgirl heroes from the forgotten pages of history and by a grandmother who could probably ride better than most of the men around her.
She kept that secret to herself, but never forgot who taught her it was OK to be a cowgirl, and that power works its way from the inside out and has some adventures on the way.
This article originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!