Some of the most richly inspiring tales of courage belong to the women that traveled and settled in the American west in the mid-to-late 1800s.
Their journey west demanded courage because it was so ripe with change.
Moving west was a major change in lifestyle for these women. Being on the trail meant the end of confinement to the home. In this unprecedented freedom, a woman learned new skills, developed her resourcefulness, adapted to new surroundings, surrendered the comforts of what she knew, and accepted the uncertainty of road ahead.
The call for courage was then what it is now: an invitation. The one thing we can be certain of in life is change. With change, we flow or resist. Courage beckons, “Come forth! She who bravely dares!”
Though life has transformed in the last 150 years, our inner journeys now aren’t so different from the earliest cowgirls.
The changes we face ask each of us to learn, grow, adapt, surrender, accept and trust. Our journeys “west” are the present day adventures before us – the ones of beginnings and endings; the twisting and turning plot developments.
We possess the freedom to back away and resist change in our lives just as much as we can elect to embrace the invitation to live courageously, as so many of our early sisters did.
Three of the many heroic qualities early cowgirls embodied are available to you in this moment. Each a gentle tool to better move with life and saddle up with courage.
1. Self Empowerment. The motto of the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas is: “Always saddle your own horse,” which is a quote from legendary cowgirl Connie Reeves.
Cowgirls are their own authority. While the original cowgirls’ experiences varied, the attitude of each woman no doubt played a role in determining what she made of her circumstances and how she experienced life. Some saw opportunity and promise while others saw only defeat and discomfort.
Self-empowerment is choice ownership. It is the decided upon placement of power. Each moment we are free to choose how we experience life. Where do we place our power?
Resolve to be convicted in faith and confidence. Inward conviction is the catalyst for creativity. It opens the doors of love and silences the illusory walls of fear.
2. Sense of Adventure: Fanny Sperry Steele, Bucking Horse Champion of the World in 1912 and 1913 wrote:
“I lived when I wanted to, the way I wanted to, and that is saying a lot for one mortal. I was born March 27, 1887 on a horse ranch at the foot of Bear Tooth Mountain north of Helena, Montana, and if there is a horse in the zodiac then I am sure I must have been born under its sign, for the horse has shaped and determined my whole way of life. Perhaps it is odd that a woman should be born with an all-consuming love of horseflesh, but I have never thought it so. It seems to me as normal as breathing air or drinking water, that the biggest thing on my horizon has been the four-legged critter with mane and tail. If there are not horses in heaven, I do not want to go there. But I believe there will be…for God loved them or He would not have created them with such majesty. How can I explain to dainty, delicate women what it is like to climb down a rodeo chute onto the back of a wild horse? How can I tell them it is a challenge that lies deep in the bones? Now that I am what young people consider an old woman, and I look back at my life, I can truthfully say that if I had it all to do over again, I would live it exactly the same. From such a statement you gather that I have liked it. I have loved it, every single wonderful, suffering, exhilarating, damned, blessed moment of it. And if, with my present arthritis, I must pay the price for every bronco ride that I have ever made, then I pay for it gladly. Pain is not too great a price to pay for the freedom of the saddle and a horse between the legs.”
If we wish to love all of life – the ups and downs – a sense of adventure is required. Seeing not just the big things, but day to day life as an adventure and yourself as the hero of your own story. This is your journey – make it one worth living.
3. The Divine Feminine/Body Connection: From the beginning, cowgirls were intimately connected to the earth. Making their way westward, they lived according to the earth’s cycles, climate, conditions, and inhabitants. Many women gave birth on the trail, raised their children there, and were also responsible for caring for young livestock. I imagine this created a profound connection between these women and wilderness, animals, and their own bodies.
Our bodies are great guides and muses. Often they show us patterns, emotions, or beliefs we may be holding. The signs may be subtle or physical symptoms great – calling us to tune in, connect, listen, and direct our attention.
This is what embodied experience offers the modern day cowgirl: greater awareness – a pathway to creatively experience the inner and outer worlds. To come to the point where inner and outer are one. Harnessing the power of seeing the world as a reflection.
The better we care for our bodies – treating them with kindness, exercising, nourishing them with healthy food, resting, breathing – the better able we are to be who we want to be in the world. The more we show ourselves love and care, the more we love and care for all around us.
The Cowgirl Way
Let us draw upon the strength of those that have gone before so that their adventures, challenges, and triumphs teach and inspire. If we accept life’s invitation to be courageous, we too shall be rewarded with broadened horizons, deeper understanding, and more impassioned lives.
May we live with the spirit as the spirit lives in us.