Tammy Pate found her calling uniting creative cowgirls and celebrating their spirit.
Last August, high atop a mountain on the 63 Ranch outside of Livingston, Montana, Tammy Pate rode her red-roan Quarter Horse, Smoken Lights (“Smoke”), around the lush pasture, warming up for a photo-shoot for the Women of the West article featured the December 2020 issue of Western Horseman. She stopped at different overlooks, rubbing her horse’s neck, taking a deep breath and admiring the 365-degree views.
After a week of being pulled in different directions and bringing together several hard-working cowgirls, including her daughter, Mesa Pate, for photo-shoots to gather images for Art of the Cowgirl, an event and fellowship program she founded, Pate’s soft smile, willing attitude and solidarity in the saddle hadn’t wavered one bit.
Just 14 months earlier, Pate’s life was rocked when she was diagnosed with stage-four breast cancer that had metastasized to her kidneys, pelvis and bones. Doctors estimated she had five years to live. Armed with information and research and the support of her oncologist, Pate treated herself with fenbendazole dewormer. A year later, Pate was cancer-free, riding and planning her second-annual Art of the Cowgirl event, which draws cowgirls and cowboys from all over the world to celebrate the horsemanship, heritage and artistry of women in the Western industry.
The fifth generation of her family to be involved in ranching and the Western lifestyle, Pate is proud of her family’s heritage and strives to preserve traditional Western trades and traditions. Here, she reflects on her life’s path and how it led the creation of the event, which raises funds for a fellowship program that encourages ranch women like Pate to pursue their dreams of being horsewomen, artists and makers.
My dad, Gordon Clark, was a bulldogger and he put me on a horse when I was a week old. He and my mom, Shirley, went to a rodeo in Texas right after I was born.
My Grandma Betty taught me to cook, sew, paint and ride. I remember in the spring we couldn’t wait for the crocus to come up. She would talk about the colors of them and how the light on them. She saw things from an artistic perspective, even though she wasn’t a practicing artist. The reason I learned to build boots so quickly as an adult was because she had taught me how to sew and see seams and angles.
When I was 11 years old, my family bought me a horse named Friday. He was a 13-year-old pole bending horse that had “been there and done that” and was really fast. I won lots of saddles, buckles and all-around awards on him, but most of all, he gave me confidence. If it weren’t for Grandma Betty and Friday I wouldn’t be the horsewoman I am now.
I have two younger sisters and during the summer we stayed at home alone while our parents went to work. The rule was we could ride our horses anywhere we wanted to go, but we had to shut the gates. We’d get creative and paint our horses, and had fun just riding and playing with them. If we fell off we got back on. In my clinics today, I emphasize not only the importance of learning good horsemanship but also riding like a kid again.
My dad spent every minute he could coaching us on speed events in the arena. He set us up to succeed in life with the way he coached. He had us practice slowly but perfectly, and then we’d get to make one “rodeo” run. We’d analyze it and think about how to do better next time. He never let us throw fits if we didn’t do well. He always said, “Let whatever you do speak for you, and make friends with the best people in whatever you want to do.”
Curt and I married in January of 1987 and lived on his 40-acre place in Helena, Montana, and traveled around to rodeos he announced for about four years. Then we went to work on ranches and have done that or owned our own ranch ever since.
We’ve bought and sold a lot of places that were fixer-uppers. I love architecture and design, and going in and making a house my own. We’ve never had the money to build our own place, so we’ve made each place we’ve lived better than when we got there.
We’ve always lived a unique lifestyle ranching and traveling to Curt’s [horsemanship and later livestock-handling] clinics. I developed a skill for being flexible and adapting to different situations.
I wanted my own career and that’s why I started making boots, and that’s what Art of the Cowgirl has become for me. I’m blessed that Curt has always been able to provide for our family and my art could always be a creative outlet, rather than having to pay the bills.
My horse, Smoke, is not perfect, but I know where his mind is at all times. If I don’t try to keep his mind with me he’ll take over. Learning to read that and not ruin his day and still enjoy my day is what I find fun about horsemanship.
Curt is my teacher of horsemanship. I’ve learned so much from him and don’t believe there’s anyone who can read a colt better than he can. He just knows what they’re going to do and doesn’t take the life out of them. He used to watch Ray hunt videos over and over without sound so he could see what was happening rather than just listening.
I started doing yoga and horsemanship retreats about 15 years ago. I had just started practicing yoga and quickly connected it to horsemanship. They’re both about unity, balance, breath, awareness and being in the moment.
I began developing the concept for Art of the Cowgirl more than 10 years ago, but looking back it’s been inside me my whole life. I wanted to do something that combined art, horses and educational demonstrations. I finally found courage to do it when I was turned 50!
Some people think of Art of the Cowgirl as just an event and only for women, but it’s for men and women who appreciate the Western lifestyle. Our mission is to raise money to fund educational fellowships in Western trades and uniting master artists with students. I feel like I was put on Earth to connect people—it comes naturally to me.
Art of the Cowgirl helped save my life. When I was diagnosed with cancer I had to keep going and couldn’t slow down. If I hadn’t had the event to look forward to I might have dwelled more on my diagnosis.
I don’t know if I was born bull-headed or if I was raised to be that way, but I never felt as though there wasn’t something I couldn’t do. I truly believe things happen for a reason and prepare us for the next thing.
For more information on Art of the Cowgirl, which will be held January 13-17, 2021, in Queen Creek, Arizona, visit www.artofthecowgirl.com.
Read more about Pate in the December 2020 issue of Western Horseman.