Taking life by the reins
“You better spell my name right.”Lyndsay Hackman’s soft blue eyes show that she isn’t kidding. Being a lifelong Vail local and a former rodeo queen, Hackman has seen her first name spelled incorrectly too many times in print. It’s Lyndsay, with a Y, not an I, and an A instead of an E. The stare quickly dissipates once Hackman sees her name spelled out on a piece of paper in front of her. Then, a laugh.”No pressure,” she says, smiling. Hackman’s summer job leading horseback rides at Bearcat Stables in Edwards, on first glance, doesn’t seem like a pressure-packed place of employment.Horeseback rides? Who wouldn’t want that job? Outside in the sun all day in the beautiful Colorado countryside? Pointing out wildflowers and recounting local history?First impressions aren’t always what they seem. Hackman, 23, is an attractive blonde who accents her worn Wranglers and her faded flannel shirt with a pair of diamond earrings – but leading trail rides isn’t lifeguarding. Don’t be fooled by the rodeo-queen thing. Or the easy demeanor in which Hackman carries herself on trail. She’s a hardworking cowgirl who doesn’t cut corners. She puts in long hours after the guests have paid their money and gone home happy. Tending to the horses after rides and making sure everything is in working order for the next group of clients is tiresome. And keeping track of a group of first-timers on the trail isn’t exactly the same as leading group hikes. Hackman’s head count is always double. She has to worry about the guests – and the horses.
“There’s so many things that can go wrong, and it can happen so quickly,” she says. “If the horses get standing around and bored, one might kick and it might hit a person, or it might hit a horse.”There’s also the unpredictable Colorado weather. One-hour rides aren’t a worry, but when a thunderstorm rolls in on a four-hour backcountry trip, or worse, a four-day trip from Vail to Aspen, Hackman says that’s when she really earns her money.”Thankfully, the owners here really value safety first,” she says. “We’re all wilderness and CPR and first-aid certified. We can pretty much handle anything that happens and evacuate if we need to and be able to handle those situations where somebody needs to get out right away and you’re not close to a town. It might be waiting for Flight for Life. It might be waiting out a lightning storm. It’s being able to see a dangerous situation before it happens.”There’s a long pause, then she continues.”Sometimes these storms blow in so fast that it will be blue skies one minute, then ten minutes later, lightning,” she says. “You really have to know where you are and have a plan for an emergency. You have to be able to comfort people because you don’t want them to get scared and you don’t want to let them know that you might be scared inside. You have to step up and handle it.”How’s that for pressure? First impressions, it seems, can be as unpredictable as an ornery mare. Risks aside, Hackman says the real reason she has come back to Bearcat for the past three summers is because she loves horses and she loves being outside. She’s also a preservationist. Cordillera bought the land that the Bearcat homestead sits on in 1992 from Ellis Bearden, the son of the original owner. Multimillion-dollar homes and the regal Summit golf course have since replaced acres of rugged Western Slope countryside, but there are still remnants of the what once was.Fence line that was put in by Bearden and his family back in the early 1900s still stands on the land, painting a vivid juxtaposition between the Old West and the New West. There are also the stories, passed down over the years like treasured antiques – stories that tell the history of a family and dreams. “This is a little getaway,” Hackman says. “I think we need to do more preservation. It’s a hard job. Sometimes we work 10-12 hours a day, but once you get out there on the trail, it’s just so nice to be in a quiet place with no traffic, nothing.”
After completing some math credits at nearby Colorado Mountain College this summer, Hackman will graduate with her degree in communications and technical journalism from Colorado State University in August. She also has finished a minor in Spanish.She’s been studying horses since she was five. She learned the fundamentals of English riding through the Vail Pony Club and began competing in three-day eventing shortly thereafter. English riding, as opposed to Western, is more about style than it is about using an animal to do a job. English riders use sparer tack, and their posture and attire are much different than Western.Three-day eventing incorporates dressage and hunter-jumper competition, with riders competing in cross-country and indoor hunter-jumper events.At 8, after competing at nationals in Kentucky, Hackman traveled to Warwickshire, England, to learn fox hunting at the Warwickshire Hunt Club. There, she says she learned how to “ride really fast but under control.”She also started playing polo at 14 in the now-defunct Vail Polo Club and worked at the Berry Creek Rodeo for 10 years with her mother. Even with the rodeo, Hackman really didn’t get into Western riding until five years ago, when she decided to try out for Eagle County Rodeo Queen. She didn’t win the county crown, but she was named the queen of the Vail Valley Rodeo Series. The next summer, she was asked to be the queen of the inaugural Beaver Creek Rodeo. After that, Hackman served as Rodeo Queen for the Rimrock Rodeo the previous two summers before trying out for Miss Rodeo Colorado this summer.She didn’t win, although she says there’s still a chance – with officials bumping up the age requirement – that she’ll try again next year.Explaining the role of a rodeo queen to a novice isn’t easy, but Hackman diligently runs through the particulars and explains the process of rodeo-queen competition. “It’s basically two things,” she says. “It’s the marketing aspect for rodeo, and it’s the liaison between spectators and the sport of rodeo. For Miss Rodeo Colorado tryouts, I studied over 100 hours reading rule books. You have to be able to answer any rule-related question. Animal welfare is huge because people who have never seen a rodeo will say, ‘Oh my God, that spur is huge,’ or, ‘You’re hitting the animals.’ That’s completely incorrect. It’s a really good way to get out information to people who don’t know or who have been horribly misinformed. It’s a really important role in rodeo.”It’s not a beauty pageant, even though Hackman says it can appear that way to the unacquainted.
While the 13 contestants who tried out for Miss Rodeo Colorado this year were judged on their appearance, they were also graded on speaking ability and were drilled on an assortment of questions. “Your rodeo knowledge – it’s like trivia going into those interviews,” Hackman says. “They do that on purpose. You’ll be asked something you’ve never heard before, and it’s just to see how you handle it. They’re judging you to see if you are going to be a good representative of the sport of rodeo. They are also judging whether you are going to be able to commit a year and a half of your life, or more.”During her summers as a rodeo queen, Hackman says she went to “three or four parades a week.” This summer, without any queen responsibilities, she’s continued to help out at the Beaver Creek Rodeo. She says “queening” has been great experience for her chosen major in college. The same goes for leading tours at Bearcat, where on her daily rides she is part botanist, part historian.”We do have information about the history,” Hackman says. “I did my own research on flowers. I like to have an answer when people ask me. I hate to have to make it up.”
There’s no making this up: Hackman admits her life over the last three years has been one of contrasts. There has been her life in Fort Collins, where she was a diligent student and team president of the club polo team, and there has been her life at Bearcat in the summers.While she says “I get here as fast as I can” every spring when school gets out, she still cherishes her years at CSU, a place she didn’t readily adjust to at first.”It was hard for me to go from Battle Mountain to CSU,” she says. “My class was 175. CSU is something like 20,000. It really opened my eyes. There’s a lot more diversity when you get out of the valley, and that was a nice change. Fort Collins grew so much in the five years that I was there. Still, coming home, I can’t believe what’s happened. There’s been so much growth. It’s still home, though.”While at CSU, Hackman says she loved playing polo on one of the premier club teams in the country. She traveled around the country extensively.”We were No. 2 in the nation for four years, so we traveled a lot to Texas and Cornell,” she says.With all that travel, she didn’t get to come home much, just Christmas usually. During her summers, she’s relished the chance to spend time with her parents. She’s an only child, so she says her relationship with her mother and father – who moved to Vail in the ’70s after college – is extremely important.There are even contrasts in Hackman’s daily routine at Bearcat – variances as clear cut as the vibrant purples and oranges of lupines and skyrockets that are cast against the hues of green grasses and brown dirt.”Every day is different,” she says. “There are always new challenges. You have to be prepared for whatever is going to happen. The money is good, I guess, but most importantly, it’s fun and it’s challenging and it’s nice to be outside and get paid to do what I love every day. It’s important that people walk away knowing they met a local and they want to come back. We get a lot of repeat clients. It’s about kindness and really going out of my way to make the people feel comfortable. Help them with something they’re really not used to. That takes work.”Hard work, indeed.Nate Peterson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 608, or at email@example.com.Vail, Colorado