Women of the American West: Pursuing Excellence

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The glint in her eyes mixed with the afternoon sun lulls us in before a quick shift in the saddle flaunts her message: a woman with a Cowgirl Spirit can stretch, bend, and break the rules society lays at her feet.

The whisper of the wind matches the cadence of her gallop.  Her light laughter trails off, leaving us cowboys choking in a cloud of dust. Nothing can get our hearts beating faster.

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The power of the Women of the American West is no myth, it is a beautiful reality and I pity any man who believes otherwise.

There is an old cowboy saying, “polishing your pants on saddle leather don’t make you a rider…” with its roots in the notion expertise comes from putting in quality time to master an art.  Pursuing excellence to shine above the rest describes the Cowgirl Spirit of these women; the confidence and humility are traits rarely discovered together.

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The Cowgirl Spirit is found around the globe. A woman who utilizes her strengths with the confidence to pursue life, and the admiration of men who are secure enough to understand embracing the power of such women will move them up to a higher level.

Equality. The quality of two beings, untapped potential when repressed, becoming a powerful, united force when free.

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Freedom for women around the world, the Cowgirl Spirit has a long ride ahead, but the excellence in which they ride ensures their success.

Watching the grace of these cowgirls competing on horseback is a perfect analogy to how a woman’s power does not diminish a man’s. Rather when embraced, it magnifies them both. Barrel racing at the Pendleton Round-Up is one of the most popular and watched events, making a great rodeo even better.

The eyes of every cowboy and the world are glued to such poetry in motion…

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There is strength in equality, strength in balance, strength in the men who recognize the importance of a spirited woman by their side. True cowboys who understand such a woman opens up aspects of a man’s character that he alone is unable to grasp.

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A secure man will pursue the true quality of a woman, one with a Cowgirl Spirit, giving her room to grow as he is confident enough to understand the balance of equality will make him a better man, make his surroundings a better place.

“Equality is not a concept. It’s not something we should be striving for. It’s a necessity. Equality is like gravity….”   – Joss Whedon

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Equality of women creates vibrancy in life. Sharing strengths without insecurities, both men and women evolve and new ideas and freedoms are generated. Society thrives.

Inequality of women stifles creativity. Insecure and weak men develop brash and destructive egos. Stunted growth rots the potential of a community. There are places around the world that echo such imbalance; stagnant, repressive societies with paralyzed minds and a paralyzed future for their children.

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The desire lies in the Cowgirl Spirit, and the worthy men who seek such women to create unity. Balanced individuals grow and progress, triggering society to follow suit as well. This is the hope for the world.

It is possible, the myth of the ‘weaker sex’ was created by the innate skill women have in ciphering through the bullshit of man’s ego and pride. Lesser men fear these resilient women, exploding with ego as their insecurities grow, overcompensating and crippling those around them.

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One of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had is being half-a-world away, yet still able to draw strength from the important women in my life. Women, past and present, have helped form part of my character. Character incomplete without learning and accepting the power of equality, unlocking the heart of potential.

These women act as a mirror, reflecting strength in areas men lack. The Cowgirl Spirit brings perspective, a different view when listened to, and greater results when put into action.

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Acknowledging someone’s ability does not diminish your own, instead it can strengthen. This is achieving balance. Do not fear the power of women, instead embrace it, and embrace her.

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Women with the Cowgirl Spirit have a sensuality that is second to none.  Their confidence to give as good as they get, show an authenticity seldom seen.  An authentic woman creates the authentic man, allowing evolution to continue.

Without such women, men will never be able to grasp all life can offer. It is important to realize, in many ways, us men would remain our basic, cavemen selves.

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The silent confidence of a Woman of the West never ceases to impress and humble me. It is a supreme confidence.

Time is short. Never Stop. Never stop pursuing excellence.

The Cowgirl Spirit balances the secure, authentic Cowboy Spirit. Strength added to strength, creating opportunities that otherwise would remain hidden. Such spirit is present every year in September at the Pendleton Round-Up. Keep up the pursuit.

Let’er Buck!

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247 Comments on “Women of the American West: Pursuing Excellence

  1. A great essay Randall, and beautiful stop-action photography. A call for equality for women – for everyone. Nicely done, as always.

    • Thank you Ron, and yes ~ a call for equality in all areas of life. As with the women on their horses, such cooperation can achieve incredible things.

  2. Powerful words and images.Have you ever considered writing a book?You have experience,empathy and imagination.

    • Thank you, Sidran ~ very nice compliment. I think my surroundings and work have allowed for my imagination to run wild and from this, experience and empathy followed. Seeing the women ride like they do here can inspire any photographer or writer 🙂 Enjoy the final days of summer, take care.

      • May you stay inspired always and light up the lives of others. Thank you.

  3. Excellent post that ties the American dream together with genger equality in a fascinating way. I bet those cowgirls could give any cowboy a run for his money, Randall… and some. 😀

  4. Excellent article and great pictures, thank you for taking of your time to post them.

  5. Another brilliant post, great photographs. Acknowledging someone’s ability does not diminish your own – should be every woman’s motto to do openly 👍🏻 it’s certainly something I try to do all the time but it can be met with suspicion.

    • There’s often power in numbers, and definitely so when it comes to the many different levels of equality ~ thank you Charlotte, and wishing you a great time back in London.

  6. Wonderful images and reflection! I wish to see this event someday, amazing to see the women did amazing action like this ❤ inspiring!

    • Thank you Indah, there is such a dynamic part of the rodeo ~ in a way keepers of the past and way of life of the American west, and then the time and talent needed to do what they do. Very inspiring scenes, and hopefully you get to taste this great piece of Americana 🙂

  7. Love these dynamic action shots of true cowgirls Randall! The spirit is huge … And I love how you embrace female power without being afraid of dominance. It is the yin and yang of life that somehow finds its balance. I know may powerful yang women with supportive yin men. They make a great combination 💕
    Great share! Safe travels on wherever the camera takes you next. xo

    • Growing up with three great sisters, in many ways there was no choice but to find the balance 🙂 Thank you Val, you are right, the concept of Yin and Yang is the perfect representation of how combination and balance can create opportunities to grow and evolve ~ both are better off.

  8. Love this. Great photos. Brings back a lot of memories from horse days in my youth.

    • Thank you, and looking forward to hearing about you getting back on the horse again Timothy ~ memories are great, getting ready to make new ones even better. Take care and hope you enjoy the weekend ~

  9. Perfect union of pictures and words, Randall. Hats off to your understanding of the uncompromising need for equality, and the sheer power and beauty of a strong woman. We hold up “Half the Sky.”

    • Yes, and at times I think you hold up the heaviest half 🙂 Thank you and it seems that humans will eventually evolve to a point where equality is understood to be an absolute necessity for progress.

  10. Nice collection of photos and and a nice essay to go with them!

  11. Randall, another collection of Wows .. You have captured perfectly the motion and perfect control in the saddle.. As Cowgirl and horse ride as ONE in unison.. You can feel the love of both the rider and the horse in its gallop..
    Always your narration is a joy to read..
    And your paragraph about equality and the ‘weaker sex’ spot on when you said “Lesser men fear these resilient women, exploding with ego as their insecurities grow, overcompensating and crippling those around them.”…
    🙂 So loved pouring over these photo’s as I enjoyed the energy and sheer joy of the race .. You could almost hear the pounding of the hooves and taste the dust as it flew up…
    What a joy to read and view Randall..
    Thank you my friend for sharing such delights and excellent thoughts..
    Enjoy your weekend..
    Sue 🙂 x

    • The beauty of the rider & horse melding into one is what astonishing me every year at the Round-Up ~ and it seems to showcase the brilliance of accepting power from two beings to create something greater. There is energy created in understanding and accepting equality. Wishing you a great weekend Sue, thank you.

  12. I wished your words and fotographs would reach the and hearts of the young men who came to Gernany and other european countries from the Middle East, Asia and Africa transporting with them just the opposite idea of what women are and in their eyes should be, and acting this idea out to the detriment of women living in Europe and Germany.

    • There are areas in this world that preach thought I could never in my life comprehend, and I imagine the damage it does to their children ~ much of what we see when cultures collide. There are many great men from these areas (who are brave enough to stand up for what is right and what they believe in), and then there are the cowards who laze in the stagnant, decaying society and thought. The opposite of what it means to live a life. Equality is essential. “Equality is like gravity. We need it to stand on this earth as men and women. And the misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition. It is life out of balance, and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and woman who is confronted with it.” – Joss Whedon

  13. WOW! wonderful images and the expressions…i feel the speed and energy…the lovely little girl hanging on the gate…is very telling! Super post Randall 😀

    • The energy of these riders is amazing, and it is great to see the little girls flock to these riders and in their eyes they hold those great dreams of doing something similar ~ thank you, Hedy, wishing you the best.

      • oh yes…i understand…i have a horse daughter…sending you joy Randall…look forward to your next series and beautiful photography.

  14. You set such a fine example for men to follow, Randall. Acceptance of a strong woman is a fearsome act for so many men, yet if they but understood what they are refusing to embrace, they would cry. How this world needs equality of all and a balance in the male ego! Your photography is stunning, exemplary, leaving the viewer’s jaw dropping. At least mine did. How you were able to capture a woman’s face with such perfection bringing a racing face into a frame of stillness, is totally beyond me. A super fast eye and an even faster finger! I applaud you, for your efforts seen here. Incredible post, powerful in all respects. Thank you SO much for working so hard and then showing us your results. Your thougths are classic and should be shouted from all tall buildings and mountain tops. Gorgeous gorgeous post!!! ❤

    • The world indeed needs to understand the balance and increase of energy/potential with equality…perhaps a long way to go, but it is great to see equality coming into balance in places around the world. Strong women, such as these amazing cowgirls, being the catalyst as their talents simply cannot be ignored. Also, quite intoxicating to watch ~ the grace along with the confidence is a strong mix. Thank you very much Amy, and wishing you a great end to the summer.

  15. Brilliant action-shots all, Randall, especially the pic of visible determination of the woman with bandana tied around her head. It would seem to state the whole story that finds visual elaboration in remaining shots conveying heady mix of feminine grace and equestrianism. Gender balance is sure to make its expanded presence in all fields availing of equality of opportunities. In India, the first group of women fighter pilots was recently inducted into the Indian Air Force. A few months earlier, the country soared towards new frontier in civil aviation when Air India’s non-stop flight with full complement of passengers from New Delhi to New York was flown by an all-women crew (women cabin crew and women pilots) in commemoration of International Women’s Day.

    • Feminine grace and equestrianism ~ that would be a perfect title for this piece. Thank you Rajagopal, I do think humans will always continue to evolve, with some blips here and there, and equality and balance will eventually be achieved. Until then, there will be more great stories of these cowgirls, women pilots (what a great story that is ~ hope to fly an Air India flight on my next trip there), and achievements of women all around the world.

  16. Such a wonderful tribute to strong and confident women all over the world Randall. And for the men who is confident enough to encourage equality and embrace the power of woman. A beautiful essay and I truly appreciated it.

    • Thank you, Inger, these women types of women around the globe definitely make the world go round 🙂 Wishing you a great finish to you summer.

  17. WOW; these action shots are simply superb!! Michael Schumacher’s wife is a passionate cow girl and she gave it a face in Germany, but I have never seen a rodeo presented like this. This post is so vibrant and pulsating I can smell and hear what is going on, the energy of the horses and the riders are downright spectacular. Wonderful narrative as always, Randall. Heartwarming work! ❤

    • I did not know this about Michael Shumacher’s wife ~ fantastic. Makes me admire the Shumaker’s that much more 🙂 There is something about the smell of the fields, horses and earth of the countryside that makes it a place like no other. One of my favorite moments is when I drive back to my hometown and roll down the windows and let the sweet smell welcome me back. Thank you very much, Dina ~ wishing you all a terrific finish to the summer season.

  18. You can never underestimate women…. both of their strength and their weakness…. because they can easily turn those two around and surprise you. I love seeing this now after your first rodeo life post you had earlier.

    • Rommel, no truer words were ever spoken (or written) 🙂 There is something special about seeing the rodeo life and the great people who make it so. Cheers to a great day.

    • Thank you, Kamila, shooting such action was a photographer’s dream. Wish you safe travels!

  19. I love this post ! Showing all these strong but elegant women. I love the action shots, these are just amazing 🙂 You could have been the one taking this picture of usain bolt smiling when running 😉

    • Seeing something special with the way these women ride is something else, and you say it well, ‘strong and elegant.’ It was a lot of fun being able to shoot them all in action, although I wish I would have also taken more photos of spectators enjoying the scene…maybe next time! Wish you great travels!

      • It’s difficult to take pictures of everything and the documentary you made is far more interesting than the people I think. Thank you!

  20. Breathtaking action pictures that makes me ride the wind with a horse, if only I remained young physically. With your writing, cowgirls can be anybody that you describe. Truly you said it well, one does not lose ones identity by embracing another person but strengthens and expands ones nature. Randall, thank you. Perpetua

    • There are not many feelings as great as “riding on the wind” with the power and majesty a horse can provide, and these women demonstrated this art to perfection like very few can. Embracing the differences, the strengths and well as weaknesses will make us all better ~ wishing you a great day ahead Perpetua, thank you!

  21. Impressive photos and interesting photo-essay as usual, Randall. I think these women sure are skillful and admirable.

  22. Randall wow! these images are so special I just want to look at them over and over, they do look strong and powerful. The movement is captivating too. The horses frozen in time for me to admire. Such magnificent story telling through the lens and with your words.

    • These images do portray a very active and progressive way to life ~ I’m always amazed at the number of inspiring people in the world. Thank you Kath and wish you a great start to autumn.

  23. Beautiful photos, beautiful women, beautiful words. I definitely agree with the call for equality, not supremacy on either side. Excellent job.

    • Thank you, Vinny, improving and striving to reach a higher level of cooperation is where equality shines, where it can inspire. I think when people begin believing in supremacy, whether in politics, gender, race, religion, etc., things begin to stagnant and frustration takes over where inspiration should be thriving and things begin to fall apart.

  24. BRAVO! You know you had me at the title. So many things I love about this thoughtful piece:

    “the confidence and humility are traits rarely discovered together.”

    Exactly. Cockiness is not confidence. You just might be the first man I’ve heard dissect the broader (societal) repercussions of chauvinistic dominance, R. In fact, you make me doubly glad I did not marry someone back in my 20s. It is difficult, though, for men to grasp that there is plenty of room in this world for the grooming of women’s gifts. I love the photo of the little girl juxtaposed above that of the cowgirl. Imagine the kind of world opened to her from such an age and growing up knowing nothing is out of her reach. I happened to be wrapping up Circling the Sun by McLain, a novel based on the true life of Beryl Markham, the first woman to cross the Atlantic East to West in the early days of aviation. It is beautiful writing I think you’ll appreciate, and there is much of her love of and skill with horses, too. Your post came at just the time for me because there are some incredible descriptions of horse racing. One of the women she befriends in the story is the one who wrote her own side of the story, Out of Africa under a pen name.

    • Glad the title caught your attention, somehow it does not surprise me at all 🙂 There seems to be a greater shift in areas around the world in terms of equality, and the impressive results of inspiration and growth when a greater balance is reached. To achieve this, I think the quote you highlighted is the key (for all sides), as it leads to better understanding.

      I’m amazed at your comment about the photo of the little girl juxtaposed above the image of the cowgirl (the Round-Up Queen), as it was a very conscious decision on my part. The little girl is the granddaughter of an ex-Round-Up Queen and she was so captivated by these cowgirls ~ one day I see here following her dreams, and perhaps in this very area on horseback or any other great opportunities she will have in front of her. I read this line of yours several times with a smile. Thank you very much, D., and I’ll have to check out Circling the Sun. Take care and enjoy the weekend.

  25. These are all wonderful, detailed and beautiful images with such great writing too!! I think my favourite is the last image for the sense of movement and the muted tones you gave it. Although I do love the colorful ones very much too. What a great thing to be at a horse show!! I love horses and as a kid used to draw them…many, many moons ago.

    • Thank you, Judy, there is nothing quite like the fluid movements of a horse and rider ~ and it is always difficult to try to achieve such a feeling with photography, so panning and/or dragging the shutter was an option that worked at times. Such fun shooting these incredible women and their horses…

  26. This is reminiscent of the Dalo I first began reading, Mr. Collis. Your heart revealed the window into your passion for effort and all things beautiful, seen and unseen. (Like magic you transport us inside an amazing mind.) What a view. I love how easily you write of strength once it is in your sights. May you take that effort and use it to shine a light all over this world. I’ll be watching. You inspire me. Thanks for taking me to the rodeo, Photographer. Hugs.

    • Thank you, Audrey ~ there are things in life that we can all see and witness which makes it easier to see strength in people. I guess seeing this in others then makes it easier to find it within yourself – to find the balance I suppose. Either way, finding and clicking with good people makes life a lot of fun 🙂 Wishing you the best Auddie, and enjoy the coming autumn.

  27. That is a great collection of images. I really like the top photo and the panning images. That had to be fun to shoot.

    • Thanks, Jeff, the panning images were real fun to shoot ~ there were so many different views and shots, each with its own quality. Nothing quite like adding movement with photography. Cheers ~

  28. Seriously badass! Respect and admiration all the way!


    • Thank you very much ~ the Pendleton Round-Up is heaven for photographers and just for enjoyment of life as well 🙂

  29. Beautiful tribute and stunning photography, Randall. The women of American West are amazing. They excel in traditionally male dominated pursuits, cook a dinner for a sick neighbor, and raise their children to be good people. A man and a woman were never intended to be competitors but equal partners without any of whom this world wouldn’t be complete.

    • They are amazing, the history of their struggles (as with all pioneers) on the frontier is impressive. And I could not agree more with the importance of women and men working together (yin and yang) to complete who we are. Thank you Inese, and wish you a great day.

  30. Hi there, once again I’m late to the party, but WordPress is forgiving (I know you are, too), and allows me to get here when I can. I love your concept, and emphasis on sharing and acknowledging strength rather than shutting it down, something you’ve done brilliantly with these photos. Such a great balance between in and out of focus, to show the motion as well as the grit and determination of these terrific women!

    • I’m always late to the party these days 🙂 Head off to China on Saturday for a good 3-4 weeks with limited internet…kind of nice! You picked up on one of the most difficult things I think we all (men & women) struggle with, and that is “sharing and acknowledging strength rather than shutting it down” ~ overall, I think the more developed we are as a society the more we understand this necessary balance of acknowledging strengths. These cowgirls were something else 🙂 Thank you Lynn ~

      • Now I’m wondering where in China…kind of a big map, that one. Speaking of acknowledging strengths, what a surprise at the end of the debate last night. Somehow I sat through almost the whole thing but I always get a bad feeling after these debates. I’m glad that one man’s question was squeezed in. Hope you don’t feel like you have to do too much explaining while you’re out of the country! Enjoy the digidowntime….

  31. What a powerful report !!!! The photos are fantastic in their movement and show the other hand how hard it is to keep the balance …… even if it looks easy, but that’s years of training. The picture from the indian woman is my absolute favorite. The view from her eyes are unique. I don’t know that life, these women who ride so fantastic, but I can feel the energy.

    • These women are amazing ~ all the practice time on the horse, and then also I think it is the love and care for the animals too that puts them over the top with success. The Indian woman is a great shot, and the local native tribes around Pendleton are amazing with horses…some of the best riders around! Thank you Limenaria.

  32. A lovely reminder to us all to cheer on and encourage excellence in others as we seek to pursue it ourselves. Thank you.

    • Thank you ~ and yes, I like this thought very much “to cheer on and encourage excellence in others as we seek to pursue it ourselves” as this is the spirit of the Round Up and most people I know. Wish you a great coming weekend.

  33. Authenticity, equality and respect. Core tenets of civility and humanity. As always, your words and sentiments nail it, Randy.

  34. Another great, thought-provoking post, Randall. I read it a while back, but have only now found the time to comment properly. I am blessed—blessed to live in a country, family and community where I can say that my experiences with the men in my life have been largely positive; so much so that gender is a non-issue in my world—something I haven’t had to think about much as it pertains to my life. I’ve certainly come across people whom I haven’t clicked with, but it generally hasn’t been a gender issue. I am keenly aware that this is not the experience of many women, but it is my dream that gender becomes a non-issue for all the women and men of the world. Acceptance or, even better, appreciation of the value and beauty of diversity and differences is the answer to so many of our world”s issues. I know this will sound trite, but love is always the answer, isn’t it? Thank you for sharing your thoughts—a call for all to be treated with respect which hopefully evolves into an understanding of and appreciation for the unique gifts each of us living on this big blue planet have to offer this world. ~ Jeannie

  35. Never thought about women at the rodeo till now. Great pics and a great read too. The portrait of the Native American girl is my favorite.

    • Thank you, it really has become one of the highlights at the Pendleton Round-Up ~ fast, quick and all with such grace.

  36. ‘Equality is like gravity’ how words can make things appear differently, beautifully expressed.

  37. Excellent post! This post shows how strong,capable & inspiring women are 🙂 More power to you 🙂

    • Thank you Niyati ~ I think it is a sentiment that is gaining strength around the world 🙂

  38. “Inequality of women stifles creativity. Insecure and weak men develop brash and destructive egos. Stunted growth rots the potential of a community.”

    Truer words never spoken. Great photo essay!

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