Shai Meek: Boss babe of bucking horses
This story is reprinted with the permission of Shaylee Wallace, author of the ramblinranchgirl blog. To read more, visit ramblinranchgirl.wordpress.com.
When I first decided I wanted to write about women in agriculture, I imagined cattle, advocacy programs and large tractors rolling through row-crop country. While I am certain those things are to come, I never thought my very first boss babe story would lead me just a short drive from my own place in Reeds Spring to Gainesville, where 18-year-old Shai Meek raises bucking horses.
She is equal parts grit and grace, and anything but meek or mild. Cowgal Shai Meek’s last name is synonymous with legacy. “When we first got started with bucking horses, I was just hooked,” she said. “I was about 7 when we got started. I kept telling my dad I wanted my own, and he told me I would have to earn my own horse. So I started saving, and I got my first horse when I was about 12. I bought him from another contractor. He was just an older horse, and I got to buck him for about two or three years before he died. I won my first buckle with him.”
From there, the Meeks bought mares and then a stud from Clinton, Arkansas. Now the herd has expanded to 29 head, and Shai has been raising most of them from colts. Breeding selection is based on confirmation, ability, stamina and “want-to.”
Typically providing the rough stock for events in Arkansas such as ranch rodeos and the Clinton National Championship Chuckwagon Race, the Meeks have expanded their territory into Missouri and will be making the haul to Texas to be a part of the Texas Bronc Riders Association in November.
When talking about being behind the chutes, Shai couldn’t help but laugh, notorious for being considered intimidating or mean, based on her resting face. I asked her how she held on to her femininity and faith when she’s surrounded by so many men. “It’s hard,” she said. “There are moments when I feel like the men are waiting on me to mess up. People think this is just showing up to the rodeo and bucking horses, but we spend weeks preparing and picking horses before events. We are the first there and the last to leave. I remember flanking horses in a cast in high school, and when I first started, not being big enough and my dad having to help me. But now, it’s to the point where I don’t get pushed aside. A lot of the riders vouch for me, and I’ve shown what I can do, and I’m still learning more. Some of the riders are really grounded in their faith. Before they ride they all circle around and pray, and I make sure I get in on that. Before my family and I leave for each run, we always pray for our travels and such. It is very hard, but it’s worth it.”
Shai’s mom, Chrystal, explained that “half of those guys behind the chutes treat our girl like their sister. I started rodeoing as a freshman in college. We’ve always roped and stuff; that’s how Kevin and I met. Then we got on the stock contracting end, and Shai’s just really never known any different.”
Shai’s dad, Kevin, was not short on things to say about his girl either. Her dad’s favorite memory? “When she flanked her first horse. It was a half Shetland and only stood about that tall. Seven year old, first time she flanked,” he said.
Shai’s genuine love for her family was evident throughout my whole visit. “My dad and I have this one song we listen to when we’re about to pull in, Chris LeDoux’s “Cadillac Cowboy.” It’s a tradition. I am a big-time daddy’s girl. He never fails to make me feel pretty. He’s raised my standards so much in boys. I look at my mom and dad and think, ‘I want that.’ To see him sit down every evening and read his Bible – he’s influenced every part of my life. We move horses together a lot, and that’s when we have the best talks. And we have this thing when we have a horse that really bucks, we just give each other this look and then give each other knuckles.”
Family is the number one influence on Shai. Through the summer she has worked for their stock contracting business as well as penning cattle at the local stockyard each week. But beyond that, she looks forward to pursuing a degree in nursing, knowing her family is behind her each step of the way. “I feel like God has called me to help people. I love old people. Kids, not really… but even if I just see a cute old man in public, I am not kidding, I will start crying. I go and visit my great-grandma in a nursing home, and even if the people forget me when I come back the next day, I just love being there and talking to them. It makes my day,” she said.
Shai is also blessed to be surrounded by strong women who keep her grounded. “To me, the women in my life are beautiful because it’s about shining your light to everybody, having that good personality, shining God’s light through you. Where people look at them or at you and think, ‘I want what she’s got.’ I think that’s very important,” she said.
Shai is no stranger to fashion or what it means to be a typical woman. “I always have to have a cool pair of earrings on; that’s my go-to. If I don’t have them, I feel weird. I love traveling, and if I know we have a rodeo, I get so excited. I take at least four pairs of shoes and pack for a week, even if it’s only one night. And the thing I have to have with me? Hmm, I can’t go to a rodeo without my knife. Oh and my belt, or else my pants would fall down.”
Outside of the chutes, Shai is a contender herself. She recently received a sponsorship for roping from Cactus Ropes and Saddlery, and for her it is a testament not only to her own growth that she has earned but also to the blessings she has been given. “It’s a reminder of where we started, getting to go to Texas, getting to travel – it shows how much we have worked for it. I wish I would have started roping earlier, but it’s never too late. You could be 70 years old and say, ‘Hmm, I think I wanna team rope.’ My grandpa (Larry Meek), his dad rodeo’d, and it’s kind of just been passed down through the generations, but he passed away about three years ago. He’s inspired me, I think more than anybody. How close he was to God, and putting him first. He lost his leg – I don’t remember exactly how old I was – but he still continued to rope. Just to hear people tell stories about him and how they were inspired by him, ... it just makes me feel good,” explained teary-eyed Shai.
I couldn’t have picked a better lady for my first boss babe interview. Shai lacks nothing when it comes to humility and joy. ... Both her faith and loyalty are evident in her work, and I have no doubt about how God is using her to help minister within the rodeo community. I am blessed to get to share part of her story with you through words and photographs, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.