Western Reunion

Photograph by Bart Ashford

Photograph by Bart Ashford

Hold your horses! Art of the Cowgirl is back in the saddle in Bozeman this June.

Written by Jenn Thornton

No one needs to convince Tammy Pate to take the reins. For 15 years the Big Sky-based founder of the annual gathering Art of the Cowgirl led horsemanship clinics alongside her husband, a successful cattle rancher. When he was ready to turn his attention back to handling cattle, Pate continued on, eventually conducting destination vacations with yoga and horsemanship experiences across the globe, from Colorado to Costa Rica to Mongolia. One could argue, though, she has hit her stride closest to home.

The West is a breeding ground for pioneering types like Pate—people who wear more than one hat, often at the same time. So it is with Pate, an accomplished horsewoman with a mind for business who deeply appreciates the arts. Raised in Montana, mostly on her grandparents’ ranch, she was influenced by a grandmother who “was not only an amazing horse woman,” she says, “but also an artist,” along with her mother, a terrific seamstress. “My whole upbringing was around art sewing, cooking and riding horses.” Pate brought some of that make-do to her marriage; she even apprenticed a boot maker in Helena, Montana to supplement the couple’s income while her husband established himself in the cattle industry, and later home-schooled her kids on the road, taking in horse expos and trade shows.

Art of the Cowgirl is a combination of Pate’s passions and experiences. New to this rodeo? The event, which is set for June 24-27, 2021 in Bozeman, Montana, is two-pronged: a celebration of Western lifestyle and culture, and a platform to raise funds for its fellowship program supporting the apprenticeships of female makers in Western trades. Those selected for an apprenticeship are then mentored by a master craftsperson. Fellowships are for serious candidates ready to build a business, not the casual crafter or hobbyist who sees a cute pair of boots on Etsy and thinks maybe she’d like to make a pair—no. Fellows spend significant time in the trenches learning their trade. The point is, Pate says, to provide fellowship recipients the support they need to master their craft with the hope that those individuals give back to the next generation. Pate is plenty serious, too—she didn’t just throw this thing together. She took the bull by the horns, corralling big brands Wrangler and Purina Mills as initial sponsors of an event she created to bring others together and share knowledge.

Photograph courtesy of Impulse Photography

Photograph courtesy of Impulse Photography

Photograph by Natalie McFarland

Photograph by Natalie McFarland


“When I first started this I really thought I was a horsemanship instructor, but I’ve come to discover that’s not it at all. I’m a confidence builder. And when you have confidence, you can do anything.”

— Tammy Pate

Photograph by Natalie McFarland

Photograph by Natalie McFarland

Photograph by Natalie McFarland

Photograph by Natalie McFarland

This year’s Art of the Cowgirl will offer horsemanship demonstrations in different disciplines, clinicians and speakers, along with an elite horse sale and an all-female ranch rodeo. The trade show, meanwhile, includes a round-up of roughly 80 vendors across the Western genre—boot makers, saddle makers, silversmiths, the works. There is a representative for every trade you can think of, and more you never would. Like the jewelry artist who incorporates the hair of one’s favorite horse into a stunning, one-of-a-kind piece. There is also a host of fine artists working in painting, sculpture and more.

Beyond its spurs and style, Pate sees Art of the Cowgirl as a platform to preserve Western culture while supporting its evolution. “I think people right now want to connect to something real and really do want to get back to our roots,” she says. “This is the West, and cowboys, ranching, that’s who we are. Even people who don’t have horses at home want to be part of it.” In just three years, she has expanded Art of the Cowgirl to include another event slated for this October that will be held at the Fort Worth Stockyards in Texas, which also hosts the John Wayne: An American Experience exhibit. “I wanted Art of the Cowgirl to be a place for women to come together and feel empowered, so my absolute favorite thing about the event is the positive energy and support,” says Pate. “When I first started this I really thought I was a horsemanship instructor, but I’ve come to discover that’s not it at all. I’m a confidence builder. And when you have confidence, you can do anything.”