More than just a cutter or a trainer’s wife, California horsewoman Janet Westfall has made a name for herself through dedication to her horses, cattle and family.
On any day, Janet Westfall could be loading the dishwasher, loping horses, paying bills or fixing up the ranch. Her variety of responsibilities comes with being married to cutting horse trainer Russ Westfall, and raising their 17-year-old son, Brandon.
The family lives in Los Olivos, California, and raises F1 tigerstripe cattle in addition to operating a successful training business. Though she’s been passionate about horses her entire life, she says the “brindle baldies” have taken over her heart.
Janet’s work ethic has led her to a successful record in the show pen. She is a member of the National Cutting Horse Association Non Pro Hall of Fame with earnings in excess of $1.3 million. In 2000, she won the NCHA Futurity non-pro reserve championship on CD Royal, a stallion still standing on the Westfalls’ ranch.
“I love projects,” says Janet, who enjoys renovating the ranch, which used to be a dairy farm. She has restored a cabin on their property with Old West furnishings and antiques, and it now hosts folks from the city wanting to experience cowboy life.
Though her plate is full managing cutting clients, horses and the vacation property, Janet makes her family top priority, and says she cherishes quiet time that allows her to appreciate their lifestyle.
I’m hardly ever without a hat. And you don’t ever see me without chinks on, either, if I’m riding a horse. If I’m showing, I’ll wear regular chaps, but if I’m riding I’m always in chinks. I can’t hardly ride without something on my legs. It’s become a habit.
I was born from a family that wasn’t horse people. I was a little girl that just loved horses. When it’s in your blood, it’s just there. That was the same for Russ, and we almost had identical upbringings with the horses. We both had ponies that we trained, and when we got a little older we traded them. It’s funny how we had super similar backgrounds.
I kept begging for a pony, but my parents didn’t want me to have one. They said, “How about we buy you one of those fake horses at the grocery store that you put a quarter in?” So, they bought me one of those first and I rode it all the time.
I got my own pony when I was about 7 for Christmas. Back then you could go to pony shows that were either 75 cents a class for the entry fee or $10 for the day.
Going to college, for me, was a waste of time. I would be listening to these lectures and doodling pictures of horses and saddles, anything to do with horses.
Russ rode over to me [at a cutting in the late 1980s] and said, “Hi! My name’s Russ Westfall. Are you married?” And I said, “Yeah, to that big guy right there on the buckskin horse.” Russ was smart and rode over to him and goes, “Hi, I’m Russ Westfall. Does your wife have a sister?”
Russ and I knew each other for about eight years. He was really good friends with my husband. Then one day my husband had a heart attack on the tractor and passed away. Russ was the third call I made because they were really close.
It was a year later, and we both were helping each other with horses and cattle. We both didn’t have anybody, but we were so close I didn’t want to mess up a great friendship. But it was meant to be. We’ve been married almost 21 years.
I’m diabetic. I’m proud of myself for being able to do what I do and manage it. Like [steer wrestler] Luke Branquinho, we both wear an insulin pump. A lot of times we’ll talk about what it’s like wearing a pump and doing what we do [for a living].
In the last three years I’ve gotten into Pilates. It makes me feel more athletic when I’m riding. It makes me strong.
Every day goes by so fast, and I hope that I appreciate these moments because someday I’m going to be too old to be doing what I’m doing.
This article was originally published in the February 2018 issue of Western Horseman magazine.