Wyoming women recognized
From ranchers and rodeo competitors, to business executives and entertainers, there is no doubt the agriculture industry is seeing a rise in a powerhouse of women who are influencing the industry in big ways.
To honor these women, and as part of their mission to promote and empower females in the industry, COWGIRL Magazine began a recognition program at the beginning of 2020 to spotlight individuals who are building a future through their passion for the western lifestyle.
On Nov. 30, the publication announced the 2021 lineup for COWGIRL Magazine’s 30 Under 30, which includes three women from Wyoming.
An unwavering passion
Prior to moving to Montana to attend high school and college, Bryce Albright spent the majority of her childhood on a dude ranch outside of Dubois. It was here the 24-year-old fell in love with the industry and began chasing her dude ranch dreams.
“I sometimes joke if it weren’t for dude ranches, I wouldn’t be here, but it’s actually true,” Albright laughs. “My parents met on a dude ranch outside of Jackson Hole, and then I was raised on a dude ranch outside of Dubois during my younger childhood years.”
For seven years, beginning in high school, Albright worked on this same dude ranch and developed an unwavering passion for the industry. Albright notes working on a dude ranch allowed her to combine two of her passions – working with agriculture and working with people.
After several years at the ranch near Dubois, Albright was granted a college scholarship through the Dude Ranchers’ Association’s (DRA) nonprofit organization known as the Dude Ranch Foundation. This opportunity led to Albright’s current position as executive director of DRA, headquartered in Cody.
“DRA was started in 1926 to help preserve and protect the dude ranch industry and the western heritage and culture dude ranches represent. DRA represents, promotes and markets member ranches across the western U.S. and Canada,” Albright explains, noting there are currently 91 ranches across 10 states and one Canadian province that are members of the association.
As executive director, Albright’s list of responsibilities is vast and ever changing.
In fact, she is in charge of ensuring the dude ranch industry, DRA and its member ranches are highlighted through media outreach and press opportunities, working directly with vendors and members to ensure needs are being met, making recommendations for ranches to potential dude ranch guests, finding new members for the association, acting as executive secretary for DRA’s Board of Directors and maintaining the organization’s nonprofit status, among many other things.
“This past year has been a busy one for me. My job keeps me very busy, especially with the traveling industry being as uncertain as it has been,” Albright says. “I also got married in September, so wedding planning was a big part of 2020 for me as well.”
In addition to her position at DRA, Albright and her new husband, Casey, are starting up their own ranch and building a life in Cody.
“It is a true honor to be chosen for COWGIRL Magazine’s 30 Under 30 Class of 2021,” Albright says. “I appreciate COWGIRL Magazine’s efforts in developing a program which recognizes young women who have risen to the top or have made a big impact in their respective professions.”
She continues, “I want women to remember not to let anyone tell them they can’t do ‘it.’ When an opportunity presents itself, jump hard and jump fast. If it isn’t everything they hoped for and more, at least it was a good learning experience.”
A dream come true
Born and raised in Spokane, Wash., Katherine Merck relocated to Cheyenne right after her 30th birthday this past summer, where she currently works as an attorney at Falen Law Offices.
Despite growing up in town, Merck says she was born a cowgirl at heart, and her love for horses led her to dive headfirst into rodeo and agriculture.
“I watched the farmland around inland Northwest cities continually shrink as new developments were put in on top of productive soil, so I made the simultaneous decision to go to law school and be a rodeo queen,” Merck explains, noting both of these career choices have changed her life for the better.
“At the beginning of the year, I was practicing criminal defense and insurance defense in Idaho, but my heart wasn’t in it. 2020 has been a crazy year in so many ways, and this, combined with turning 30, led me to pursue my goal of giving back to the agricultural community through the practice of law,” she continues.
Merck notes she initially chose to pursue a law degree to represent farmers and ranchers, so working at Falen Law Offices has been a dream come true.
“This past year has held some major changes for me, but I’m thrilled to feel like I’m following my passion and working toward a higher purpose heading into 2021,” she says. “My goal is to be an advocate for the western way of life and the agricultural industry in every aspect of my life.”
In addition to her position at Falen Law Offices, Merck also runs Rodeo Advantage, a consulting company for rodeo contestants, committees and queens.
“Rodeo Advantage is a labor of love for me,” Merck says. “As someone who wasn’t raised in rodeo, I want to use my knowledge and experience to give back to the sport as much as possible.”
In an effort to accomplish this, Merck recently launched a digital guide for rodeo queens as a way of sharing the knowledge she has gained and to provide them educational opportunities from home.
Merck’s unwavering willingness to advocate for the agriculture industry and help young women in the rodeo industry ultimately led to her recognition in COWGIRL Magazine’s 30 Under 30 Class of 2021.
“It’s hard to even put into words what this honor means to me. I wasn’t raised in the western way of life, but I have chosen to dedicate my life to it,” she says. “I think it goes to show it’s never too late to pursue our passions. And, this award is about so much more than me – it’s about the other first generation cowgirls working to join the industry.”
Sarah Armstrong, of Baggs, is a rancher, horse trainer, bronc rider, agriculture advocate, western fashion influencer, television talent, wife, new mother and the third woman from Wyoming recognized in COWGIRL Magazine’s 30 Under 30 Class of 2021.
“It was definitely God’s plan for me to have a career in horse training and bronc riding,” says Armstrong. “I didn’t grow up in a rodeo family, but I have always loved the outdoors and animals.”
Armstrong notes in middle school, she began learning how to ride at a stable owned by a family friend. It was here she quickly fell in love with horses and the challenges they brought.
“I have always been competitive in nature, and I wanted to learn how to do something valuable in regards to ranch work,” she says. “I knew the cowboys were roping and training, so naturally I leaned to that instead of the typical female barrel racing.”
Armstrong began learning how to rope and start colts through reading and her own trial and error. In high school, she competed in breakaway and team roping on self-trained horses.
“At 13 years old, I would drive myself to practice, and I was the only kid hauling myself to high school rodeos,” she says. “I didn’t care what it took to get the job done, I just worked hard to make it happen. This is something I carry with me to this day.”
Armstrong began taking her high school classes online so she could start colts, ride reiners and lope cutters full time. Inevitably, Armstrong was bucked off one day and the incident left a permanent dent in her leg.
“My confident riding mindset was crushed,” she states. “After my leg healed, I knew I needed to face my fear and learn to ride a horse that bucked if I wanted to keep training horses.”
Therefore, Armstrong entered a ranch bronc riding and decided to add the endeavor to her long list of aliases.
“I have been riding ranch broncs for three years and have been able to make a good income from rodeos and riding on RIDETV’s show ‘Cowgirls,’” she notes.
However, like many people throughout the world, this year has been a little different for Armstrong.
“My daily life has changed tremendously as a new mother to our seven-month-old daughter Casey Sage. I was spending all day training horses, working or on the road for rodeos, but for now, my primary role is a stay-at-home mom,” she explains. “Though I don’t get to spend as much time as I’d like horseback, I feel very blessed to raise my daughter in the cowboy lifestyle. I know she will gain good work ethic, a respect for animals and others and get experience so many people will never get the chance to.”
This said, Armstrong notes when most people think of agriculture, they think of cowboys or men on ranches and farms.
“In reality, 43 percent of the labor force in agriculture is held by women,” she explains. “There are so many positive qualities women possess that helps in agriculture, such as their nurturing and strong nature. Women can clean, whip up a meal from home-grown produce, tend to babies or get their hands dirty to feed cattle, weld things that have broken and start colts.”
“I think it is wonderful women in the Western industry are being recognized for COWGIRL Magazine’s 30 Under 30,” she continues. “There were so many beautiful, talented, successful young women in the running, I felt very blessed to have been chosen among all the amazing women who were nominated. God has given me all the tools to build such an amazing career, family and lifestyle at such a young age, and He deserves all the glory. God bless cowgirls.”
Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.