At the 2019 Cowgirl Up! Art from the Other Half of the West show in Arizona, I took part in a panel titled Finding Courage as an Artist. That I agreed to do it was indeed a testament to finding courage, as I abhor public speaking, but felt it necessary to demonstrate — with shaky voice and sweaty armpits — Ambrose Redmoon’s famous quote: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”

Courage plays a major role in the lives of ranch kids. When we’re very small, courage means allowing dad or mom to put us back in the saddle after we’d fallen off.  Trusting in the knowledge and experience of others, in spite of our own doubts or fears, helps us accept that getting back in the saddle- regardless of fear- is part of life.

As beginning artists, we thrive on the accolades, advice and encouragement of others — that we’re doing something right, or that we have talent. Trusted friends and mentors not only help us realize our gift, but they pick us up when we experience rejections and disappointments. Their belief in us gives us the courage to trust.

At about eight years old, whether we simply fall off or zip our coat and spook the horse out from under us, we know we can get back on by ourselves. We acknowledge our fear, and get back in the saddle anyway. Being able to catch our breath, catch our horse, find our hat, grab those long saddle strings and climb back up strengthens our resolve.

As an artist at this stage, we learn that disappointments are part of a creative life. Our art may have been rejected from a show, but instead of staying down, we keep working, developing our skills, staying true to our own artistic vision and not jumping on the bandwagon of “trendy.”  We stand up and dust off because we believe in our art and have the courage to trust in our abilities.

As experience makes us better horsemen, we’re aware of our mounts and can sense potential problems before they arise. We act to remedy the situation beforehand, and if it’s unavoidable, we do our best to ride it out, or pick ourselves up and climb back on so that the ride ends as a positive learning experience for our horses and for us.

As more experienced artists, we are aware of times when we’re not feeling creative, when life’s circumstances set us back emotionally or physically. We learn to accept and ride out the personal storms and gain by working those emotions into the fiber of our artistic expression. Working and learning through these experiences gives us the courage to persevere.

At the time I sold our horses to devote more time to art, I was beginning to relish the adrenaline rush of the wilder rides. When unable to redirect or calm a green-broke horse’s fears, we are confident and prepared to make the ride as positive as we can. Rather than clamping down in white-knuckled dread, we harness our fear to get in rhythm with the horse and remain cool-headed. Maybe we’re thrown, but as we sail through the air toward the earth, we have the presence of mind to turn so that we land on -and break- our other arm instead of our painting arm. Rather than panicking at the broken arm, we calmly catch our horse, get back in the saddle, and on the way home, accept help in closing the barbed-wire gate.

At this stage as artists, we are well-versed in and prepared for rejections.  Disappointments don’t slam us down like they once did, nor do we require accolades to boost our egos. During the inevitable tumbles, we’ve learned to land in the least harmful positions. Falls can still break and bruise us, but we know they’ll help us learn and further develop our artistic voices. These experiences help us empathize with others on the same path. We seek out and accept advice from those we trust. We believe in our vision and have the courage to thrive, regardless of fears or setbacks.

Growing up a cowgirl helps me accept my fears and proceed anyway. Ambrose Redmoon continues: “The timid presume it is lack of fear that allows the brave to act when the timid do not. But to take action when one is not afraid is easy. To refrain when afraid is also easy. To take action regardless of fear is brave.” (“No Peaceful Warriors!” Gnosis, Fall 1991.)

Staying focused on that early feeling of those knotted leather reins or new crayons in my fat little hand — the idea that anything is possible if I just try — gives me courage in spite of fear.


by Sonja Caywood