Next week Monday, INSP’s Ultimate Cowboy Showdown hits the screen. The competition will crown one talented Westerner the Ultimate Cowboy, but don’t be fooled; they’re not all men.
J Storme Jannise and Tara Powers are two working cowgirls ready to take home the prize: $50,000 worth of cattle, bragging rights, and an honorary buckle. We spoke with them about the show, their experience with the Western lifestyle, and what they think everyone should know about the agriculture industry.
COWGIRL: What makes Ultimate Cowboy Showdown special?
Tara Powers: Ultimate Cowboy Showdown is special because it shows a very wide array of what a “cowboy” is. With varying backgrounds, geographic locations, education and experiences in the contestants the show helps paint a picture of how a cowboy isn’t always what you see in the movies.
CG: Why is it important for audiences to see working cowgirls?
TP: I think it is incredibly important for people to see working cowgirls because women in agriculture are often forgotten. When people say the word “cowgirl,” we often think of cowgirl queens. Something pretty, delicate, or just for show. However, that isn’t what a real cowgirl is. A real cowgirl is a woman in agriculture. Cowgirls are farmers, ranchers, teachers, scientists… and that is all in one day’s job. What we do is so much more than turning three barrels in a pen. We work to provide a safe and sustainable food source, not only for ourselves but the world.
JSJ: Many people assume this way of life is only for men. There are lots of women that work cattle and play very vital roles in this industry, and it needs to be seen more often. Making sure young girls see that they too can participate and be active in the industry is important, especially because there is a great need for younger generations to be more involved in agriculture.
CG: What do you think about the notion that American cowboys/cowgirls are a dying breed?
TP: I agree that we are a dying breed. So many people have become separated from their agricultural roots that many don’t even know where their food comes from. Farming and ranching is not for the faint of heart. There are many strenuous challenges that you don’t see in other industries. It takes a special kind of individual to put the needs of livestock before their own, to put in more than the standard 40 hours with little show. With so many easier lifestyles, not everyone is going to be drawn to struggling.
JSJ: This way of life is often times not easy. It requires a lot of work and sacrifice, and you don’t get large monetary benefits from it. So many people these days see they can get a much easier job making much more money, and that’s what they do. The cowboy way of life is often an unpredictable way of life and there are lots of risks that come with the unpredictability of things, such as weather and market prices, so many people choose to stick to jobs that don’t have near the risks and unreliability. It’s also pretty difficult for people who aren’t born into this way of life to get involved, and with fewer children being born into it there will continue to be fewer cowboys to carry on the tradition.
CG: What was it like competing alongside cowboys?
TP: Being a woman in agriculture, I have always been in “a man’s world.” I have worked alongside men throughout my life. To me, the competition wasn’t any different than another day on the job. You face the same challenges. There is always someone who will view you as less capable or even feel the need to extend you extra courtesy instead of seeing it as an even playing field. While it can get frustrating trying to prove myself, and extra frustrating if I make any error, I just remind myself that my parents always said I could be whatever I wanted.
JSJ: Competing alongside a bunch of cowboys really didn’t bother me much at all. I’m used to working with a bunch of guys all the time, and more often than not, I’m the only girl, so it was basically like a normal day for me. Of course, I knew that there were things the guys would excel at more than I would, especially when it came to tasks that involved physical strength. However, I also knew that there were things that I could excel at that they may not. Honestly, I think I would have been more nervous competing against all girls than I was competing against the guys.
CG: What advantages and disadvantages do you think women have in ranching?
TP: I think the biggest advantage women have in ranching and agriculture is their passion for what they do. When you choose to work in an industry in which you aren’t what is pictured, you have to love what you do. It isn’t something you do because you fit the mold, it is something you do because it has value to you. I guess I could say that women in agriculture have the disadvantage of being viewed as “weak” or “incapable”, but I have always seen this as extra motivation.
JSJ: In ranching, I think women obviously have the disadvantage of physical strength compared to men. Ranching involves a lot of physical activity, and while I know I can always figure out a way to get the job done, I know that sometimes it’s easier and faster for a man to do it when it comes to tasks that need more strength. I also think women are at a disadvantage because this way of life is male-dominated, so women are automatically doubted about being able to do the job and perform as well as men. While this is somewhat of a disadvantage, I also see it as an advantage to show people what women are capable of.
CG: Tell me about your horsemanship/roping/riding skills.
TP: I was riding horses before I could walk. I take pride in my horses and being able to perform any job on them. My horse is not only a tool, but my partner. Through the years, I have been blessed with some very special horses who continuously challenged me and helped me develop into a well-rounded horseman. I like to use the word horseman, because I am not a barrel racer, or a roper, or a reiner, but an all-around horseman. One of my greatest joys in life is knowing the horses I have trained and developed are solid, reliable and most importantly, love working — no matter what the task is.
JSJ: I learned all my ranching skills from my grandpa. When I was a baby, my grandpa had to babysit me one evening, so he put me in the truck and took me around the ranch looking at bulls, and he says I’ve been hooked ever since! I got my first horse from my great-grandfather for the price of a kiss on the cheek to him. His name was “Lightning,” and he and I sure learned a lot together. When I was growing up, I never had much formal training when it came to roping and riding; I kind of just got thrown into it and was expected to figure it out on my own. I certainly don’t think I’m the best roper or have the best horsemanship around, but I do well enough to get the job done, and I’m constantly striving to learn more and be better.
CG: Tell me about your animal husbandry/doctoring skills.
TP: Animal husbandry is extremely important to me and a huge area of knowledge for me. The care of the animal comes first. This was something my parents instilled in me, and something I greatly value. From dogs and cats to cattle and hogs, they all rely on us to get them the care they need. Feed, water, medication, whatever their need is, it is our responsibility to provide it. This is something I wish more people knew about farmers and ranchers. The love and care we provide for our animals is endless. We work tirelessly to make sure each animal, no matter the species, has everything it needs to thrive.
JSJ: Growing up I always had a very big interest in wanting to be a veterinarian, specifically for large animals, so working on the ranch, I’ve always paid a lot of extra attention to the health side of things. I like to keep up with a good vaccine program for our cattle and also keep up with the best forms of medicine to use for different symptoms in our cattle.
CG: What are your opinions on the “modern day” cowboy/cowgirl?
TP: I don’t really have a strong view on “modern day cowboys”. Being in an age group that grew up on technology I see some benefits to being a little more modern. Using technology to help build feed rations, monitor, gain or keep records can make production run smoother, but other things, such as livestock handling, is better left the old-fashioned way.
CG: What do you think people who watch Ultimate Cowboy Showdown can learn about the ranching industry?
TP: I hope that the audience can see how diverse the livestock production industry is. While there are many different ways to operate in this industry, the big takeaway should be how hard families and individuals are working to provide the best possible care for livestock in a world that often forgets how important they are.
JSJ: I hope people learn more about the tradition of being a cowboy and get a glimpse into the agricultural and cattle industries. So many people these days are so disconnected from where their food comes from, and I think it’s very important to educate people more on this. I hope viewers will see how much time, effort, and heart we put into raising quality beef products and that we treat our animals humanely, unlike how many activists portray us. Our animals are our livelihood, and we want to take the best care of them that we possibly can. I also hope viewers will learn that women can be just as good cowboys as men, and that any little girls watching who may have doubts about being good enough to be a cowboy realizes that she can do it.
CG: Anything else you would like COWGIRL readers to know?
TP: What’s holding you back? You are limitless. You are something great. Nothing in this life comes easy, at least not for me. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have had to start over. Rock bottom seems to be my address some days. On those days, I just remind myself that each time I start again I am not starting from scratch, but starting from experience. Every failure is a lesson learned. I may not be where I want to be, but I am getting there. For now, I am just chasing dreams and living life one ride at a time.
See Tara and J Storme tear up the dirt on Ultimate Cowboy Showdown, premiering October 14th at 9ET / 10PT on INSP.
J Storme Jannise
Fourth-generation Texas cowboy, J Storme, wants to show the nation that women can do anything men can do. She grew up on her family’s cattle ranch and is determined to keep the tradition going by following in her grandfather’s footsteps. J Storme studied agriculture in college and competes in ranch rodeos with much success. J Storme now helps in the daily management her family’s ranch and the rebuilding of their operation after surviving devastating losses from hurricane Harvey. Small, but mighty, her grandma showed her how to stay tough in a male-dominated industry.
Growing up on a small farm in Iowa, Tara learned how to be a cowboy from her biggest inspiration, her father. Her work on a feedlot in Oklahoma with over 80,000 head of cattle allows her to do what she loves every single day: be the cowboy she was born to be. This former agriculture teacher’s motivation to appear on the show is to prove that women are just as much cowboys as men.