Grit and Gratitude
Austin Woman Magazine features owner Jo Marie MacCoy as part of fit and healthy lifestyle series
Author Gretchen M. Sanders came to join the Mavericks for an evening hack, and the sky rewarded us with a miraculous sunset. We had a blast, and hope Gretchen did, too. She rode Rowdy, our beautiful appaloosa gelding who ported Gene around the ranch when he came to visit us for a feature in Texas State Highways Magazine. Rowdy is currently at the Northwest Austin location as part of a children’s lesson program. He’s enjoying some hunter fun and easy-paced trail rides. He will revisit Lockhart in February.
“I was thrilled when Austin Woman Magazine contacted me. Over the past seven years of working with horses full time (and some other animals here and there), I’ve been through a lot of changes. Going from gearing up to a life of paperwork to land myself one of those “normal jobs,” my occasional musings of what such a life would entail result in me immediately reminding myself that any job is a job after all. I’ve found the changes I’ve been through on the road to running my ranch to impact every area of my life. This is so much more than a job. It’s my life’s work. It’s an opportunity to share something profoundly important -and dangerously fleeting- with my son and other women and their children (namely, my workers and their kiddos). It’s the moment when you realize that your horsey skills actually helped you in that challenging confrontation that had nothing to do with horses, or that the body you’ve built is a useful one, and you never worry about counting calories, fat or carbs. Getting the chance to share a dying lifestyle and its health benefits with Austin Woman Magazine was right up my alley. It’s true: I stay busy and that gives me freedom to have a rich diet. Good thing I really do love pickaxing! Unfortunately I haven’t been for a run in two months, but that doesn’t stop me from jogging wherever I go. Riding bareback is definitely more of a workout. The lifestyle along with “emergency yoga” (a ten minute flow session I enlist when I’m struggling with inflammation or pain) keep me going. If I start to get sore from being cooped up in the house for a few rainy days, I really look forward to going for a ride. It’s incredible how much it helps the chronic back pain I’ve had since my 20s.
“In the article, I’m said to have studied everything I could about horses as a teenager. That’s not entirely accurate. If I had the blessing to have the time to study about them, I would have. But horsemanship to the point of knowing everything I could about them was part of a pipe dream that I didn’t break into full time until I moved to Texas. In North Carolina and Pennsylvania, I rode whenever I could. During my teen years, though, I was busy with school, work and athletics. I would have loved to have hit the barn every day, but barn time was not something that was supported more than once a week, and that’s when I was lucky. I got my first job when I was ten. And it was no rinky dink job! I was caring for a 6 month old baby and cleaning house, including bathrooms and kitchens. At 13 years old I got a job in a pond and garden store. I learned as much about landscape design as I could by reading all the books in the store, and helped clients plan out ponds and gardens. I worked there for two years. At 15 I got my first restaurant job. For years I served tables, and continued babysitting and nannying all through that time as well. I was a straight A student and played sports and volunteered. When I had time to spend with friends I did. Life was busy. There wasn’t access to horses in a way that is typical of most adult horse professionals looking back at their childhoods. Folks who look back at a lifetime of horses don’t realize how lucky they are. See, I know exactly how lucky I am, because the pipe dream I dared never to dream out loud came true!
“The dream to become a rancher went completely unspoken until I was 21. I spent my whole life fantasizing about breaking into the farm and ranch life but I never spoke a word of this to anyone. It’s probably the hardest job to take on if you’re not born into it. There is a world of knowledge in ranching families and they pass that down from one to the next. While there are degree programs to learn more about farming and ranching, it’s not something that is going to give you the eye for fixing things, growing crops, trouble shooting, and handling animals that growing up on a ranch would. After an impactful series of experiences during a study abroad experience in Costa Rica, I began to turn my efforts to building a retirement ranch that would serve as a children’s home. I assumed I would not be able to get into the lifestyle I envisioned until much later in life. To find myself right here right now is truly a miracle. People tell me all the time that running a ranch is their dream job. I understand much more profoundly now why when I was talking about running my own ranch 5 years ago I got that look I call the “sure you do” look. Ranching is tough. You don’t get to quit caring for animals because you have the flu and it’s 30 degrees outside. You don’t get to quit because you have a stomach virus, your headache is uncontrollable, or your kids are sick and home from school. I could paint some more vivid pictures there but the imagination could really run wild. The point is it’s hard. It’s dirty. It’s real. I love it. I can imagine doing little else.
“My motivation is my son, but also children everywhere. I believe children should be able to enjoy the world that our great grandparents got to enjoy: a world with hiking in the woods, playing make believe games in nature, fishing, hunting, handling animals and growing food. I think that’s their right. That right is being endangered. I’m a huge advocate of sustainable management, and constantly trying to build my knowledge of alternative regenerative growth practices that don’t use chemicals. Our property in Lockhart, TX is absolutely key to a healthy ecosystem in the area. On the ranch we have a creek, a huge pond, a native wetlands area and a wetlands pond. We get so many animals moving through the area. I am not prepared to start spraying chemicals until I’ve had the opportunity to fully put into place my plans for mixed herd rotational grazing. While I’ve dappled in handling llamas, cattle, rabbits, sheep, goats and pigs I’ve not made the real next step toward that mixed herd. This spring, we are excited to add 4-9 more sheep to the mix. There’s been talk of adding in that much revered camel (you should hear what they do to mesquite, and how much more handleable and gentle they are than horses). While my camel dreams may have to sit on the back burner for another season or two, I’m excited to continue my march to building a sustainable ranch that uses a mixed herd system to control invasive plant species and revive the earth. In the United States, our farm lands are wildly over grazed. I hope I get the chance to share my experiences (and incredible animals and views!) with more children before these experiences evaporate. It should not be a privilege to have access to natural spaces, clean and quality food. But somehow it has become one. I believe if more people understood what we are losing every time we obliterate a Texas ranch, they’d be up in arms to defend their land. My dream is not over yet. I’m just part of the way there. There have been some serious bumps in the road, but I’m grateful for my gritty nature. It’s given me the chance to seize incredible opportunities, listen to challenging criticism, and find the silver lining. If you told me ten years ago I’d be doing this right now on my road to my dream ranch, I’d think you cruel to joke such things. In moments where the reality of my job weigh on me alone, I hold onto my motivation, I hold onto my dream, and I remind myself that grit and gratitude are everything.”
Click here to read the Feature in Austin Woman Magazine