With horses, cattle and dogs as sidekicks, this ranch hand is living her own version of Lonesome Dove. One dog is even named Newt.
Bobbie Jo Persall, a striking blonde, works for the Chain Ranch in Woodward, Oklahoma. After graduating from Central Michigan University with dual majors and working at a bank, the cowgirl learned that a desk job wasn’t for her. She’s worked in various facets of the horse industry, including galloping racehorses and serving as assistant trainer for Christa Baldwin in Stanton, Michigan. Then she found her true love: ranching.
I LIVED ON RANCHES when I was very young, and horses were a necessary part of life. They were the center of my universe. I even wanted to be one when I grew up.
I DIDN’T CONSCIOUSLY DECIDE to work on a ranch, but I always thought, “Man, I wish I could cowboy—just be under a big sky on a horse with a job to do.”
A FRIEND TOLD ME that there was no way I could ever work on a ranch; nobody would hire a girl, and they surely would never respect her. That was disheartening, but I didn’t let it influence my actions. Don’t let others paste their reality onto your dreams and aspirations.
UPON MEETING ME, people generally assume that I must be the secretary or a family member through birth or marriage. But the biggest challenge I face as a woman is my slightly less-than Herculean strength. I’m absolutely terrible at digging postholes, handling square bales and tackling wild cows barehanded. I’ve accepted and dealt with those limitations.
SOME PEOPLE SAY IT’S AWESOME that I’m doing what I love, and others say that I should get a real job, so I can have a future and a family.
RIDING AND WORKING OUTDOORS is a good way to get right with the world, to feel completely happy. That feeling may last for just a minute, but you can’t beat it.
I’M NOT A HORSE TRAINER. My ponies and I work together to get the job done, but I sure don’t think they’re finished like a real trainer would get them. It’s just not my focus or my passion, though I sure admire and respect the people who do it.
I’M REALLY PROUD that I went to college for 5½ years, but I can’t tell you for sure where my diplomas are stashed. T
HE BEST ADVICE I’VE EVER RECEIVED was something my boss, Wes, told his son, Cody. He said to never hire a man who smokes or wears gloves. If he’s a smoker, he’ll always be smoking when you need him. If he’s a man who wears gloves, when you need him he’ll either be putting on his gloves or taking them off.
I WISH THERE WAS A PLACE for crippled and/or dangerous horses. I couldn’t handle sending one of my horses to a slaughterhouse, but not everyone has a the acreage to retire unusable stock. I wish the people who are shutting down the killer-horse market would personally, or collectively—without taxpayer funds—take in those animals and care for them.
TO DO MY JOB TAKES A WOMAN to whom a social life isn’t important. It requires a strong work ethic, a sense of humor and a big hat for sun protection. It helps if you like inconsistent tans—mostly on the hands, face and neck—dirty fingernails and fine-to-deep lines on your face. I also think it’s important to have a strong moral character and to act appropriately. Just because a girl has a rough job doesn’t mean she has to be rough.
I’M A CONFIDENT PERSON when I’m alone. In the presence of others, especially those I don’t know, I get a little nervous at times. I think it’s just a fear of being judged. I’m sure Freud would have something to say about this. Everyone else’s advice is to get over it!
IF I WEREN’T DOING THIS, I’d be bouncing from job to job, looking for something that made me happy. I love the independence of this job, as well as the times when teamwork is necessary. Being responsible for something else’s well-being— the cows, horses and land—will make you grow a backbone and do things you may not have ever thought you would or could do.
EACH MORNING, I LIKE TO DRINK A CUP OF COFFEE and watch the news while I make a little list of what I’d like to get done that day. The sun rises, fertilizes my list and causes it to grow exponentially. Life lesson No. 114: You’ll never get everything done.
WORKING CATTLE REALLY TESTS a person’s patience and temperament. The bad stuff may not be fun at the time, but it makes for the best stories. The things that I most appreciate are the baby calves; fat, bucking yearlings—even if they’re running off; the open sky with colorful sunrises and sunsets; and the opportunity to do what I love every single day
Article originally published in the September 2007 issue of Western Horseman.
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