Women of the West - Mary Davis
Whether cooking, cleaning, branding calves or starting colts, this New Mexico cowgirl is driven by a love for horses, her family values and a clear sense of purpose.
Interview and photography by ROSS HECOX
When Mary Bailey married into the Davis family of the famous CS Cattle Company, she went from showing horses in Georgia to caring for cattle in New Mexico. All along she has continued raising and training versatile Quarter Horses. She and her husband, Warren, oversee the ranch's horse-breeding program, start colts, tend cattle and handle the numerous challenges that come with running a large family ranch.
I STARTED BREAKING COLTS when I was 12. Daddy always broke all the colts, but after he had his heart attack, he would just put me on and pony me around. That was how I started. I've been breaking them ever since. I rarely ride anything that I didn't break myself.
I TRAINED "FLASH" for Western riding. He was a natural. When he was playing in the pasture, he was always changing leads. He had never been beaten in Western riding until we showed at the [AQHA] World Show. I've never seen another colt just want to dance, as I call it. And I've never had a better partner.
MY DAD WAS AN AQHA judge for 30 years. And my mom and dad raised Quarter Horses. When I was in the 5th grade, Daddy came out to New Mexico to buy a stud colt that Alice Moore had raised. He and Alice partnered on the stud, so twice a year he was coming out here, hauling that stud. During that time he met the Davis family.
ONE YEAR HE TELLS ME he wants me to come with him. I did not want to go with him because I was a homebody. I showed horses and everything; I just didn't want to come on a useless trip. But he told me if I didn't like it I could fly back. We came through here to pick up the stud, and I met Warren out there on the highway. I knew the moment I laid eyes on him that he was the man I was going to marry.
WARREN MADE ME ROPE at my first branding. We had been writing letters back and forth, and visiting each other. I came out in May for their branding, and I'd never picked up a rope in my life. He had me practice on the sawhorse the night before. Talk about sweating bullets.
WHEN WE'RE BRANDING, I do all the cooking on this end of the ranch. I prepare it ahead of time, and then get it in the oven. Then I help the men do everything. I have to say I've learned a lot from Mrs. Linda [Warren's mother]. She would fix breakfast, have everything organized and ready to go in the oven, then she'd go work with us.
l'M SORRY, BUT YOU REALLY CAN'T be a cowgirl if you can't ride. And you'd need to have a basic knowledge of cattle, too.
WARREN'S SISTER, KIM, got Ray Hunt to come here. Then Tom Dorrance came for two years. It changed the way we did a lot of things. When Tom did something with a horse, it was the most beautiful thing you ever saw. But that man had something spiritual going on. He stayed in my house for a week to 10 days twice. The most peaceful human being I've ever come across.
FROM THE TIME I WAS 12 to the time I was 40, I had never had an accident with a horse, and very rarely was I bucked off. But in a short period of time, I had a horse fall and roll on top of me; had one throw me off, kick me and require knee surgery; and then another horse fell and broke my ankle. I have a plate and six screws in that. And then I got horned by a cow. Warren prays for me like my dad used to: "Dear Lord, please take care of Mary and don't let her get hurt."
LAYING A HORSE DOWN is amazing. It will take that panic away. So I teach my horses to lay down. If I start feeling them getting tight, before they buck I'll pull up a foot and lay them down, right out there in the pasture.
I HAVE A LITTLE PALOMINO. I think he's one of the finest ranch horses I've ever ridden. He can really stop and turn around, he does not like to be schooled. And if he gets a little mad at you, he goes from being pretty smooth to the roughest horse on the face of the earth.
THIS IS WHERE l'M SUPPOSED TO BE. So, from the start I knew in my heart I was supposed to be with Warren. I immediately loved this place and this family. I never thought I didn't belong. I think that's blessed assurance. The Lord gives you that.
ONE OF THE GREATEST THINGS about ranching is you have the opportunity to be with family. We have strong family ties.
l'VE COME TO THE POINT where I have to do the best I can do and not be ashamed of it. I always want to be better, but sometimes you're never going to be as good as you want to be. You have to come to peace with that.
I DON'T WEAR RED·TOP BOOTS. I've always worn my pants in my boots, before I ever came here. But there was a person who wanted to be a cowgirl, who could not ride, and I always saw her with red-top boots. So I will not wear them. There's women who just like to dress the part. That shows you how I am. Isn't that terrible?
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