According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, a cowgirl is defined as a woman who rides a horse and whose job is to take care of cows or horses, especially in the western U.S. To me, this definition is very limiting, because I believe cowgirls exist everywhere. I know they do, because I’m lucky enough to know many of them. And they don’t always chase cows and are covered in dirt.
But they are always, at their core; courageous and full of grit! They don’t quit. Cowgirls take knocks and setbacks as a part of life, understanding intrinsically that you can’t know true love and beauty; without pain.
They cheer on their friends and fellow cowgirls, are never jealous and threatened by another woman; cowgirls straighten another ones hat, without telling the world it was crooked.
My friend, was a young girl who grew up being bullied in school and yet, is still kind to the world, because her heart is warm. She understands that life is unfair, but wants to be the light, the smile, the hug–a reason for other struggling people to come back the next day. So much so, she became a an amazing psychologist that specialising in helping children.
Tash was young woman who took chance after chance and MADE things happen. Growing up with a highly knowledgeable horsewoman as her mum, she spent her childhood riding beautiful ponies and horses at local and state hack shows, western shows and pony club. As an adult Tash performed as a lead rider in outback spectacular, then travelling to America to ride Reining horses and work with the likes of Dan James and Rick Steed.
Upon her return to Australia, Tash jumped onto other amazing adventures like working at Emirates as a lead trail boss! Tash spent her whole life working with horses in such a beautiful, kind and compassionate manner; with competency and foundation at the forefront of her mind. She is an excellent and passionate cowgirl and horsewoman who’s always happy to lend a hand and will never judge you.
She is also a young woman who recently almost lost her life when the extremely rare HELLP syndrome took hold of her in her last trimester of pregnancy. And yet, like the true cowgirl we all have inside of us, Tash Smith never gave up.
Introducing Tash Smith, the cowgirl with a heart of gold ✨
Tash, you’ve had an amazing life full of horses and adventures so far. Tell me, what was your absolute FAVOURITE cowgirl moment?
It’s difficult for me to choose just one moment! My favourite competition moment was representing Australia and winning a World Championship in 2008. And another favourite moment was when I first started in a lead role as “Kate” at the Australian Outback Spectacular.
Tell me about your time in America. What work did you do?
At 17, I stayed on in the US after the Paint Horse World Show and trained with a Western Pleasure – Denise Thompson, in Kansas. Though the most I’ve ever learnt was from the next trainer I worked for in Florida – Rick Steed of Steed Training.
I met Rick at the World Show, where he was stabled next to the horse I was able to use and I had cleaned his horse’s stables a couple times. At the time I had no idea that because of that he would offer me to ride one of the Reined Cow Horses he had there in the arena and basically had me do some stops and spins and then said I had a job in Florida if I wanted it.
When I started working for him, the very first day I showed up he wasn’t home. He text me to get a certain horse and ride haha. I had a number of horses assigned to me that Rick would tell me what they needed to training on, and I would work with each horse daily. After only 3 weeks we took 7 horses to a show in Georgia, and on the drive there, Rick asked me if I would be showing one day or two?
I had never shown Reined Cowhorse before and at the time tried every excuse that I couldn’t do it, but he had an answer for everything. As an example – “I don’t have my show clothes with us” to which he replied “I packed my wife’s shirts and chaps for you” I was lucky to show the second day on a gelding who the next month sold for $50,000 and placed 4th overall and 1st in the Reining.
Rick is one of the most compassionate men I’ve ever known.
What was a key lesson you learned during that time in regards to horsemanship?
Some of the most complicated maneuvers can be simplified for both horse and rider and work just as well, if not better than more complex training schemes. (And how to work up to 21 hours a day haha). Always work on the foundations. They are key. You’re never too big and experienced for foundation skills. Most recently I worked for Dan James of Double Dan Horsemanship in 2017 Kentucky, where I was exposed to liberty and trick training. I had some wonderful experiences and admire the whole James’ family immensely.
You spent your childhood competing in western pleasure/hacking and more. Being the horse crazy cowgirl at school can be tough. How did horses help you get through being bullied at school?
I was so heavily focused on showing every weekef that horses kept me sane through constantly having more to work on for the next show, and just going and sitting in the paddock with them. Bullying has honestly been something that has always been apart of my life, but horses provide an outlet that offers the most comfort in the world. You are described by friends as a gentle soul with horses, with a quiet and loving way of doing things that helps your horse stay calm and learn. What’s the secret?!
I don’t know if there’s a secret, but I was taught how the horses mind works at a young age and already was told about techniques of operant conditioning (with positive reinforcement). I believe through understanding how a horse thinks, we are able to challenge ourselves to find the best way to overcome any situation. Recently you had a son, Colten. Which of course is a happy event! However for you, you experienced your toughest challenge yet, nearly losing your life to the rare and deadly HELLP syndrome. What is HELLP syndrome and how has it affected you?
I developed severe Preeclamlsia in pregnancy which went undiagnosed and led to HELLP syndrome. HELLP is an acronym for haemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, and lowered platelets. My liver, gallbladder and kidneys were failing, and my platelets were as low as 25 which creates spontaneous bleeding without injury from areas like your nose, gums and pores. Colten was delivered with me under anaesthetic so they could control the bleeding and provide blood transfusions. My lung collapsed and I continued to have HELLP for 24 hours after surgery and was in ICU for 3 days. These conditions have continued to affect me where I have heart disease surrounding the endothelial and microvascular cells that carry blood away from and to the heart respectively. I also see a neurologist and have recently been diagnosed with a vestibular balance disorder. I am grateful to have some answers around that as I have constant dizziness, inflammation and fatigue.
I’ve needed to pull strength from every possible avenue at times. My amazing friends, my family, counsellors, and using my own skills to try and focus on photos from the past as reminders of the things that I can do.
What message would you like to give your fellow cowgirls to remember?
Not letting other people determine your talent and worth. Some days will be tough and your hardest days will be the ones that lead you grow with your horse the most, and these moments will be the powerhouse of your determination and resilience in order to navigate some of the rocky parts of life.
Never give up on your passion, your drive to be the best horsewoman for your horse and your family and friends. Love and appreciate what you have and treasure the good, ride through the tough.