Bonus: Read to the end for Wylene’s photo gallery and video!
Literature, artwork, and film have done a good job at romanticizing the history of cowgirls. But in modern times, being called a cowgirl is so much more than images of women working the land, stories of building homes in uncharted territory, and movies portraying caricatures of historical folk heroes shooting guns or riding horses in rodeo shows.
To continue our celebration of Women’s History Month, Western Legends Round-Up spoke to champion horse rider and clinician Wylene Wilson-Davis, as she was driving through Oklahoma hill country, about what it means to be a modern cowgirl.
Q: So what exactly is a Modern Cowgirl? How would you define the term?
Wylene: A modern cowgirl has spirit, spunk, and style. She loves animals, connects with nature, and works hard to preserve the Western way of life. More than anything, she embraces her character, meaning she values hard work, integrity, and humility. [She] appreciates a good work ethic.
She isn’t afraid of work. But more than anything, there is a quality to her work. She isn’t interested in the romanticized version of herself. She craves reality–the blisters, the bruises, the bloody scars. It’s about having a passion for life and channeling that passion into whatever you do.
Cowgirls don’t just deal with livestock or horses, either. Our passion is in everything we do. We are moms; we are doctors; we are teachers; we are judges; we are cooks; we are horse clinicians like myself. We do it all. But we do it with a spirit and quality unique to our characters.
Q: Recently, there were new names inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame and Museum in Texas. Some were chefs who took their recipes to a new level of excellence. And, of course, we also read about highly recognized people like Temple Grandin who changed the beef industry. These women seem to carry on the pioneer spirit but in specific fields of employment and industry.
Wylene: Yes. A modern cowgirl is about making a difference. We champion breaking the stereotypes. We’re more about paying it forward. For some, that might be through cooking. For others, that might be through more traditional activities.
Q: Traditional, such as?
Wylene: Like what you expect to see at a rodeo such as cowboy-mounted shooting when you shoot various mounted objects. Then you have barrel racing and cowboy racing where you have to ride around different obstacles in order to showcase your horsemanship.
You also have people, like me, who train and rehabilitate horses. But I wouldn’t define myself as the commercialized rodeo queen. I specialize in problem horses. And when my husband and I are riding, we’re working the horse the entire time. It’s not like going to a show.
Q: What are a few things you wish people would understand about being a modern cowgirl?
Wylene: I would love for them to understand that we are role models. We love to laugh; we love to learn. We also know how to appreciate life and live in the moment. A lot of being a cowgirl is about being present because in a moment, your life can change. Probably more than anything, I want people to understand that your passions can be shared through your gifts. We all have talents. There is power in the gifts we share.
Q: Some of our Western Legends’ readers might like to know how much of a role does fashion play into the characterization of being a cowgirl?
Wylene: It all depends on the cowgirl. There are some fashion forward women who love to dress up. Then there are some who prefer more traditional attire with the wranglers and lace up boots. You also see some women who prefer a more buckaroo style with flat rimmed hats and shot gun chaps–we call this being punchy. A punchy outfit has a more rough vibe.
But then you meet women who are a lot more feminine. They might wear lace and leather. It doesn’t mean, however, that any of these women are less of a cowgirl than someone dressed in jeans and a long button down shirt.
Q: Are there people who see clothes, like the hat and boots, as a costume? Do they seem to think that if you put these items on, you’re immediately transformed into someone from the Old West?
Wylene: I once had someone ask me if I was wearing my uniform. What people need to understand is that a lot of the clothes cowgirls wear are out of necessity because if you don’t wear long shirts or jeans, you will get shredded by briars and thorns.
Being a cowgirl is definitely more than putting on skinny jeans, boots, and listening to country music. The cowgirl lifestyle is about facing challenges and doing hard things. It’s tough, but we enjoy the reward that comes from working. It’s more than an idea or image.
To be a cowgirl today encompasses all facets of society. In many ways, today’s cowgirl is as much of a pioneer as her early ancestors. She is fierce, but soft. She enjoys the challenges of what some might deem traditional masculine work, yet she still embodies femininity at its finest.
We thank Wylene for her insights into this special group of women. And we ask: do you have passion? Do you love hard work? Do you want to make a difference? Do you feel a connection with nature? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, then you understand what it means to be a modern day cowgirl.