By: Katrina Huffstutler
Jayme Fankhouser doesn’t remember a time in her life before she was horseback. But unlike most little girls who learn to ride, she made a career out of it.
While no two days are the same for the pen rider, they always start early (she gets to work at 3:30 a.m. every Monday to prepare to ship cattle, closer to daylight the remaining days). By daylight, she’s riding the high-risk cattle, a responsibility she does not take lightly.
“After the cattle leave my section, they will have been straightened out and ready for their new home,” she says.
It’s an honor to look after the most fragile cattle in the yard, and even more impressive considering she’s one of very few females filling the role as pen rider. But she’s worked hard her whole career to be taken seriously, and never forgotten that the cattle come first.
Even when it was scary starting out, she refused to give up on her dream.
“My father told me a long time ago, ‘You work in a male world, you’re going to have to work twice as hard to be noticed,’” Fankhouser says. “So I’ve gone those extra miles and I guess maybe I’ve established myself to the point where others take me seriously.”
She says intuition, coupled with a natural nurturing side, make women a great choice as cattle caretakers. But the work is not easy.
“You have to have thick skin, and you can’t be afraid of hard work or the elements,” Fankhouser says.
Despite the challenges, she’s the first to encourage other women to go for their dreams, no matter how unconventional.
“Women aren’t limited in the industry. We can be as successful as we want,” says Fankhouser, whose daughter also rides pens. “Whatever you set your mind to, if that's what you want to do, you can go do it.”