This cowgirl has made rodeo her life and has the broken bones to prove it.
For 51 years, Jan Youren lived life six seconds at a time, making the rounds in women’s professional
rodeo competition. Barely two years out of the spotlight now, at age 63, the world champion rough-stock rider and Cowgirl Hall of Famer challenges other women to heed the call and reach outside the limits.
MY DADDY, STERLING B. ALLEY, was my idol growing up. He was the toughest man I ever knew. Anything dad did, I had to try. I was 11 years old when he entered me in Idaho’s first, full, all-girls rodeo. Dad produced it and entered me in every event—bareback; cow riding, because at that time we didn’t ride bulls; calf roping; ribbon roping and barrel racing. At the time, I’d never ridden a bareback horse or even seen a barrel race.
ABOUT THE SECOND JUMP OUT, Bashful Boy propped me back and threw me. Dad’s version of it was that he threw me so high the birds built a nest in my pocket before I hit the ground. I know this: When I came down, I plowed a furrow facedown in the dirt and you could’ve planted potatoes in it. Dad thought that’d take it out of me, but it didn’t.
I’VE NEVER DONE DRUGS, but I’m positive there’s not a drug in the world that could give you a better high than bareback riding. I’d like to say it’s not addictive, but after bucking out for 51 years, I’m not sure anyone would believe me.
I NEVER LIKED GLOVES, still don’t. I rode for 13 years without them but, at one point, I decided thin, leather ladies gloves were what I needed to keep the bull rope from tearing the palms out of my hands. So, mother and I went to a Boise, Idaho, department store to try some. As I was sorting through the box of gloves the saleswoman had set out, my mother thought she’d explain why I was being so particular. “She wants them for riding bulls,” my mother told the saleswoman. You should’ve seen that woman’s face. She grabbed that box of gloves, set them back behind the counter and said, “Our gloves are not for that.”
PEOPLE THOUGHT I’D NEVER BE ABLE TO HAVE ANY CHILDREN. I was 41 when my last one was born. I rode until I was five months pregnant with him—his balance was super. I was well in the lead at the time, but I figured I’d better quit because I was looking more pregnant than fat. That was the only Professional Women’s Rodeo Association finals I ever missed.
I RAISED A WHOLE BUNCH OF RODEO BRATS, but you know what—they’re darn good kids. They went with me most of the time. They were always busy, so they never had time to get in trouble. I have eight children, and my husband, Jim, has eight children. Together, we have 61 grandkids and 20 great-grandkids. They haven’t all been world champions in rodeo—although most of my kids were—but they all excel somewhere, every one of them. I’m not trying to pat myself on the back, but I think it has a lot to do with the way I was raised and the way I raised my kids. If you want something, you have to learn to work for it.
SOME USED TO THINK WOMEN’S RODEO was nothing but a bunch of girls trying to be men. Trouble was, there was quite a few of them like that. But, none lasted very long. The strength comes from within. If you have to act tough on the outside, chances are you probably aren’t.
IT’S EASIER TO REMEMBER THE BONES I HAVEN’T BROKEN: both my legs and one rib. Other than that, I’ve broken most all the rest, including my back and neck, my nose 14 times, and my cheekbone eight times. When I tell everyone I used to be good-looking, they all just laugh.
COWGIRL SPIRIT MEANS HAVING THE GUTS to reach for it, whatever “it” might be. It’s going outside of the regular limits of what goes on around you, to reach for what you want to be and do what you want to do. As far as I’m concerned, I was darn lucky to win anything. I was doing what I wanted to do and having fun at it. So, I’d better not rest on my laurels too hard.
I HAVE SISTERS THAT SEW AND DO LEATHERWORK, but I never had any of those talents. The only thing I’ve been any good at is raising kids and riding broncs.
This article was originally published in the August 2007 issue of Western Horseman.