Perspectives on the power of horses from Art of the Cowgirl founder Tammy Pate and 2022 fellowship recipient Audre Etsitty.
For Tammy Pate, who incorporated many of her passions from her cowgirl lifestyle into her inspiring nonprofit Art of the Cowgirl, love of horses is one of her life’s great common denominators.
“I oil paint, and I build boots. I cook. I sew. I’m passionate about horsemanship. Those are all the things that I love personally, and I wanted to find a way to connect them,” Pate says.
“The horse is what brings it all together—that’s the common denominator. The horse captures our heart, and the Western lifestyle captures the heart and imagination of people who aren’t from our industry. There’s nothing more beautiful than seeing someone riding their horse and competing. They’re just so at one with their horse. It’s the same with a beautiful piece of art. That artist has put their heart and soul on the canvas or in the bit or in the silver."
“It’s all the art of horsemanship and love of the horse—whether it’s literally riding or portraying the horse in one of the arts. Those are the things Art of the Cowgirl focuses on.”
A Budding Cowgirl
It was the love of the horse that prompted Audre Etsitty to apply for a fellowship with Art of the Cowgirl. Horses have shaped her entire life, from falling in love with the sport of rodeo in her youth to her higher education studying equine science—and now to her dreams of the future as jumpstarted by her fellowship studying horsemanship with multiple world roping title champ Lari Dee Guy.
Horses are integral to Etsitty’s Navajo culture. “The animal is not just a healer, and an opportunity for anyone who needs it, but it’s also integral to our livelihood,” she says. “As kids we’re taught horses are medicine, because in our culture they symbolize a lot. In our cultural stories, the horse is a sacred animal. It was bestowed to us.”
“Our traditional song identifies what the horse is made up of. Take, for example, the hooves: They were made with white shell and an arrowhead was placed on the bottom. An arrowhead in our culture symbolizes protection, so when the hoof was made, it was made so that it would protect the rider. The mane and tail were made out of rain, and the legs were made out of lightning, so with that we also have the responsibility of taking care of this animal, because they are also the ones that bring the rain. That sets the foundation that we have an agriculturally holistic view and approach to animals and the land.
For the Navajo, Etsitty explains, the horse is medicine. “Our belief is that if we’re having a bad day or any negative energy we’re carrying with us, after we ride the horse, the horse will normally look for the cool spot on the ground and roll. When they shake the sand off, our belief is that is the horse taking away the negative energy and also shaking it off its body so that it’s no longer with the rider, and it’s no longer with the horse.”
Etsitty grew up with those teachings amid, she says, a community enduring alcoholism, poverty, and intergenerational trauma. “I just really feel like for those who have that story, the horse is a relief— a positive outlet they can use,” she says.
“For girls in general I really feel like it’s a way of life. Horses can teach you a lot about yourself. The horse feels what you feel, so I feel like the horse just pushes the rider to be a better person in whatever areas that they’re lacking or not confident. I think that is just what is good for the soul, for women in general, and for people all around.”
(Photography: Epic West Media / Kylan Shaw)