The Ultimate Cowboy Is a Cowgirl

The Ultimate Cowboy Is a Cowgirl

AQHA member Katey Jo Gordon wins INSP’s “Ultimate Cowboy Showdown.”

Katey Jo Gordon, with the able assistance of HT Peptos Hickory, won Season 2 of

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The American Quarter Horse Journal logo

By Holly Clanahan 

Riding horses and roping calves? No problem. Gathering and working cattle on a ranch? Easy. Staying cool as a cucumber under the pressure of competition? She has been doing it since the age of 2. 

In many ways, AQHA member Katey Jo Gordon of Ryan, Oklahoma, was a natural for “Ultimate Cowboy Showdown,” a reality TV show on INSP hosted by country music star Trace Adkins. Other aspects of the televised competition were a little more difficult – like the artificially imposed time constraints, ubiquitous camera crews and competing against men who were physically stronger. But Katey Jo prevailed over 13 other talented competitors and was named Season 2’s “ultimate cowboy.” Helping her was her husband’s American Quarter Horse HT Peptos Hickory, a grandson of Doc’s Hickory and Peptos Stylish Oak.

Since the season finale aired at the end of April, “I have just been overwhelmed with how many people are reaching out,” Katey Jo says. “Everything has been so good.” She’s starting now to collect her prizes, which include a custom belt buckle, a portable cattle corral, a cattle-working chute and money to purchase her own herd of cattle.

Katey Jo and her husband, Dylan Gordon, already have some cattle of their own, and both of them work on ranches – Dylan as a day worker for neighbors and Katey Jo for her parents’ registered and commercial Red Angus operation known as Anthony Ranch. Katey Jo, 28, hopes one day to have her own herd of Red Angus cows, which she’ll cross on Brahman bulls to add weight and resiliency. 

On the Ryan, Oklahoma, ranch, Katey Jo can usually be found prowling pastures on horseback, making sure the cattle are healthy, or riding young horses that she and Dylan take in for seasoning. The colts are used on the ranch, logging lots of outside hours, and then sometimes started as rope or barrel horses, if that’s what their owners want. 

Come Thursday or Friday, Katey Jo packs up the trailer to head to a rodeo or roping. She started rodeoing as a toddler, won her first horse trailer at age 8, competed through the youth and college ranks, and hasn’t stopped yet. She heads and heels, runs barrels and breakaway ropes, competing at everything from the nation’s biggest venues to local jackpots where those young horses can gain experience. 

“We try to stay busy as much as we can,” Katey Jo says. Her team includes Sister Rio, an AQHA Ranching Heritage-bred mare she uses for team roping and hopes to flush an embryo from next year to begin building a breeding program. Smart Rock Doc is her steadfast breakaway and head horse, and HT Peptos Hickory – the television star – is also a handy heel horse. One of Katey Jo’s own youngsters, RV Eddies Blues Bar, will be pointed toward breakaway roping futurities next year. 

Being a competitor in the arena was helpful in navigating the world of reality TV. “You have to put ice water in your veins and not let it get to you,” Katey Jo says. Being physically and emotionally tired from grueling days in the saddle and nights spent sleeping in tents … all of that had to be pushed to the side. “You think, ‘OK, I have a task to do.’ It’s no different than backing in the box in the short round.” 

Many of the tasks required of competitors were familiar ones to Katey Jo. There was a lot of gathering, sorting and pasture roping. And it helped immensely that she had a dependable equine partner. The gelding nicknamed “Pedro” is “super broke, and I didn’t have to worry about him not doing his job,” Katey Jo says. He was just 6 last summer when the episodes were filmed in East Texas, but he had already been used for just about every job on the ranch and even for picking up broncs. “He does basically anything and everything you need him to,” Katey Jo says. 

Part of the mental toughness that Katey Jo needed for “Ultimate Cowboy Showdown” came to her via a heartbreaking personal tragedy. Her older sister, Bailey Anthony, was born with a congenital heart defect that led her to multiple surgeries, including two heart transplants. Bailey and Katey Jo were college roommates at Tarleton State University, and “even when she was sick, she would come turn calves out for me,” Katey Jo says. The younger sister parked a pickup in the arena so Bailey could sit down as needed, and the two of them ran calves so Katey Jo could practice roping. “Even when she was too sick to travel, I sent her all my videos, even from the practice pen.” 

Bailey passed away in January 2013 after what was supposed to have been a routine medical procedure. Today, Katey Jo draws on the lessons she learned from her sister about resiliency and maintaining a positive attitude in the face of hugely challenging situations. “It’s a huge part of who I am, and what I do,” she says. “The lord works in mysterious ways, because there are times I’ll be having a rough day, and I’ll get in my car, and the radio will be playing a song that she always listened to. It’s like, ‘I see you. I know what you’re doing.’ They may be silly coincidences, but it picks me up and helps me keep going a little bit.” 

As Bailey inspired her, Katey Jo hopes she can inspire other women and girls in the ranching industry. She was one of four women on “Ultimate Cowboy Showdown,” and in her daily work, she is outnumbered by men. “I have been told a woman’s place is in the kitchen. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I think we can be equals. We can know the markets, we can read cattle. We can rope, we can ride.” 

On the show, she knew she lacked the physical strength of the men, but consistency was her strong point. “I might not have been the fastest one or the strongest one in every competition, but I always did the job they gave me. It’s just being able to show that you can get the job done, period. I don’t want any woman to get discouraged because (a job) may take her a little bit longer. Just keep going. It’s definitely a mind game. Just keep going.” 

Since receiving national publicity, Katey Jo’s phone and Facebook messages have been dinging. “I’ve had quite a few people reach out for lessons,” she says. And she hopes to build that part of Gordon Performance Horses, as well as helping match people with horses. “I really do want to help more people get involved, because it is such a wonderful business,” she says. “The world needs more cowboy values, and the more people I can get involved, the better.” 

But on a working ranch, duty is always calling, and that trumps newfound fame. “We’re just back to the daily routine of trying to get all the cows worked and get horses rode,” Katey Jo says. “It’s back to daily life. My phone rings a lot more now, but that’s about it.”