When someone says “cowboy,” Sandy Matheson knows what image springs to mind.
“That’s kind of this rough, rugged looking guy who’s got a lariat in one hand, he’s riding a horse and he’s got maybe a can of chew in his back pocket,” she said with a laugh.
Matheson, a rancher and retired veterinarian in Bellingham, Wash., and Beth Robinette, a rancher in Cheney, Wash., are offering a five-day, intensive, retreat-style “new cowgirl camp” Aug. 28 through Sept. 1 at Robinette’s Lazy R Ranch.
“We’re trying to create a new icon of the new cowgirl, where we’ve got a woman of any age and background,” Matheson said. “She’s standing on her own two feet, maybe she’s carrying a calf under one arm and a laptop in the other with her GPS in her pocket and pliers in the other pocket.”
Robinette and Matheson hope to provide necessary skills and tools to people who don’t come from a ranching background.
The course will include basic farm skills, animal husbandry and farm business management.
“We’re looking for anybody who’s trying to do things in a new way,” Robinette said. “That could be young people with no history in agriculture, it could be somebody older looking for a second career or they just want to have some animals around their acreage. It could be somebody who’s really serious about making this into a career.”
More ranchers are retiring without someone on hand to replace them, Matheson said. At the same time, young people interested in ranching have difficulty getting started or finding practical experience.
The first camp is only open to women. Future workshops will be open to everybody, Robinette said.
Matheson said she and Robinette bring perspectives from different generations of ranchers.
“When I began, there were some women farmers, but there were definitely not very many women veterinarians — there were a lot of obstacles to overcome,” she said. “Even though things have greatly improved, I think some of those barriers still exist.”
Robinette and Matheson were kicking around the idea for the camp for a long time. The ranch is a hub for the Savory Institute, which promotes grassland restoration through “holistic management.”
“I think ranchers really hold the key to conservation and ecosystem restoration in this country,” she said. “(They) own, operate and manage a lot of the undeveloped space. I really believe through very precise and thoughtful management, we can improve the profitability of ranches.”
Robinette hopes to ultimately pair a trained manager with a rancher who doesn’t have someone lined up to take over their operation.
“That’s sort of my long-term goal of what I would love to see come out of this, but this is just a five-day camp,” she said with a laugh.
The camp will have 10 to 20 spaces. The cost is $775, including camping and meals.