Women of the West - Tia Openshaw
Ranching has taught this 25-year-old how to be tough yet tender, and to always be open to new opportunities.
Interview and photograph by JENNIFER DENISON
Raised in Fallon, Nevada, Tia Openshaw grew up a member of the National FFA Organization and with a barnyard of different animals, from an ostrich and llama to hogs and bottle-fed calves. Though she did not live or work on a ranch, she had a strong interest in animal husbandry and agriculture.
When she married Ty Openshaw in 2011, she was thrown into ranching duties at Squaw Valley Ranch, a cow-calf operation on more than 380,000 acres in remote Golconda, Nevada, where Ty worked his way up to jigger boss. With the help of the ranch managers, Jesse and Ricarda Braatz, the couple learned about running a cow outfit for profit and how to be progressive ranchers, working with environmental and wildlife agencies to holistically manage the land and ecosystem.
These days, it is rare for a young couple to stay on one outfit, or even in ranching, for life. And, as Tia explains, “Sometimes you have to take a break from something you love so you can come back stronger and with a fresh perspective.” With that in mind, the couple recently decided to explore other options while they are still young and do not have children. In February , Ty will attend boot camp to serve in the U.S. Coast Guard. No matter where this new opportunity takes them, however, they plan to keep riding horses, day-working on ranches and staying connected to the lifestyle they love with an eye toward returning to it in the future.
I MET TY when I was 19 years old, even though we grew up in the same town and went to the same school. We were both very shy, but I remember him first flirting with me at a friend’s wedding. We got married young [at age 21], and I think it was the best thing. We’ve had many experiences together already and have grown up together.
I DIDN’T KNOW IT at the time, but when Ty first took the job at Squaw Valley it was supposed to be for only two weeks and he’d earn enough money to buy me an engagement ring. We never dreamed we’d end up spending five years working here, and would learn and grow so much.
WHEN WE FIRST got to the ranch, I had my own expectations of what ranch housing would be like. I pictured a big, stick-built house, and boy was I surprised when Ty showed me our doublewide trailer. But once we moved in and were surrounded by our belongings and people we love, it felt like home.
RIDING AND WORKING cattle are both fun, but I honestly love doing the random jobs that most people hate, like feeding hay and cake, breaking ice and vaccinating.
I DIDN’T REALIZE how hard it is for some women to work on ranches. We have to be rough and gruff and tough all day long, and not get scared or cry, because there’s no crying allowed in cowboying. Then we have to come home, clean house, cook dinner and be nurturing. I think it’s hard for a lot of women to bounce back and forth [between the two roles], so they choose to be one or the other.
WHEN WE GO to town for groceries or parts we try to make it a date night and also go to dinner. I like to dress up, put on makeup and do my hair, so I look and feel feminine.
HORSEMANSHIP COMES naturally to some people, but not to me like working cows did. I’m working on it, though, because horses are very important in ranching. You can’t always use a four-wheeler to get somewhere.
IF YOUR MARRIAGE can survive working cows together, it can survive anything. There will always be disagreements, because everyone sees things differently and there are a thousand ways to accomplish a job.
RANCHING HAS BROUGHT Ty and me closer, and since we’ve been married we’ve rarely spent a day apart. Most people drive to town to their jobs and don’t see their spouses all day. When they get home, they eat dinner and go to bed.
TY GOT INTO training stock dogs, and they became a big part of our lives. They are like our kids, but we can do a lot of work by ourselves with them. You can send Oz out for miles by himself and trust he’ll bring cows back. Zeke would rather stay close to Ty.
JESSE AND RICARDA encouraged us to try different things and see other places. It got us thinking: What if in 50 years we woke up and hadn’t tried anything else or worked on any other ranches, or found a ranch we could buy and start raising our own cattle? We don’t know where this new adventure is going to take us, but it’s going to be fun.
This article was published in the February 2016 issue of Western Horseman.
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