“The true cowgirl is someone with the spirit, and it doesn’t mean that she comes from a ranch or the West, but just a woman who has a belief in herself and is gritty. And ready to take on any challenge.”~ Tammy Pate
My grandparents ranched in the Big Coulee of Ryegate, Montana, and that’s where I spent most of my summers growing up. My grandma, Betty, was my mentor and taught me to ride, to bake, and to sew.
She was my hero: a rancher and a true cowgirl. She grew up starting colts, raised her family, and ranched her whole life.
My mom Shirley and my dad, Gordon, raised three girls; I’m the oldest. They raised us in the rodeo world. We rode horses every day. My dad was our coach and we spent our youth going to junior, high school, and then college rodeos.
My parents instilled confidence in us and it didn’t matter if it had anything to do with horses or a job or what we did. They just really instilled the belief in ourselves that we could do anything.
Tammy and daughter, Mesa, Wickenburg, Arizona 2018; Tammy’s mom, Shirley and grandmother Betty.
When Curt and I married, we made the decision that it was very important for me to stay home with our children when they were growing up. I’ve always been artistic and sewn, and so when Mesa was a baby, I went in and worked with Mike Ryan who had a boot shop in Helena, Montana. He actually mentored me and taught me how to build custom cowboy boots. I worked for Mike for about five or six years until Curt’s career really took off. Then we went on the road, and I booked all of his clinics and demonstrations while homeschooling our two children. We were on the road for about 15 years when Curt quit doing horse clinics and went strictly to cattle-handling seminars. He encouraged me to continue doing clinics, so I started doing horsemanship and yoga retreats about 15 years ago. I’m still doing them today.
Curt is a stockmanship instructor and works primarily for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association where he conducts stockmanship and stewardship training. It’s all about animal husbandry—effective stockmanship practices that incorporate horsemanship and cattle handling to ensure that our beef is produced humanely and safely.
I have two children: Rial and Mesa. They’re 31 and 29 already. Curt and I raised our kids, literally, horseback. We were working on the ranch when they were little, then we took them on the road with us. I really feel that my upbringing and the way my parents empowered us to be able to have confidence, to go out and try new things, was truly passed on to them. I saw that with Mesa when she was 17 years-old and went on the road with her bull and her horse to the PBR. And in our son, Rial. He has worked in the fox hunting world and gone completely away from the Western industry to try new things in the East. And yet, he remains a true cowboy. He can ride any bronc and any foxhunting horse anywhere.
COWGIRL: What do you see in your daughter Mesa that you’ve seen in yourself and in your mom, and your grandmom?
I see in Mesa a very strong, independent, gentle soul. She is loyal to the people she loves, she’s hardworking, and we really get those traits from my grandma and my mom. My grandma’s going to be 99 in December, and she’s still independent and still living at home. My mother worked for the Department of Livestock for 45 years and she gave us a strong work ethic and independence. I think that’s what I love most about Mesa: There’s no woe. If she sees something that needs to be done, she just goes and does it. She doesn’t have to be asked. She has confidence and she’s my best friend.
COWGIRL: There are women who dream of living a cowgirl life. You embody that dream. Art of the Cowgirl is your dream to share. How did it all come about?
I think it probably started with my grandma mentoring me and teaching me a skill. Not that I knew then, but when Mike Ryan invested in me and taught bootmaking, and then my opportunity traveling with Curt and meeting so many people.
I feel very, very blessed that we’ve had these opportunities and I really wanted to find a way to give back to the industry. I love people, I love horses, and I love art. I wanted to find a way to really lift women up. The women who are the unsung heroes on the ranch like Nancy Martiny, my saddlemaker friend from Idaho, she’s a perfect example. We’ve been friends for 35 years and I feel she never got the recognition she deserves. I mean, people who know her work love her, but she never tooted her own horn. She never bragged about herself. She never put herself out there.
Art of the Cowgirl is a way for me to showcase these women and give them a platform and to brag on them when they won’t brag on themselves. It gives me an opportunity to bring Robin Rich from Wrangler to an event where Tony Kay Tolle, who is working in Encampment, Wyoming (population 427), can meet her. And that just doesn’t happen for people. So I dreamt about Art of the Cowgirl for six years before I had the confidence to try, and I’m so glad I did.
COWGIRL: You’ve had tremendous success with the first two years. Does it surprise you?
I don’t want this to sound wrong, but it doesn’t surprise me. I think it’s been needed and people have embraced it; not just women, but men have come to the event and are just so appreciative of these women makers, artists, and these young, amazing cowgirls making these incredible horses. I was fearful of selling tickets, the financial part of it, having never started a business like this before, but I’m not at all surprised about the success and that the industry embraced it.
COWGIRL: Amongst this success you got sidetracked. What happened?
So in May after our first event, I wasn’t feeling very well. I am passionate about health and I’ve never been sick, but on May 19th, 2019, I was diagnosed with Stage Four metastatic breast cancer, and it had metastasized to my gastrointestinal area and to all of my bones. Right after I was diagnosed, my kidneys failed. I had to have nephrostomy tubes and our world was really rocked. They didn’t give me much hope. But by the grace of God and Panacur, I am in remission right now.
I’m so grateful for each day and I’m not going to slow down: I just have so much to do. And I think the diagnosis has truly been a blessing because it has put life truly in perspective and defined what’s important to me. And this is it: my family.
I always thought I was a pretty balanced person, but it made it very clear what the most important things are. And to me, it’s my family, number one, and then Art of the Cowgirl. I just have so much to leave. There’s just not enough time to do it all. I have this amazing group of women helping me. Jaimie Stoltzfus, Mesa, Sierra Hunewill-Brown, Marilyn Calloway, my cousin Kimmy, are all so supportive in making this event absolutely and truly an amazing experience, not only for us, but for all of the people who are part of it and those who come and get to watch.
Art of the Cowgirl. All photos by Ken Amorosano.
Art of the Cowgirl is giving women a platform to come and showcase their abilities and their art and that is important to me. I’m excited to watch it grow. We’ve added hands-on workshops this year and more competitions. As of right now, we have 93 entries in our World’s Greatest Horsewoman competition and 40 ranch rodeo teams. Sierra just told me that we have 19 teams on the waiting list. We could have a weeklong all-women’s ranch rodeo if we wanted to. I have dreams of taking it to different parts of the country and having smaller satellite events and just really being able to showcase more and more talented women.
This cowgirl way of life has been a blessing. It has taught me to appreciate all living things and the artistic capabilities and talents the West brings out in people. It has instilled in me a determined work ethic and passion for the land, animals, and the people who care about it. I wouldn’t trade one minute of it. I feel fortunate both my mom and grandma are here to see what they made of me and I’m proud to carry on the legacy of their ranch life and tradition. I’m proud to see my children, as well, carrying on in this tradition and feel blessed to able to share Art of The Cowgirl with everyone who dreams to live a cowgirl’s life.
(Originally posted on December 21, 2020)