Strong Women

Nicole Courtney Smith, featured in the April 2017 Women of the West, discusses the women she admires, how she protects herself on the ranch and what gets her fired up.

Interview and photograph by JENNIFER DENISON
March 27, 2017

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Nicole Courtney Smith is the sixth generation of her family to ranch in Granite Station, California. Her family’s Kern County cow-calf operation, the Glenn Record Ranch, is tucked in the mountains northeast of Bakersfield, California. There, she lives and works with her family, including her parents Sarah and Jack Smith; brother, Jared; grandparents Karl and Glenda Johnson; and aunt and uncle Roselle and Matthew Wrenden.

The ranch has been handed down through the women on her mother’s side of the family, and 23-year-old Smith is poised to perpetuate her family’s ranching traditions into the future.

In the April 2017 issue of Western Horseman, Smith is featured in Women of the West. Here are five other questions we asked during our interview with her while driving on a rough, narrow road to the ranch.

What women have had the most influence on you?
I consider all of the women in my life—my grandma, my aunt and my mom—extremely tough. They have raised me to be a respectful, hard-working young lady and I appreciate that.

My great-grandma Ginger was the apple of my eye. When I was growing up, no matter where we were or what we were doing she always had a York peppermint patty for me. She died in 2008 and I miss her, but my grandma is taking her place and always has food or candy for us. She makes sure we’re fed extremely well.

What gets you really fired up?
It takes a lot to get me mad. When working cattle, I lose my cool when people don’t give the cattle time to see the gate. They want to rush the cattle through the corral and [then] wonder why they bang their noses on the fence or come back toward us. If you’re calm, the cattle will be calm, and if you let them see the gate they’ll go through easily.

Animal rights activists who think ranchers abuse livestock annoy me. We get one paycheck a year, so we want to make sure our horses, dogs and cattle get five-star treatment. They eat before we do.

What is a typical day for you on the ranch?
Each day is something different. During the summer we spend our days checking water and pumping water. Most of our pastures have one water source, so if something goes wrong the cows won’t have water.

Once fall and winter hit, we’re extremely busy every day with weaning calves in September, gathering cattle off our lease, and then it’s calving, branding and moving the cattle to our summer pasture. It’s nothing for us to have 14-hour days in the saddle during the winter. We’re up at 2 a.m. and in the saddle by 3 a.m., and out there as long as we need to be.

What measures do you take to stay safe riding out there alone?
People sometimes ask how we don’t get killed out here, because the terrain is so steep. I always respond, “How do you not get bored walking on the flat?” My dad always makes sure we have safe, surefooted horses to ride. When you’re trying to run a cow down out here you have to trust your horse.
The only thing that really terrifies me about riding alone out there is encountering marijuana growers. We carry guns on us and our saddlebags, and knives in our boots. We also have two-way radios with us at all times. Our stock dogs are also good about letting us know when something isn’t right and we shouldn’t go after a cow and instead get out of there.

What do you like to splurge on occasionally?
I’m more of a saver and planner than someone who splurges. If I ever splurge, though, it’s on jeans or boots. I learned at a young age through 4-H to manage my money and not blow it. When you run a ranch, you always need a cushion in case something goes wrong or a piece of equipment breaks. When we make a major purchase for the ranch, we sit down and discuss it as a family.

Read more about Smith in the April 2017 issue of Western Horseman on page 18.

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