Working with horses, mules, hounds and cow dogs, she says patience is the key to success, whether guiding hunts in Arizona or gathering cattle in New Mexico.
Dogs, cattle, horses and mules consume Missy Holmes’ life. Raised on a ranch in New Mexico, she spends her springs and summers cowboying near Roswell, New Mexico. During the fall and winter, she guides mountain lion hunts west of Flagstaff, Arizona.
When hunting, she prefers riding mules that deftly handle mountainous country. When she’s gathering cow-calf pairs, dragging calves to the fire or catching wild cattle, Holmes saddles up one of her horses.
She also has made a name for herself in ranch rodeos. When Holmes was married and worked for Singleton Ranches, she often competed with the men on the ranch’s team. She also rides in women’s ranch rodeos. She was named Top Hand at the 2014 Ranch Cowgirls Rodeo Association Finals, where her horse Twister (pictured) earned the Top Horse award.
MY DUN HORSE, I call him Twister. I got him when he was a weanling. He was just a little hairball. I didn’t know if he was going to amount to anything, but he’s won lots of top horse awards, and he’s helped me win top hand awards. I can count on him for anything. It doesn’t matter if you’re catching bulls or cows, or dragging calves. He never questions anything; just goes and does it.
MY DAD TOOK ME hunting with him all the time when I was 2 years old. He taught me how to weld, how to shoe my own horses. I was never treated like a girl. I was hoping when I was 8 or 10 that cattle and dogs would be part of my life. So I’ve been very fortunate and blessed.
IF I DIDN’T have people that trusted me and wanted me to help them, [this life] would probably be pretty tough.
YOU’VE GOT TO TREAT mules a little different [than horses]. They learn a lot faster, but they don’t forget. When you teach them something, you want them to learn it right the first time, because it can become a fight if you don’t.
I COWBOY ON MULES, too. But I’d rather ride a horse to go catch cattle. I just think they’re a little more surefooted when you’ve got to [rope livestock], and they can run a lot faster.
CATCHING WILD BULLS and cows takes a special type of horse, and you’ve got to trust the guys that are with you. If there’s horned cattle, horses can get gored. It can be total chaos, especially in rocky, rough country. You don’t know if a horse is going to fall with you or get jerked down.
I TIE ON AND DALLY [when roping]. If it’s country where your shots are going to be close and you’re in a lot of trees, I’ll tie on. You never know what’s going to happen. You get slammed into a tree once in a while, but that’s just part of it.
THERE ARE A LOT OF PEOPLE that don’t have patience with horses, and there are a lot of guys that are pretty rough on them. I think horses take time. They’re not going to learn something overnight.
I HAVE PATIENCE with dogs and horses and mules. But sometimes my patience with people is not very good.
I’VE GOT 14 DOGS. Five of them are cattle dogs, and the rest are my hounds that I hunt with. I take care of them, and they take care of me.
DOGS ARE AMAZING creatures. It doesn’t matter if you’re catching cattle or trailing a lion, it’s neat to watch a dog work a track, trying to figure out where everything’s gone.
A LOT OF TIMES we’re hunting depredation lions. In some areas they’re killing the bighorn sheep; other times they’re killing cattle. When I was with Singletons, I’d go help the neighbors if there was a problem lion killing calves or colts. And in other hunts, it’s not just about killing lions. You can’t take every female out because you’re not going to have kittens, and pretty soon the population will be gone. Females, even young toms, sometimes we’ll let them go.
IT TAKES MORE than being horseback to be a good hand. You’ve got to be a jack-of-all-trades and be willing to work hard. It doesn’t matter if it’s horseback or if you need to get off your horse and make yourself a hand pushing cattle up in a chute.
NOBODY HAS EVER JUDGED me for being a woman. Everybody has been really good to me. But it seems like if you keep your mouth shut and do your job, do what you’re asked and don’t complain, most of the time people get along pretty good. You know?
This article was originally published in the October 2016 issue of Western Horseman