In preparing for launching Tack & Bridle, I had the pleasure of being introduced to Madeline Baker of Rockin’ MB Photos and Artwork. Madeline is the quintessential Western Cowgirl. The self-dubbed “Cowgirl Vagabond” is also a talented photographer, and painter with a unique medium: Bone. We talked about a lot of things, ending with a special announcement at the end of this post.
How long have you been involved with horse riding?
I have been working with horses for about a decade now, since I was eleven. During that time, I have competed in western pleasure shows and gymkhana events, served as a saddle club queen, spent countless hours riding in the mountains and plains of Montana, and have worked with horses for clients. I started out taking English lessons but gravitated to western riding nearly the minute I was introduced. For me, western transcends riding style; I see it more as a lifestyle and mentality.
What is your favorite memory involving a horse?
It’s hard to pick a favorite memory riding a horse, since my heart and soul have been touched greatly by a number of horses many different times. One of my favorites would have to be when I took a new trail horse on a somewhat treacherous trail in the Lewis and Clark National Forest. I was working at a ranch in Montana at the time, and he had been dropped off at the beginning of the season with the singular instruction that he was only for very experienced riders. I was the only one who rode him all season. After about a month of riding around the ranch, I loaded him up as my mountain horse one day. He rocked the ride. He implemented the things we had been working on, carried me as though I was the most precious cargo, and even offered up snuggles at the lunch break. What touched me most that day was his try and heart. Ovando set a precedent, and the rest of our summer was like that. He taught me so much that summer, and was easily one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. Short answer: my summer with Ovando was my favorite “memory” with a horse.
If you could give one piece of advice to a young person wanting to get into horseback riding, what would that be?
The best advice I could give to a young person wanting to get into horseback riding is to go into it humbly. This is a lifestyle, not a hobby. It requires great sacrifice: temporal, financial, emotional, and physical. Be willing to work, and to work hard. A great horseman is one who recognizes there will be things yet to learn and improvements to be made until his last day. You can never learn enough! Read, ask questions, and always be aware that your horse is trying to communicate with you as much as you are with him (if not more!). Your horse will always be the greatest teacher; the best part is that we find in their God-given uniqueness they all have different concepts to teach us. Teaching through fear is not teaching at all. Teaching from a standpoint of mutual respect – and dare I say admiration – is one of the cornerstones that makes a “good” rider. To those who feel ready to embrace these concepts, I would suggest going to local stables and asking if you might be able to clean out stalls in exchange for riding lessons. Check out library books on riding. Watch YouTube videos posted by trainers (there are a number of these for every discipline). And, as my old boss Bill Beck used to say, the best way to learn how to ride is to quit talking about it and just get up there and do it.
You call yourself the “cowgirl vagabond”. What does that entail?
I like the idea of being a traveler, not bound by or tied to much of anything. A week after I graduated from college, I was off. And, most of my ventures I have designed to be centered around horses. I draw much inspiration from the true talents of the old West: the men and women who rode horseback trailing cattle, going from outfit to outfit, seeing pristine pieces of land all over the country, and doing it all with no more possessions that what their mounts could carry.
What is the difference between English and Western riding? Why do you prefer Western?
That’s a big topic, but the basic difference is found in the saddles and styles of riding. Western has barrel racing, cutting, reining, roping, western pleasure… the list goes on. English events are jumping, dressage (although a truly excellent rider will find his foundation and fundamentals of riding in dressage, regardless of discipline), eventing.. and again, the list goes on. I prefer western because I have a great interest in various types of cattle work, and prefer the lifestyle behind western riding. There is a laid back mentality you find in the western world, and I think that’s what drew me in. People work incredibly hard, are competitive, and give their all for their horses. Yet there is still a sense of community, teamwork, and in many arenas of the western world, faith.
Switching gears, I had a chance to look over your website Rockin’ MB Photos and Artwork, and I have to say, I’m hooked. Your work exudes western to me. How did you get started with photography and painting skulls, of all things?
Thank you! That’s exactly what I’m going for. For roughly the last four years, I’ve had fun taking and editing pictures. My appreciation for colors, shapes, and certain aesthetics compels me to capture what inspires me or touches my soul. My goal is that people can see that in my images. Skull painting started April 2018 when I was living with a painter in Nevada (her name is Belinda Bell – if you get a chance, check out her work!). I often walked by a beautiful skull she had on her property as decoration and thought it would be fun to paint. It had sentimental value for her and her husband, so she said I could have it and paint it with the single stipulation that I didn’t sell it. I’ll have it forever and cherish it. Since that first skull, I haven’t been able to get enough! I’ve done a number of commissioned ones. Whenever I’m out riding, I keep an eye out (and my friends know to as well) for any salvageable skull. I’ve painted badger, cow, gopher, horse, goat, and dog skulls.
Do you ever feel as though you were born in the wrong era? Like you should have been raised up in the Old West?
Certainly! But God knows what He’s doing with my placement in time, so I don’t question it. I have a deep appreciation for simpler times when people were in closer communion with the earth, their animals, and one another. There is a wholesomeness that I think the Old West captures, despite often getting a bad rap for being rough and tumble.
Switching focus back to horses for a minute, I’m struck by the amount of respect you have for your horse. Some might say — and PETA has — that we should respect these animals while not riding them. How would you respond to that?
I think that if we can recognize what a deep gift and privilege it is to swing a leg over such an animal, then our horsemanship will flow from that place and elevate both horse and rider.. To those reading this Q & A, go ahead and check out my first article regarding the ethics of horseback riding to hear more of my thoughts on this topic.
Are horses able to display emotion in a way that we can interpret? In some of the videos you’ve posted on your website, I can’t help but feel as though the horse has a personality all their own.
Absolutely. In fact, I often feel that horses are easier to read than many people. If you know the horse personally, then you can read one another like a book. I’ve seen happy horses being reunited, heartbroken mares paw and gently nicker over their stillborn foals, my own mare get a look of love that glazes over her eyes when we share silent moments in the barn… the list goes on. I think that if people are willing to look, they’ll find themselves in horses. They’ll find humanity. We’re not as different as some think.
How old would you say a child should be before they try to learn to ride a horse? Is there a specific age, or is it more a capacity for responsibility that we should be looking for?
That depends on a number of factors, from a child’s confidence, size, awareness, and ability to listen… It also depends on the type of horse he or she will be riding. Most stables begin taking kids around age seven or eight.
Did you miss the announcement in the middle there? It’s okay, it was really quick. Here’s the news for those that missed it: Madeline Baker is Tack & Bridle’s newest contributor! We have a few articles we’re in discussions on right now, but hopefully there will be plenty more after that.
And more personally, I want to thank you all for coming by and hanging out with us today.
Love your family, love your friends, and may the wild horses ride within.