Running the family ranch means more to this Montana cowgirl than just chasing cows. She does it in memory of her father.

In 2010, Jody Bakker’s father rolled his four-wheeler and was killed, leaving responsibility for the family ranch squarely on Jody’s shoulders. The cow-calf operation, located southwest of Billings, Montana, was founded by her great-grandfather. Fortunately, Jody has loved working cattle, riding colts and living far from civilization since she was a girl.

Jody Bakker standing with horse

I’VE GOTTEN INTO some wrecks, been mauled by cows or bulls, and I always remember my dad yelling at me, “Don’t weaken!” The week Dad died, I got that tattooed on my ankle.

MY GREAT-GRANDPA came from Holland and homesteaded this in 1894. Then he went back and got his wife. He came over with seven other Dutchmen. They eventually quit the country [in Montana] and he bought them out. He expanded the ranch from there. And it’s passed down from my grandpa to Dad, and now to me

THEY WORE THEIR wooden shoes on the ranch until they wore out. I actually have two pairs. I wouldn’t recommend wearing them in the snow.

I HAVE A SISTER and six cousins. None of them really took an interest in the ranch. It’s all I ever wanted to do. It just happened a lot faster than what I predicted.

I RODE MY FIRST bucking horse when I was 3. Dad had been gathering cattle all day on this horse named Sonny. He was 3 years old and was pretty green. I ran down to the barn and said, “Dad, I wanna ride.” So he threw me on the saddle. The horse started bucking and spinning. I had such a grip on that saddle horn that Dad couldn’t pull me off.

WE’D GATHER COWS, and I was always bareback as a little kid. So that helped me in getting a better seat on a horse.

MY FIRST HORSE was a Quarter HorseWelsh pony cross. He was something that anyone could get on. My aunts or uncles would bring their kids out to the ranch and throw them on my horse. That would make me so mad. So I started getting younger horses, the kind that people couldn’t throw a little kid on.

Dad always said to me, ‘Don’t weaken.’ That’s always stuck with me.

THAT’S HOW I started into horsemanship. When you get a younger horse, you have to learn.

DURING COLLEGE at West Texas A&M, all my friends were going down to Padre Island for spring break, and I was coming home to help Dad calve.

I THINK WOMEN tend to be more patient with things on a ranch, and they are a little more level-headed. Guys can go in strong and force things. I think a woman will work a little harder because she has something to prove.

I WAS RAISED to drive Ford pickups, run green equipment and ride geldings. And when I was 18, I bought a mare. My dad was so mad at me.

I GOT BADGER as a coming 3-year-old. He’s built like a bulldog, maybe 14-2 [hands] and thirteen hundred pounds. He’s kind of an outlaw, so I’ve got to sack him out every time I ride him. He’s got that Hancock attitude. But he’s my go-to. Last fall, we used him to pull a bull into a trailer. I sure like him.

DAD AND I were best friends, and not a lot of people have that with their dads. This past year has been tough. Now I’m pretty excited about the future.

IF I SIT DOWN and think about it, there’s not anything else I’d rather do. This is what I grew up on, it’s what my family did. It’s ingrained in me. Anything else is foreign.

MY ANCESTORS worked so hard on this. I don’t know how you could give it up or walk away from it.

This article was originally published in the May 2011 issue.

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