Vagabond cowgirl and videographer Emmie Sperandeo is pursuing her dream of soaking in the Western lifestyle.
At this point, jumping into the unknown is second nature for cowgirl, rancher, and videographer Emmie Sperandeo, who pursued the Western lifestyle on a whim and has been hooked ever since. The cowgirl now resides in Montana, capturing glimpses into the ranching way of life with her camera.
In May 2023, Sperandeo's world was turned upside down by a bad wreck with her horse, leaving her with many live-threatening injuries. Doctors told her it would take around 18 months to regain functioning and ride, but Sperandeo couldn't stay still for that long.
Sperandeo is a true cowgirl, hopping from one ranching operation to another, calling a truck and living-quarters trailer home for her. She's got herself a loyal herd, including three horses, a bison, a cat, and a dog. She is the epitome of the term Cowgirl, through and through.
When asked what it means to be a cowgirl, she said, "For me, being a cowgirl means living your life on your own terms. You're gritty and soft when you want to be. You're hardworking. You're determined. You listen to your gut. You embrace your own style. You learn from every cowboy, horseman, or stranger you meet. You tell your story and jump in when your people need you, but you listen and learn before you name your accomplishments."
Sperandeo paused to chat about her journey into the Western lifestyle, her favorite travel memories, and raising a baby bison.
Cowboys & Indians: Did you grow up around horses or in the Western lifestyle? How did you end up a modern-day vagabond cowgirl?
Sperandeo: I grew up riding horses. I grew up in Florida, and my sisters and I rode English, so I always had a lot of animals growing up. I never worked in agriculture specifically, which was a very new concept to me, but I had always wondered about it and fantasized about it and wanted to try it. So I found a ranch in Montana, and I was like, "Could I just come out and work with you for a month?" to live out this little fantasy I have and then come back to reality. I had a career and a house in Oregon, and I thought that, realistically, this wasn't going to be a full-time thing for me. So I went out to Montana and ended up never leaving. I stayed at that ranch for about three months. And while I was there, I bought a trailer to live in to keep traveling and going around to different ranches. And yeah, I just ended up moving into a trailer and living on the road. I just rolled with it. I think if I had planned the whole thing, it never would've happened unless I had taken one tiny step at a time.
People always ask me how it started, and I say, "It's kind of a long story." I didn't do it on purpose; it worked out for me. So, it's been an interesting process, and it just continues to evolve every year as my goals change, my skillset grows, and my career expands. It was hard to wrap my mind around the idea that I was not going to have a home base. I'm not going to have anywhere to send my mail. I don't have any family anywhere near me. I don't have anywhere to go if things go really, really wrong. And that was really scary for me. So I thought, I'm going to put a time limit on it and say one year, and then I'll be good. I'll be done. I'll do something else. I'll be normal again. But that obviously didn't happen. I just kept rolling with whatever was happening, and it's been about three years now.
C&I: Along with cowgirling, you're a photographer and videographer. Did that start when you moved out to Montana or beforehand?
Sperandeo: I went to college for video production. Then, I kind of veered away from it after I graduated until I started working on ranches, and my passion for that came back once I found something that I really wanted to capture. Now, there's a lot of Western video stuff going on, but, at that time, there were no cinematic videos of ranchers and people roping and all of that on the internet, so I wanted to capture everything I was seeing and tell that story because I was out there living it. That started as a passion project, but once I started posting and sharing, I got enough clients to where I could do that full-time as my primary source of income, which was great because it allowed me to continue traveling.
I've done many different things in cinematography since then. That's been a cool journey, too, because when I was in school for that, I had a hard time envisioning how to use that degree because I hadn't found my niche yet. I wanted to film animals. I knew that much. The first thing I did right was follow one that piqued my interest. And then everything else just fell into place after that.
C&I: Where has your vagabond lifestyle allowed you to travel?
Sperandeo: Recently, I've mostly been sticking to the West regarding my domestic travels. But I have been to almost all 50 states. I have about four left, but I'm almost there. And those were all really new things for me because I hadn't left the country until two years ago. I went to Alberta. That was my first international venture, which seems silly because it's right there. I just never got the opportunity or had the time, money, or confidence to travel internationally by myself before. I went to Mexico, which was really cool. I went to Zacatecas and the Jalpa area, and then I went to Namibia, Africa, last spring, and I worked on a ranch out there for a while.
I wanted to go experience their operation firsthand and learn more about and experience international agriculture, but I also wanted to capture it. That's always been an interesting balance that I have to find. I'll go through phases where I don't want to touch my camera at all. I don't want to hide behind my camera. And then there'll be other times when I'm in a very creative and inspired mindset, and I want to film and capture it and tell stories. So it's kind of an ebb and flow.
C&I: When did your journey of documenting your experiences on social media begin?
Sperandeo: I started when I got to Montana. I moved out to Montana, and I didn't know anything. I had never really posted anything serious before and never showed my personality, and I especially didn't talk about horses or ranching or any of that. So when I got out to Montana, I was like, if I want to share something cool on social media, now is the time to try it. I went out there by myself and didn't know anybody, so I wasn't scared of embarrassing myself in front of anybody yet. So, I created this TikTok account and did not tell any of my friends back home about it. I started just posting a day in my life and sharing creative videos that I would take just for fun, and people liked it. People were interested in my story and enjoyed the creative videos that I was posting. And it just grew from there and continued to evolve as my life changed.
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C&I: We love keeping up with your little herd. How did you acquire your crew, and how did a bison calf come to join?
Sperandeo: Johnny started with me. He was just a little puppy when I first came out to Montana, and I had two dogs at the time. My older dog passed away about six months later. Then, it was just me and Johnny for a while because I wasn't ready to start traveling with horses yet. But then I got comfortable with it, and I was prepared for the next step. I wanted to buy my own horses because, for a long time, I was just going to these different ranches and using the horses, or I would meet with friends who had horses and would let me ride them, which was great because that's cheaper and you learn a lot riding different horses.
But I knew I wanted to have my own horses again, and I was ready for that next step. I was working on a ranch in Idaho and just fell in love with this one horse, Raven, that I was working with there. Eventually, I convinced the ranch owner to sell her to me. She was my first investment. And then I bought Goose. I found him on Facebook. I knew I wanted two horses so they would travel easier together and rotate. And then I ended up buying JD, my third horse, from the same ranch I bought Raven from because they were downsizing their herd, and I had started him for them over the winter and really liked working with him. He's a fun little pony.
And then Lucy, the bison — I was working on a bison and Angus ranch this past summer, and we were buying some bison from an operation down near Missoula, and her mom got shipped off on the wrong trailer. End of the day, the rancher there realized they had an extra calf. So they called us, and they were like, "You want the calf?"' And I said yes. I don't know why I didn't really think about it that much. I went and grabbed her and put her in the dog crate. Then, halfway back home, she busted out of the dog crate. I was driving down the highway thinking, "Please don't jump through my car window."
No one thought she would live through the weekend. But, the ranch owners I was working for guided me through bottle feeding her and all that. They said, "Don't get attached. Don't even name her yet. She's probably going to die." They're really stubborn animals, and they're really skittish around humans, so it is tough to get them on the bottle and eat the right amount because they're also really easy to overfeed, and they can die easily from that as well. She ended up surviving and traveled with me that whole summer. People always ask me, "What are you gonna do with her"' And I'm like, "Well, I'm just going to keep trying to train her how I want to train her until it doesn't work out." And hopefully, by the time she is significantly bigger, I will have bought some land of my own so that I can have a home base for her. That is the next goal I've been saving up for.
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C&I: In May of 2023, you were in a terrible accident while working.
Sperandeo: While I was ranching in Arizona this spring, I got into a bad wreck. We were sorting off calves when my horse tripped and fell on me. I fractured my skull in two places, got a TBI, significantly damaged my spinal cord, and had to get airlifted to the ICU. I was in the ICU for a week with a brain bleed before they moved me up to the neurology floor of the hospital. I have no memory of the wreck or most of my time in the ICU. Thankfully, my horse is okay.
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C&I: How is your recovery going?
Sperandeo: It's been a challenging and long recovery process. I've been doing everything I can to take care of myself and heal. When I was in the ICU, doctors predicted I would take about 18 months to be back to functioning and riding. I've made some major improvements, better than all of them have anticipated.
Even though I am doing better in some regards, and outwardly, I am still battling the effects of everything that happened to me every single day. I am mostly deaf in my left ear now, my balance is still hard to manage, and healing from my TBI is a long, overwhelming process. It's hard to explain how disheartening and severe an event like this can be unless you've experienced a brain injury as well. There are some days when I start to feel like my old self again and other days when I can barely function. But I've made tremendous improvement since getting discharged from the hospital.
C&I: Do you have plans for the future, such as working on another operation?
Sperandeo: I would love to whenever I'm able. I just started easing into riding again and have been prioritizing my healing instead of trying to jump back into work as quickly as possible. I'm still going through a lot of imaging and testing, so it's hard to say what the timeline will be for getting back into heavy ranch work.
Photography: (cover image) Taylor Tatum; (all other images) courtesy Emmie Sperandeo, Wes Walker, Taylor Tatum, Cattleman U
To see more of Emmie Sperandeo's photography and videography, head to her Instagram.